Bodybuilding Reviews / Videos
1998 Masters Nationals

NPC Masters Nationals Competition
July 1998 show held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Contest Promoter: Gary Udit
Videotaped by Repetrope Productions
Availability: DVD and download

The Masters Nationals show is held annually in Pittsburgh, where the NPC (National Physique Committee) is headquartered.  It is held, in conjunction with the Teen/Collegiate Nationals, at a downtown Sheraton Hotel.  While this Masters show is called "national," the only thing a competitor has to do to qualify for it is to have competed in any other NPC show, no matter how he placed.  Thus any NPC member who fits the age requirements, and who can afford a trip to Pittsburgh, can compete.  That means a significant number of competitors are not national in caliber.  However, the top end of most weight classes produces quality bodymen, because the show professionalizes the overall winner and qualifies him for the IFBB Masters Olympia.

The Masters-level competitors are aged 40 or older, plenty of time to go in and out of gyms -- for the men here, mainly in.  Some are among the best Masters bodybuilders in America, and the tape shows how much talent men over the standard competitive age can have.  Some could kick butt at the regional level, and probably do.  The age category for the competition is 40-49, 50-59, and 60+.  If an older guy thinks he's good enough, he can compete in the same weight class with a younger age group, or in both age groups.  (For example, a middleweight in the 50-59 category can compete both there and in the 40-49 category, or he can skip 50-59 and jump down to compete at 40-49.  The toughest class is always 40-49.)

Repetrope produced three videotapes of this show: prejudging, pump room, and evening show.  I'll run through them one at a time.

Masters Nationals Prejudging
Length: 166 minutes

To get the  atmosphere of a BB competition, a prejudging tape is the next best thing to being at the show.  It has most of the advantages of attending the actual prejudging.  We get all the competitors in each weight class, first sized up against each other in lineups ("quarter turn to the right"), then doing individual routines for the judges, then lined up again for more comparisons, and on to the next class.  It's easy to see which classes have the best guys, and the prejudging is often the show that hardcore fans go to instead of the evening show.  Usually held the morning or afternoon of the show, it cuts the fancy lighting, the individual music for the posers, the announcer's jokes, guest poser, crowds, expensive tickets, and foofaraw about who wins.  You can decide who should win, and to heck with what the judges think.  The camera here is stationed behind the crowd in a fixed position, panning back and forth across the lineups or occasionally up and down on the competitors.  It's not fancy but gets the job done.

This tape reveals how tight a ship the NPC runs; it has the logistics of a contest down to a T, with brisk instructions clearly announced by the judges, a coordinator onstage to keep the guys moving, and an air of competence apparent. Anyone attending a poorly run contest knows how needless hours can get tacked onto a show. The NPC routines are efficient and appreciated, because comparisons drag out a show endlessly if badly handled.  Any remaining delays get edited out by Repetrope.

Since the prejudging intends to offer each competitor the first chance to show what he's got to the judges, the atmosphere is muted and businesslike.  The crowd, mainly friends and family of the posers onstage, occasionally offers support ("Go Dad!"), but applauds politely until the final comparisons, when you'll hear more yells ("Get your feet together!", "Spread 'em!" for lats, "Blow it out!" for abs).  The audience knows what to look for and how to size up a competitor onstage.

Here is my take on the various weight and age classes.  The competitors have numbers and not names here, but their numbers aren't announced except in comparison lineups, so I'll mention the ones I liked in the order they posed.

Lightweights over 40 include bantamweights as well.  Of  eight competitors, three impressed me. The third guy is big in the chest, with a great look.  The sixth guy has nice pecs and back.  The eighth guy is just well-built, ending with a great most muscular.  At the ten-second call some stop, some try to get in their last best shots, and a few don't get that far.

Middleweights over 40 have six competitors.  It's a strong class, with four standing out.  The first has a sharp waist, cuts, and knows his stuff.  The third has nice lats and a great tan.  The fourth has nice lines and arms.  The sixth has thick biceps and chest, great back, and projects well.

Light-heavyweights over 40 have 13 total, a big class.  Two stand out.  The fifth guy has thick traps, chest, and a back and arms shown off by a rear double bicep pose.  The thirteenth is a fine poser with a good-looking beard.

Heavyweights over 40 are another big class, 15 total.  This is the strongest class overall, with six standouts.  The second guy has the chest, arms, abs.  The fourth has it all: the routine, every body part, with dark sideburns and goatee to boot.  The eighth has a "Mr. Clean" look, a huge bald dude whose theme song should be, "Let's Go to Ab City."   The tenth guy has an excellent look and longer hair than most of the others, who favor buzzcuts.  The twelfth guy has huge shoulders, pecs and arms, but leaves stage too fast.  Balding on top, the fifteenth guy projects a grizzled masculinity.

Super-heavyweights over 40 have seven total. I favored the fifth guy, who has great ripped lines, nice back, and stylish posing.

