by John Plummer
Five UKBFF competitors have become the first Brits to be awarded IFBB Elite Pro cards.
Bikini fitness athlete Liz Richardson, men's physique champions Rasto Valent and Abies Nosa, classic bodybuilder Reno Banks and wellness queen Shannon Mackie achieved the distinction.
They now have the opportunity to compete in a series of international pro events with around $1m of prize money available.
The Elite Pro division was created in autumn last year and already has 20 events listed for 2018, including the World Championships, which has €200,000 prize money, the Arnold Classic Europe, which has $100,000 and the Elite Pro Johannesburg, which has €70,000.
The introduction of elite pro events with big cash prizes gives athletes unprecedented opportunities to compete around the world. The best competitors from the 197 countries affiliated to the IFBB are eligible to take part.
The season begins with events in the Caribbean and Brazil before things get underway in Europe with a €50,000 contest in Greece in March.
Liz plans to make her seasonal debut at the Malta Elite Pro in April, which has €25,000 up for grabs, then the following week do the Elite Pro Slovakia, which has €18,000 available. She also aims to compete at the Portugal Elite Pro, which has a prize fund of €28,000, in June.
“It's like a dream come true,” says Liz, the 2016 British champion in the masters bikini over 165 cm category. “It’s what I’ve worked so hard for over the last three years. I consider it one of my greatest achievements and one I will always be proud of.”
Rasto, the reigning British men's physique champion in the over 182 cm height division, is also eyeing the Malta and Slovakian shows. “I'm very grateful to the UKBFF for this great opportunity to live as a professional athlete,” he says. “IFBB Elite Pro has released a calendar full of pro shows with great prize money.”
Abies, a three-time British champion and Arnold Classic Europe champion, says: “It's an honour for me to be part of the UK team. I'm looking forward to getting back on stage this year and and compete against top athletes from around the world.”
Shannon Mackie, who earned pro status by becoming the inaugural UKBFF British champion in the wellness class last year, plans to compete in Portugal. “It has €5,000 prize money for the wellness class, which is awesome,” she says.
Reno, who qualified for elite pro status by finishing in the top 15 of the amateur world rankings last year, intends to compete in Greece and the Arnold Classic South Africa.
He says: “It means the world to be an IFBB Elite Pro athlete - especially the first ever UK Classic bodybuilding IFBB Elite Pro.”
Pic Credit: Christopher Bailey.