by Allan Donnelly
April 17, 2009
There are no shortage of story lines at the top of the order at the inaugural Europa Show of Champions in Orlando, Florida. After the Friday night prejudging, the battle for top honors could go in any of three directions, with Darrem Charles, Hidetada Yamagishi and a rejuvinated Troy Alves all making a case for themselves.
The 40-year-old Charles came in slightly off his best form and lacking the razor-sharp conditioning he has displayed more often than not throughout his 18-year pro career. But that shouldn't stop Charles from making a run at extending his streak of nine consecutive years with a professional win. With the finals still to come, it is very possible that Charles will get sharper over the course of the two-day show.
From top-to-bottom, Yamagishi was the best conditioned of the potential top three. Now over a year removed from legal issues that once threatened to cut his professional career short, Yamagishi came very close to matching the career-best form he displayed when placing 13th at the 2007 Olympia. Despite lacking the shape of both Charles and Alves, conditioning could be the deciding factor here and, if that is the case, Yamagishi would be the choice after the prejudging.
Perhaps the most impressive - and surprising - plot line among the projected top three is the performance of the 42-year-old Alves. Once a consistent Olympia qualifier, Alves recent string of disappointing outings - which included an 11th-place finish at the Ironman Pro in February - led most to believe his best days were behind him. And while he is certainly in the twilight of his career, Alves proved he deserves at least one more appearance on the sport's biggest stage this September. As is always the case with Alves, though, a lack of conditioning and detail in his hamstrings will likely keep him from notching the first win of his pro career.
Had Russian Sergey Shelestov turned up in better condition, he would have made this a four-way race for first. Shelestov is unquestionably the biggest competitor among the top four, but he is also the least conditioned, carrying too much water to be considered a threat for a top spot.
Heather Mae French, Nicole Wilkins-Lee and Monica Brant appear to be vying for the win in pro figure.
While none of the above are strangers to runner-up finishes, the win would be a career-first first for all three.
French's best placing to date is a runner-up finish at the 2008 Cal Pro. Wilkins-Lee, a third-year pro, placed second at the Pittsburgh Pro Figure Championships a year ago. Brant, who nearly retired a year ago, has placed in the top three of 11 of her 13 professional figure contests but has never won a figure show. She has two professional fitness wins, at the Fitness Olympia in 1998 and the Jan Tana Pro in 1995.
Shannon Meteraud is looking to notch her second win in as many weeks. Meteraud won the New York Pro Fitness Championships last week. Tina Durkin and Myriam Capes should also be in contention for top-three placings.
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