The over-50 class is split into two groups, lightweight and heavyweight.  Of the 13 lightweights, three stand out.  The ninth guy is lean, cut, with a great look.  The eleventh guy is cut, hits poses sharply, has knockout abs and tan.  The thirteenth guy has size and thickness, displaying himself well.

The larger guys in the over-50 class are next, with eight total.  I found none notable.

The over-60 class has 10 competitors, of which the fourth guy impressed me.  He had a great back and hypnotic close-set eyes -- the ideal granddad.

There you have it -- nearly three hours of older BBs, many in their prime.  Any serious fan of Masters men should see this tape.

Pump Room (Men’s Backstage Pass)
Length: 62 minutes

The pump room at the Sheraton is the hallway running along the side of the auditorium.  On the other side of the wall the Masters prejudging is going on, and the announcer sounds like he’s in the room.  The pump room is set up in the hallway of the hotel, with pay phones and fire extinguishers on the walls.  A few portable mirrors are propped along the corridor, and some weightlifting equipment and stretch cables are provided.  No one minds; everyone just goes for his best pump before the contest.

None of these guys projects attitude as he gets ready for the stage.  You feel a sense of humor about growing older (“I’m an old man, I gotta pump up!”), but occasional resentment about being considered an intruder on a young man’s game.  If BBs as a group don’t get respect, older BBs really don’t get it (including from younger ones).  One guy says, “We crossed the bridge first”; another notes that with an aging population, older bodybuilding should be a coming thing.  It’s moving to see these guys working to do well onstage, because they have paid their dues several times over and rarely gotten credit for it.  That makes this video doubly valuable as a tribute to their sustained dedication to bodybuilding.

As always in the Repetrope pump room videos, excellent oiled muscle gets shown in intense and startling close-ups, a sheen of sweat spreading over arms, chests, and shoulders in every direction.  Some guys who didn’t impress me onstage did at closer quarters.  There’s a good feeling in the pump room; these guys know their bodies well, have gotten past injuries and kept the pumping faith.

Since this pump room is for the prejudging, everyone’s a contender.  A “stay hungry” atmosphere prevails as the guys work the ‘bells, cables, and mirrors for all they’re worth.  The Masters is a smaller show than others Repetrope has pump room videos on, so it’s easy to recognize the guys by name if you have the other tapes for this show.  I was happy to see more of several who did not make the top five in their class, and a lot more of those who did.  So much goes into a contest prep, and so little of it gets conveyed in a two-minute routine.  Part of the rest of the iceberg below the surface is available in the pump room.  We get a sense of these men as individuals and as competitors.

The prejudging goes from younger to older, so the guys progressively age as the tape goes on.  You can feel the decades peel away as the men talk of the 1950s, '40s and '30s.  One guy recalls when “a quart of milk used to be a dime.”  Watching this video is like being in a time machine, but one with a screen on the present.  These guys care about how well they can do now, not in yesteryear.  They are inspiring to watch and listen to. Masters men give bodybuilding a history.

At one point a man being prepped by his wife asks the Repetrope cameraman what network he’s from.  Hearing that this is the contest video and the sound is on, he announces, “I’m from San Francisco, my name is Pax Beale, and I came to play.”  He says he “cheated the Grim Reaper twice,” and his wife mentions a heart bypass operation and a ruptured appendix that landed him in the Intensive Care Unit.  “We’re gonna give it one more shot,” he says.

The cameraman replies, “Hats off to you, my friend.”  Hats off to them all.

Men’s Evening Show
Length: 112 minutes

This contest is great fun to watch.  Many of these guys do not take a backseat to any BB in the country; they can hold their own onstage.  I didn’t expect freaky muscle and was pleasantly surprised to see it.   The Masters also show you things you won’t see in other competitions, including a fair amount of facial hair.  As always in its evening show tapes, and the Repetrope camera cuts to close-ups of the guys onstage for a you-are-there view.

At this show, NPC head Jim Manion judged and gave awards out.  The evening show proceeds in reverse order of age, from older to younger.  My rundown of the contestants that caught my eye follows, with class winners indicated.  I’ll kibitz about the results as I go.

In presenting all classes, the NPC procedure never varies.  Members of each class are brought onstage and introduced one by one.  We get the name, number, and city/state of each competitor as he steps up and does his favorite pose.  Sometimes the age of the competitor is mentioned.  The top five come on individually for their routines, then all five are called onstage.  The awards, given out by a “name” person like Manion (or a show sponsor), go from fifth to first, with the usual congrats and pissed-off expressions at not being ranked higher.  The MC asks the men to pose with hands over head, then in a front double bicep, so show pix can be taken.  It was nice to see the MC (who is excellent) treat these guys with respect: he calls them “athletes” and “gentlemen.”

The contestants over 60 go first.  One of the contestants is 70, in fact.  John Murray is cue-ball bald, tightly built, and grins like a kid during his routine.  He uses Philip Glass music to show off his cuts.  John Gari has a grizzled dad look, nice moustache and a lean build; he’s a deliberate poser with a great side chest shot.  Pax Beale’s abs are displayed to the show-stopper number, “New York, New York” (“start spreadin’ the lats”; whoops, “news”).  Max Pope won this class with his cuts and sleek build, but I liked Gari best (he took this class in this show in '95).

