When the woman Olympia was hired after the 2014 Olympics, this was the end of an era of women's bodybuilding and a painful reminder that women in sports were considered second-rate. For many female competitors their chances were slim – change their training to become a women's competitor, or accept that they did not have a home at the biggest bodybuilding event in the world.
The eight-time Olympic champion Lenda Murray was especially hard hit. "I really felt for the women who were currently competing," she says. "I was wondering," How would I feel if I was the current champion or junior champion and suddenly there is no room for women's bodybuilding anymore? "That would be really a challenge."
Phoenix from the ashes
But one person believed that women still deserve a spot on the main stage, and he was determined to get the open category of women back to the Olympics. Jake Wood, co-founder of Wings of Strength, discovered his love of bodybuilding after a chance encounter with Stacey Bentley in the gym when he was 16 years old. "It was a paradigm shift for me," he says. "I did not know women can do that, and I thought it was beautiful."
As an adult, Wood has teamed up with renowned bodybuilding promoter and Judge Tim Gardner to create several pro shows. However, he found that female bodybuilders did not receive the same support as their male counterparts. "It was a farce that women's bodybuilding fell apart," says Wood. To address this issue, he founded Wings of Strength, a women-focused bodybuilding event that hosts the largest women's bodybuilding event, the Rising Phoenix World Championships.
Prepare the stage
Murray immediately signed on as Wings of Strength spokeswoman and champion for women bodybuilders. "It was time bodybuilders knew who they were – to fight and have a voice," says Murray. "This should show how strong we are and how committed we are to our passion."
This year, Wood and Murray have fully realized their ultimate goal – to bring the open category of women back to the Olympics. "To make bodybuilding work for women again, we need to introduce it to the general public," explains Wood. "How can you do that if you do not have bodybuilding for women at Olympia?" Thanks to Wood, Murray and the entire Wings of Strength family, Ms. Olympia is now returning to the 2020 Olympics. "There was never a lack of interest. It just lacked promotion, "says Wood about the return.
New era for women's bodybuilding
Women in bodybuilding have always had to deal with a number of unique challenges, especially in terms of body image. It's a challenge that Murray understands very well. "It was difficult to make that change from a cheerleader to focusing on this image that society said was great for having big biceps and shoulders," she says. But this definition of beauty and femininity continues to evolve. "My mission today is to communicate with bodybuilders: their challenge is unique and I'm really proud of the women who have survived this longer break, we would not be where we are if they did not continue to show up."
Wood agrees with Murray's feeling. "Wings of Strength's goal is to change the world a little – to accept that women can look the way they want to look, and if they want to be muscular and physically tall and powerful, that's fine," he says. However, their main goal is to ensure that bodybuilding – for both women and men – always has a home. "People are not aware that women's bodybuilding can disappear, as well as men's, and I do not want to that one of them disappears, "Wood says, thanks to him and Wings of Strength, the legacy of bodybuilding seems secure.