More than 100 sculpted bods strode across the University Theatre stage on Saturday morning and struck poses during the Montana State Bodybuilding Championship, the first in more than 12 years.
"We had a lot of competition, which is unbelievable," said Jeff Kovick, who owns the Max Muscle store in Missoula and promoted the championship, which had been dormant since 1997. "What's most amazing is how many people came to watch. It takes a lot of guts for the 102 people competing to get up on stage and do their thing, and to have the theater basically full, that's just amazing. Hopefully it made the competitors feel good."
Regardless of how they felt, the competitors certainly looked good. Tanned and toned, the musclebound contestants began their flexing at 9 a.m. as a table of seven nationally certified, out-of-state judges scrutinized the competition for nearly five hours, basing their assessments on symmetry, presentation and muscularity.
The competitors spend months dieting and training before a bodybuilding event, Kovick said, and competitive events are an opportunity to show off all their hard work, which was evident in their bulging biceps and washboard abs.
Missoula actually played host to two championships on Saturday - a Montana title and a Big Sky Championship, which will serve as a national qualifier event for larger contests overseen by the National Physique Committee.
NPC head judge Rick Kasten has been judging bodybuilding competitions for 27 years, and said Saturday's amateur competitors came from six different states to participate in the event. The winners of the event can then go on to compete in a national championship and earn the chance to turn pro.
"This is a really nice size for an amateur division," said Kasten, who is not a bodybuilder.
"The sport can't be all bodybuilders," he said. "Have you ever seen the judges at a beauty contest? It's not always pretty."
Even so, Kasten has his own methods for staying in shape, although his regimen isn't exactly orthodox.
"Years ago, I started lifting 10-pound potato sacks, and then I moved up to 50-pound potato sacks," he said. "Eventually I'm going to have to start putting potatoes in them."
An even larger crowd would gather for the evening show, where trophies were presented to the male and female winners in various classes of bodybuilding, fitness, figure and bikini contests. Competitors and spectators also had the chance to meet and gawk at bodybuilding legends Phil "The Gift" Heath.
"Phil Heath is one of the hottest things in bodybuilding right now, and he's here to support our event and that's just amazing," Kovick said.
The idea to restart the championships came to Kovick and his wife a couple of years ago, and they have been planning and preparing for the event ever since. Kovick said the question on every bodybuilder's mind on Saturday was whether the event would be held again next year, and by the end of the day he had found an answer.
"Given the success so far, I think you can go ahead and call this an annual event," he said. "We had great sponsors, and it was great to see Missoula supporting this. That's what's so great about our town. Our community is so supportive."
Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at 523-5264 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.