The contestants age 50-59 go next.  This is a strong group, with veterans I recognized.  They come in two classes, lightweights (to 176 ) and heavyweights (over that), but most of these heavyweights stay under 200 pounds.

These lightweights got my attention.  Philip Bradfield has presence, with a solid back and arms; his posing is well timed, his routine sharp.  Robert Caltabiano has great tattoos (including one across the top of his hand) and works his arms; he took the over-50 award at this show in 2000.  James Little is beefy, moves well, and shows off his back with a rear double bicep pose.   Tony Pandolfo is a delight to see again.  Popular in the late 70s (he won his class several times and hit the cover of mags), he took this class in this show in 1995.  He’s a silver-haired warrior, still with a rakish moustache, showing knockout abs to the tune of “That Old Time Rock and Roll.”  Joe Discordia won this class with the best posing of the entire show, and a shrink-wrapped build.

The heavyweights over 50 are not as strong, but some stood out.  Andy Gerasimon won this class with good cuts and abs.  Sam Bryant has a sleek build and a neat shaved head and goatee.  Louis Leigh has a tight, lean build.  Larry Pyle can pose well, again with a tight build.

The two class winners came on for comparisons and a posedown.  Discordia won the over 50 class overall.  He was my pick as well.

Now the 40-49 classes start.  First up are the lightweights, to 154 .  This is a great class overall.  Francisco Fontanez has veiny abs, a tight build and routine, and nice presence (he finishes with a bow).  He won this class (as he did his classes in the 1985 Nationals and 1986 USA).  Mark Siverd is an in-your-face poser with a good shoulders, back, fantastic most muscular, nice cuts -- the works.  James Hemminger has great skin and a fiesty routine to the “let’s get ready to rumble” number; it's fun.  Jerry Chow peaked well with a tight build.  Dave Wilson has a great back, beefed-up pecs, solid abs, and poses like nobody’s business (he won the bantam class at the '98 North American).  I was sorry Ernie Hughes didn’t make the cut.

The over-40 middleweights come next.  Going up to 176 , this is a big group with solid contenders.  James Williams crawls onstage to give us a wild routine; he has nice pecs and back, shaking out quads worth seeing, and has great presence.  James Seger offers some cuts.  Terry Wertz also has cuts, adding a solid chest to an intense routine.  Danny Mattingly is the easy winner of this class.  He has everything -- back, legs, arms, abs, veiny skin, great expressions, terrific posing.  All in all, a great class.

Next up are the over-40 light-heavies, to 198 .  Again, several guys didn’t make the cut I would like to see more of, including Gary Camili, Gary Jackson, and the bearded Mike Gilbertson.

These five make the cut: Ned Alton has thick pecs and quads, nice abs, and moves well.  Henry Youngblood has wide shoulders and back, Saran-wrap skin, pyramidal traps, and can move.  Max Sigloch (who took this class) is a big guy, hard, cut, thick, and freaky in his upper back; he’s ready for any national show.  Doug Morgan has nice arms (a barbed wire tattoo circles one upper arm), solid chest, and projects control.  Scott Fisher has a tan like burnished brass, a tight build and sharp crab.  There’s solidarity among the placers as the rankings get announced.

The over-40 heavyweights are a large, excellent group.  In a perfect world we would have gotten Doug Cancal (with a dark goatee), Matt Brunson (a Southern bruiser), and the grizzled Tim Fleming past the cut.

Here are the top five: George Thurmon won this class with a powerful build and stunning routine.  He has it all, and proved it by taking 12th at the Nationals later in the year.  Tim Froemke has a good back and abs, hitting poses hard.  Hans Hopstaken looks like a bald Terminator, freaky big and posing dramatically to “Live and Let Die.”  He’s the real thing, and won the overall show here in '99.  Bill Cambra, a mass monster with an enormous chest, back and guns, looks like an upsized Lee Labrada and was my favorite at this show.  Paul Davis is thick-chested and has the abs.

Last up are the over-40 super-heavyweights (over 225 ).  Bob Maddox and Tate Williams didn’t make the cut; both looked good.  Among the top five, Lee Apperson won this class and the overall title for this year with a tight, lean build and a forceful routine.  Mike Chance has big arms and a thick chest.  Jack Wadsworth offers a solid frame and nice routine.  Bruce Thompson has energetic posing and a compact build.  Ed Wolowiec is freaky huge, with mass-monster shoulders, chest, arms and waist; a gamer with the big boys, he’s hungry to win.

The tape concludes with a comparison lineup and posedown for the five over-40 top placers to confirm Apperson’s win, which kicked him into pro status for the Masters Olympia.  That’s it for a next-best-to-being-there video of a contest proving BBs over 40 are where it’s at.  Younger guys work out; these guys know why they’re working out, and have dedicated the better part of their lives to doing it.

For a rundown of the rankings for this show, see

Mike Emery
July 1999, updated March 2001