I have never seen so many big Filipinos gathered in one place, as this is my first attendance of a bodybuilding competition locally, Manila, that is, as my first was in Las Vegas earlier this year. The atmosphere outside the theater exuded a heavy and overbearing ambience of enormous sizes and tight T-shirts, not unlike a bar bouncers’ convention, if there ever was one, that I accidentally ran into.

Tickets sold for P100.00 each, a far cry from the US$100 I paid for my Las Vegas attendance! That’s more expensive 50 times over! But of course the quality of the convention was 50 times less – perhaps my initiation into the world of bodybuilding competition attendance started with much too high standards.

The event started with the usual chaos and lack of order so typical of Philippine public events. Tickets were sold an hour before the show, well, before the scheduled start of the show, that is. The shows always start late, but we’re all used to that. Having formed some semblance of a queue outside the door, which looks like prison bars except they’re made of wood, still not a pretty sight, we waited. Well, it wasn’t exactly a queue, it was like 5 lines where it starts, pressed against the wooden grill/gate, and about 5 people-deep beyond that, everybody kinda thought it would be a good idea to start their lines wherever they felt like it.

So you can imagine the chaos, or what seems to be chaos, or perhaps an attempt to prove the validity of chaos theory in day-to-day Philippine life. The mass of people, and again, I have to mention that some of these people are huge, that gathered at the entrance before the show, would look quite intimidating to the uninitiated.

Surprisingly, I found the number of women queueing up quite significant, or perhaps beyond insignificance. There were not a lot, but there weren’t a few either. Amidst constant chatter and buzzing and sweating, waiting for the gate to open, hearing talk about triceps and gym locations and periodization and sets and reps and cellphone ringing, beeping and talking, the gate finally opened. About a foot wide. One person. At a time.

With the increased security in the malls, baggage inspection, physical searches, which we’ve all gotten used to – fitting a 5-person wide queue into a foot of space is worse than having to eat your rice dinner through a straw. A small straw. Not that I’ve tried it, but you know what I mean.

Finally, inside! Two levels, judges and VIPs and people in-the-know and whoever had friends in high places get to sit in the low places, the orehestra, stage-level, good seats, better than the ones we were seated at, which is at the balcony. Not that our seats were bad, it’s just that theirs were better.

Proliferation of Slimmer’s World staff was evident, I never bothered to figure out why. I’m sure there’s a reason behind this, I just didn’t care. Robert, the chief/lead/head fitness trainor of Slimmer’s was sporting a jacket, whose reason will be evident later. But I might forget, so here it is: he’s the host, alongside Jackie Lou Blanco, both masters of our ceremonies. The rest of the Slimmer’s staff ran about the place, sporting black T-shirts with the event title printed at the back. Generally they ran about the place, making sure they get noticed that they were running about the place, making fancy gestures with their hands, especially to the audio people who kept on mucking with the music.

We started with the Philippine National Anthem, as most public events do. Of course it was late, can’t remember how much late but it can’t possibly be early, it was never early. If it was, their clock must be wrong, or mine was. After the standard, lengthy introductions of the sponsors, speeches, and much waving of hands, the competition started with the Novice category where my fitness trainor is a competitor.

As I have never been into the bodybuilding scene ever, not even when I was in Vegas and had this huge bodybuilder who is quite obviously famous as people kept talking to him wearing big smiles on their faces autograph an 8×10 photo of himself, and up until now, I don’t even know his name! Of course I’ve seen his face in the numerous muscle magazines I keep on buying but like I said, I really wasn’t into it, so I never bothered to find out who they were.

Hence, the show started and ended through all the different classes: Novice, Paperweight, Flyweight, Bantamweight, Welterweight, Heavyweight, and finally the Women’s Short and Tall categories, with me none the wiser as to who they were and why some of them got more cheers than the others.

And then there was contestant number 70, who seemed all too popular despite his complete lack of musculature nor definition – which I realized later on was the reason why this particular contestant was highly sought after for a repeat pose.

With cigarette breaks in-between the lengthy presentation ceremonies, digital snapshots snuck once in a while, and a visit to the gear shop by the entrance for a couple of workout shorts – the presentations consisted of the usual individual introductions, the standard poses, and a most sought-after “posedown” where everybody gets to strut their stuff amid everybody’s cheers and heckles. Not to mention the occasional demand for contestant number 70.

Contestants who make it to the finals get a full minute of posing to music of their choice, some of which were highly entertaining by themselves, the music, that is. The Filipino’s penchance for romance and sentimental music is highly evident. I remember in Vegas that the music selections were almost entirely upbeat, bordering on techno and rap, with creative editing and mixing. But I also remember that their posing routines were longer, and not just the one-minute allotted in this event.

What grabbed me about the contestants was the obvious popularity of steroid use, or abuse. The serious cases of gynocomastia, which makes you keep resisting the urge to stand up and cover them with a brassiere, should be enough to scare anyone even remotely thinking about using steroids to abandon the thought completely. Considering that the only potent esters available locally are the veterinary kind, and not to mention the expense! The worst part is, these gyno-challenged contestants even garnered places! Well, they didn’t win first place, but I distinctly remember one placing second.

I found out a couple of days later that the prizes consisted mostly of soda crackers and instant noodles, and the most coveted cash prize consisted of a mere P3,000.00, that’s about US$61. But of course they had trophies, oh yeah, that’s what this could be all about.

The evening ended with a much hungrier crowd, with the heckles slowly veering into the increasingly empty condition of their stomachs. Which is what we did right after stepping out of the theater, look for a decent eatery that served hot, Chinese noodles!

02 December 2000