Prime Cut

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Liane Seiwald, a personal trainer with her own gym in Golden, competed as a professional bodybuilder for nearly a decade before finally dropping out in 2000. "I'd been training for seven or eight years and was probably about as big as I was going to get without going the steroid route," she says. "I'd seen what it's done to other people, and I didn't want to go there."

Tweaking one's physique may be about celebrating athleticism and achieving personal goals, but, as with many other sports, at the higher levels, it's driven by money. Sponsors -- primarily supplement and equipment manufacturers -- pay to support shows that get press and public attention. By the mid-1990s, it had become apparent that serious women's bodybuilding, already a marginally appreciated sport, was moving further and further away from what people were willing to pay to see, changing from a spectacle to a fetish.

"Once Bev Francis won, it started to become more and more muscular," says Dave Newingham, who promotes the large Nova competitions out of Florida. "And what sponsors are going to want to buy into that? People will still pay to see freaky men. But they won't pay to see freaky women who look like men."

As local head of the National Physique Committee, the amateur arm of the IFBB, Denver's Jeff Taylor promotes most of the large shows in the Rocky Mountain region. He admits that he struggles with the idea that female and male bodybuilders must be held to different standards. "What's the right bodybuilding physique for a woman?" he asks. "Many of them can build themselves like a man. Should that be punished or lauded?"

On a recent weekday afternoon, Pomponio-Pate arrives at the General Nutrition Center at the Denver Pavilions to do a meet-and-greet for one of her sponsors, Isatori. On a card table just inside the entrance to the store, she lays out a pile of Meta-Cel supplement samples, as well as a pile of glossy eight-by-ten photos of her bikini-clad self.

A series of recent successes in major shows have turned Pomponio-Pate into a recognized physique star, if not a superstar. Last fall she placed sixth at the Ms. Olympia contest, one of the two biggest shows in the country. A few weeks earlier, she was asked to compete in the Arnold, probably the most important contest of the year. Named after you-know-who, the competition, which the governor still attends, is invite-only. Pomponio-Pate was one of only fifteen women in her category to get the call.

"Getting invited to the Arnold is huge," says Taylor, who has followed Pomponio-Pate's career from amateur to pro. "And to finish in the top ten of the Olympia -- it's amazing. This is about as good as it gets."

A couple of fans who've been awaiting Pomponio-Pate's arrival at the store start to trickle in. It's easy to see why they're here. Pomponio-Pate is strikingly good-looking, with long, dark hair, a classic inverted-triangle face with high cheekbones, deep dimples and perfect teeth. For a sizable portion of the male population, her figure -- large-busted, wide-shouldered and rail-thin -- would qualify as a perfect ten.

She is also unfailingly polite and personable, standing to greet each visitor. Three young men approach her slowly, made suddenly shy by their proximity to celebrity. Pomponio-Pate, however, is as friendly as can be. She smiles and shakes each of their hands.

"Have you guys tried this? Meta-Cel?" she asks, nodding to the table. "When I was competition-dieting last year, I gained ten pounds of lean muscle."

"Damn," says one guy.

A second looks intently at the photo and then up at Pomponio-Pate. "This picture doesn't do you justice," he says.

The three stick around long enough to get autographed photos, then leave.

A woman in sweats approaches next. "Can you tell me what you do for abs?" she asks. "I'm doing Body for Life."

"Well," Pomponio-Pate answers, "I don't really do obliques, 'cause you don't want that thickness. You want the 'V.' You've gotta be careful."

The woman picks up an eight-by-ten. "You're really cut in this photo," she says. "How'd you get down to this?"

Pomponio-Pate laughs. "Nine months of dieting."

Some cops stroll in a few minutes later. A couple of them recognize Pomponio-Pate and ask how she's doing. "I'm crabby," she says. "Hungry." She nods toward the supplement table. "Taking a lot of this stuff to stay awake. I'm smiling, but I don't know why."

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Eric Dexheimer
Contact: Eric Dexheimer