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By Joe Pietaro

Walking away from your profession is never an easy task, especially when you are at the top of your game. Such was the case last weekend when Iris Kyle won her tenth overall Ms. Olympia title and announced her retirement at the age of 40. After a professional career that began in 1998 when she won the NPC USA Championships, the Benton Harbor, Michigan native leaves with 18 pro wins under her belt.

What makes her accomplishments even more impressive is the fact that it wasn’t even close during her domination of both the Olympia and Ms. International (Arnold Classic) reign. Kyle took home seven first-place trophies from Columbus, Ohio and in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013, she made it a clean sweep of bodybuilding’s two most prestigious shows. And with the O, eight of her 10 wins came consecutively. (Kyle also won the heavyweight class in 2001, but lost the overall title to Juliette Bergmann when the IFBB had two weight classes.)

So now the field is wide open for someone to take Kyle’s place and with the opportunities becoming less frequent for female bodybuilders (especially with the Ms. International being removed after 2013), someone needs to take advantage of this right away.

Here are the top competitors looking to become the best in the world:

*ALINA POPA – with two straight runner-up finishes at the Olympia, Popa would seem like the heir apparent to Kyle. She has less muscle mass then the former champion but a more pleasing physique may be just what the division needs.

*DEBI LASZEWSKI – the blonde bombshell ran into some bad luck being at her best but still behind Kyle. Perhaps in a different era, she would have at least one Ms. International or Olympia by now. Since 2008, Laszewski has never placed out of the top five and has come close a few times, with second place finishes at the 2009 and 2012 Ms. I and another runner-up at the 2012 O. But now at 45, does she have enough for one big year and the hardware she deserves?

*YAXENI ORIQUEN-GARCIA – a fellow veteran, Oriquen-Garcia at least has a few major titles to her name (2002, 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2012 Ms. International, 2004 Night of Champions and 2005 Ms. Olympia). But now at 48, she has the same problem as Laszewski.

*ALANA SHIPP – a newcomer on the circuit, the former United States Marine earned her pro card in 2013 and has competed in only three IFBB contests thus far. But she raised some eyebrows in Las Vegas and placed a very respectable fourth there.

*SHEILA BLECK – perhaps a wild card name but Bleck has a streamlined physique that is aesthetic looking and a fan favorite. She earned her first pro win at the 2014 Tampa Pro and placed seventh at the Olympia.

Written by Joe Pietaro for - Copyright © 2014

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