SI Vault
Dan Levin
March 17, 1980
Women's bodybuilding has arrived—sort of. As Cammie Lusko and Kay Baxter show, the girls know what they're doing. But some judges don't
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March 17, 1980

Here She Is, Miss, Well, What?

Women's bodybuilding has arrived—sort of. As Cammie Lusko and Kay Baxter show, the girls know what they're doing. But some judges don't

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Bodybuilder No. 3, Marilyn Schriner of Chicago, was also slim, but at least she showed some muscle. She had wide shoulders, almost like those of the woman in the drawing, and the audience loved her triceps. Someone shouted, "Yeah, yeah, yeah!" McGhee looked up at her and whispered, "Buttock." "What?" she replied, glancing down. "Buttock," he said, louder. "What?" she repeated. "Buttock!" McGhee yelled. "Parkay," came a voice from the audience.

Things picked up with the judging of the 112-pound-and-over class, in which Lusko was competing. A physical consultant at a Chatsworth, Calif. gym, Lusko wants to be a Hollywood stunt woman and may be the strongest woman bodybuilder around. She never touched a weight until February of last year, but seven months later she could jerk a 100-pound dumbbell over her head with her left arm. During her three-hour workouts, she lifts something like 30 tons of iron. For four days before heading east, she ate no solid food, reducing her weight from 140 pounds to 133, melting off the fat so the muscle beneath would stand out.

Now she waited backstage to go on. Some children's paints and brushes stood on a nearby table, and she picked up a dry brush and began to dab playfully at the stomach of Kay Baxter, who had been 10th at Warminster after only two months of weight training. "Right there," Baxter said. "I need another ab." The atmosphere backstage was relaxed. There was none of the gamesmanship often seen at men's competitions. (The story is told of one male newcomer who was advised of a little-known technique for impressing the judges with his intensity—"scream your guts out as you pose." He did, and was laughed off the stage.)

Lusko was the first to pose. When she pointed a toe at the audience, flexing her calf and frontal thigh muscles, or thrust out her abs, exclamations such as "Incredible!" and "That's it, baby!" erupted around the room. Otherwise, things were relatively quiet. One woman had lost 100 pounds after a year of weight training and diet, and the skin of her midsection was loose, as if it had failed to keep pace with the shrinkage beneath. But there she stood in her bikini; McGhee should consider establishing a special award for bravery. Baxter, it turned out, did not need another ab. The three months of training since Warminster had built a lot of muscle, and a classic bodybuilder's diet in the previous month helped to display it. Smaller and less imposing than Lusko, Baxter was still the most muscular woman in Canton; her calves and deltoids seemed ready to split her skin. But the audience failed to appreciate this. Devotees of women's bodybuilding have a lot to learn about what matters in contests. Everybody does.

The women's freestyle posing routines counted much less than the afternoon's compulsories but could be decisive if point totals were close. McGhee kept saying, "The routines must be original, and every muscle must be flexed." Some of the women seemed more impressive than they had been earlier, but that was their originality—not their muscles—showing. One yoga expert produced a lovely flowing scramble of arms and legs with a split thrown in, but she failed to show much muscularity. Lusko's routine was far more dynamic, and she flashed what may be the sport's most infectious smile, a sure sign of confidence, but good for no points in Canton. Baxter, an outstanding gymnast at Kent State in the late '60s, was the evening's star. Toward the end of her 70-second routine she went into a front straddle support; she rose on her palms from a sitting position, legs and torso forming a shallow V in the air. She hung there under the lights for at least three seconds, muscles gleaming.

Afterward she said, "I could have done the crab, but that's ugly, and the straddle support brings out the same muscles, especially the trapezius, shoulders and thighs."

Finally it was time for the winner to be announced. Baxter had her partisans, as did Lusko. Someone tested the microphone. All conversation in the room ceased, and the winner was announced: Schriner, the Parkay lady.

A lot of mouths dropped, but very few words came out. Steve Wennerstrom, assistant women's track coach at UCLA and the Western representative of McGhee's U.S. Women's Physique Association, said, "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. But I guess it goes along with what he wants, a string bean."

Off in a corner, a surprised and bewildered Schriner was speaking with reporters. She said she had been lifting weights for two years, that she had started "from fear of living alone. Every time I was frightened I started doing push-ups."

Other bodybuilders stood around with friends, talking about their sport and its future. Some spoke of efforts by the AAU and International Federation of Bodybuilders to train female judges and codify judging standards. There appeared to be a consensus that the future and the standards were not unrelated.

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