With the return of the Ms. Olympia contest in 2020, many former top-billed athletes have been hinting at their renewed desire for the trophy. One such name absent from that list is Romania’s Alina Popa, runner-up to Iris Kyle in 2013 and 2014 and the 2018 Rising Phoenix World Champion. A powerhouse in the sport, why isn’t Popa returning to the stage yet? Read on for Bodybuilding Legends – Alina Popa!
Alina Popa: Early Life
Born in Romania in 1978, Alina grew up playing sport but seldom competed. Her first encounter with the gym came at age 19 when she entered a gym the summer before studying at college.
Originally hoping to just keep fit, Popa’s love affair with iron started and she soon took to weight training, joining the gym in her hometown and consuming the limited amount of Romanian bodybuilding literature available to her at the time.
Competing in Her Home Country, Romania
After 2 years of intensive training, she visited a gym in her neighbouring town, where she studied. It was here that a trainer suggested that she should compete on the limited Romanian bodybuilding scene – which sounded like a thrill allowing her to realise her full potential.
Popa first competed in 2000, in a local, regional competition in Romania. She earned second place in the heavyweight class before achieving third in the National Championship later that year.
Winning the Middleweight National Title in 2003
Following a three year absence on the competition circuit, Alina returned in 2003 to claim the middleweight national title – her debut and last appearance in the middleweight class (which she attributes to her height and difficulty meeting the weight limit).
High Placings in IFBB European Championships
She would go on to place second in 2004’s IFBB European Championship, before earning another 2nd place in the 2005 Mixed Pairs European Championship.
Some would argue that doing only one contest (rarely two) a year gave Alina a lower ‘presence’ on the bodybuilding scene, however, her ability to turn up and win dismisses those arguments.
Following two more victories in 2006 and 2007 (and a move to Switzerland), Popa earned her pro card at the 2008 IFBB Worlds Santa Susanna, claiming first in the Heavyweight and overall contest.
With the ability to compete in higher profile contests, her first pro contest came in 2010, at the Ms International where she placed a slightly disappointing 8th. Not deterred she returned in 2011 and came 3rd, before making her Olympia debut the same year earning a respectable 5th place.
Alina Popa Achieves High Placings in the Ms. Olympia
The following year saw her gradually climb the Olympia ladder, walking away with 4th in 2012 and claiming an impressive 2nd in both 2013 and 2014, behind Iris Kyle.
A damaged achilles tendon and subsequently torn bicep prevented any attempt to compete in 2015 but a return to the stage in 2016 saw her place 3rd at the Rising Phoenix World Championships – the most prestigious female bodybuilding event following the cancellation of the Ms Olympia in 2015.
Winning the Rising Phoenix World Championship with a 1st Place Trophy
Alina finally solidified herself as a champion bodybuilder in 2018, placing 1st in the IFBB Muscle Vodka Tampa Pro. Later that year she returned to the Rising Phoenix World Championships to likewise take the 1st place trophy.
‘Wings of Strength’ Fitness Company
However, despite being in a favourable position to compete in the 2020 Olympia, Popa has refocused her efforts into the fitness company Wings of Strength. Wings of Strength primarily run and promote shows and for the time being, this will be Popa’s primary concern, serving as the Vice President for European Operations and Athlete Representation.
Nonetheless, this has seen her interact with and mentor more up and coming competitors and will inevitably see her remain a figurehead in female bodybuilding. Who knows, we may yet see her return to defeat Iris Kyle.
Popa attributes her champion physique to traditional bodybuilding workouts – dismissing any idea of gender barrier.
She would train as heavy as she needed to, which in some cases meant heavier than her male friends. Regardless, she maintains she was never bothered about the actual weight she moved in a workout – claiming that the judges wouldn’t know if you were the strongest bodybuilder on the planet, they can only go off of what they see.