by Andrew Rudansky
The female competitors stood on stage, heads up, backs straight, arms wide to their sides.
“Quarter turn,” said one of the judges over the PA system.
As one, the women on stage shifted to their right, never losing their smiles as they tightened their spray-tanned muscles in their stomachs and thighs.
The five women on stage represented only a fraction of the hundreds of body builders and physique competitors taking part in the New York Bev Francis Atlantic States Championships 2012 at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center in New York City.
Only an amateur regional competition, albeit one of the largest in the country, the Atlantic States is a celebration of aesthetic perfection. Each of the competitors at the Atlantic States, held Saturday, June 2, were there to gain recognition for years of intensive muscle training and personal sacrifice.
Zivile Ngo, from East Hampton, was one of those women on stage, competing in the Women’s Figure portion of the event. The competitors in women’s figure, one of the many divisions in this year’s Atlantic States, are smaller than the traditional muscle-bound bodybuilding division. Yet, they are no less committed to the pursuit of their idea of physical perfection.
Tall, blonde, and sporting a completely toned body, Ngo beamed a smile to the crowd while she was on stage.
Out in the crowd, her training coach, Chris Cosich, a veteran bodybuilder himself, yelled out encouragement.
“You got this Z,” he boomed over the seated audience, joining a chorus of other admirers and well-wishers.
Also competing in the competition was Daniel Bakke, a resident of Sag Harbor and another student of Cosich. Bakke, with his superhero build and boyish grin, was there to compete in the Men’s Physique division.
“This sport is really a mental game,” said Cosich. “Body building and fitness training is all about fighting yourself and winning that mental game.”
Cosich has been competing and training others for events like the Atlantic States since the 1990s. He said that in his years of experience, he has seen people lack the mental toughness to compete at this level.
Cosich’s believes that in his sport there is no more important factor than nutrition. This mantra is repeated again and again between Cosich and his pupils.
“The biggest thing people get from me is that this isn’t about being in the gym seven days a week… Really, nutrition is at least 80 percent of this,” said Cosich.
For Ngo and Bakke that means a strict diet consisting of protein, regimented deprival of carbohydrates, massive amounts of water and no sugar whatsoever.
While training, Cosich sounds less like a coach and more like a college professor; breaking down a diet plan to the smallest minutia, all while listing exactly the physiological effect each food chemical has on the human body.
To reach their level of physical fitness, Bakke and Ngo trained for years, spending hours in the gym and committing themselves to their severe nutritional plan with a monastic dedication.
Their hard work shows, both of them seeming to be without a single ounce of body fat.
Both Ngo and Bakke are personal trainers on the East End, and both said that a win at the Atlantic States could add to their credentials as fitness professionals. Beyond this, both admitted that vanity plays into their attendance at a competition dedicated completely to the physical form.
“Everyone in the world has a certain level of vanity,” said Bakke, “and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”
In determining which of the competitors presents the most perfect form, the judges at the event look for size, symmetry, conditioning, posing, balance and even charisma when declaring a winner.
“It is more than just who is the biggest,” said Cosich, “There is an art to all of this.”
In the end Ngo finished fifth in her division, while Bakke took fourth place in his division, good enough to advance to a national competition. Overall the Atlantic States could be seen as a disappointment for Cosich and his team, who had hoped to come away with two wins.
But after the competition the group seemed undeterred, and even happy. They knew this wasn’t their last chance at competitive glory, and it was just the latest marker on which to judge themselves.
“For us you have this physical goal, but you don’t see the destination,” said Ngo. “These competitions help us see that destination.”