For many, 2020 was a year worth forgetting. For 2020 Bikini Olympia champion Janet Layug, it’s one she’ll never forget. Still, the freshly minted Bikini O winner is laser-focused heading into 2021. Among her goals are staying committed to her family, inspiring and guiding her daughter, and becoming a contest promoter herself. And no, she isn’t retiring to do that. Layug made it clear she wants to defend her title, too, alongside coach Kim Oddo.
Layug spoke with BarBend to discuss the buildup to her big win, how her daughter is her biggest supporter, and the launch of her new show, Battle of the Bodies — which is the first show, according to Layug, hosted by a Bikini Olympia winner.
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Editor’s Note: The following interview has been lightly edited for readability.
BarBend: You’ve been in that second-place position three previous times (2014-2015, 2019). How did it feel when Bob Cicherillo said your name this time?
Janet Layug: Going into that moment on the Olympia stage, it was me and Jen (Dorie), and you’re right, it was a familiar moment being there three times already. I just knew that I couldn’t be second. I’ve gone through this for so many years. It was my sixth year competing at the Mr. Olympia. [Layug missed the 2017 Olympia due to Hurricane Erma.] After all of those years, and coming down to that moment, I felt this energy. I had worked so hard. It has to be my time. It was a surreal moment, and I get to have that moment forever.
BarBend: Did you have that same feeling going into the prejudging?
JL: They say you win the competition from the front. However, I know there are a handful of judges, and I respect their opinion. That said, I would never win the Olympia because of my glutes. I changed my training. So when I turned around for that pose. Again, I felt this positive energy because I knew they would see the improvement. I felt that energy leaving the stage.
Then, leaving after the Finals, I talked to a couple of the judges, including Tyler Manion and Steve Weinberger. For six years, I took losing like a champion because I’m supposed to. This year, they told me that [I] was a clear-cut, definite winner. They said, “You’ve done what we’ve wanted you to do for years. You’ve brought up the glutes, tightened them up, made them look fuller and rounder.” To hear that was everything to me. That was the icing of any cake I’ve ever had.
BarBend: The Olympia moved from Las Vegas to Orlando, and you live in Florida. Do you feel that the location change gave you an advantage of sorts?
JL: I didn’t have to travel because the show was on the opposite coast. That was a huge deal. Recovering from the traveling and the pressures of being on an airplane, not battling the water, there’s a lot of stuff that you’re battling with. After landing, your body changes. So when they said that the Olympia was moving, I’m like, “Wow. That’s a huge thing.” It was my backyard. I couldn’t have had a bigger advantage than that to start with. So that began the feeling of positivity circling. My family got to be there and see it as well, and that obviously meant the most to me.
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BarBend: Where does your ability to keep showing up come from?
JL: There have been low points, and I’ve cried at times, but I’ve always had this burning desire to succeed. I tell myself that I’m Janet Layug, and I can f****** do this s***! I take something on, and I own it, and I take it all the way. For instance, I actually gave birth to my daughter while I was in nursing school. There were so many people who hear that a young woman[is pregnant] — I was 19 at the time — and say, “She’s pregnant, she’s in nursing school, she’s probably going to fail, she’s never going to amount to anything.” I wash away all that negativity and always view things as an opportunity to take them on.
I was a proud young mother; I was going to finish nursing school, which was the moment I knew I could be successful at anything. I came home from the hospital with my daughter, Briley, and there was this extra credit assignment. You didn’t have to do it, but in my mind, I had to do it. I had to go above and beyond. I did that, and I finished. I also raised the most amazing, beautiful, smart daughter. Then I became successful in this venture into fitness. That example shows [my daughter] that if there is something she wants, she can do it, and she needs to work as hard as possible to make it happen.
BarBend: How did Briley react to your win?
JL: Let me tell you. She gets p***** when I don’t win. Even with the Hooters’ pageants, she would get so upset if I didn’t win. So when I finally won that Hooters pageant, I finally got a smile out of her. [Layug was Miss Hooters International in 2014.] She expects me to be great and win every single time. She believes in me, and when I don’t win, I think that I’m letting her down.
Seeing her in the crowd along with my whole team, wearing “Team Janet” masks and jackets — they knew…all the effort and hard work. Before I even stepped on the stage, she knew it was my year. She said, “Mom, you’re going to win. I know it.” This was before we even left the house. So having her and my family there was the best part. They made it that much better.
BarBend: How has your life changed since becoming Ms. Bikini Olympia?
JL: I have been well prepared for this moment. I’ve been the brand ambassador for the Miss Hooters pageant and the company and brand itself. I’ve been in the fitness industry for the last few years, representing companies and always being in a top spot. Now that I’m holding this position, I want to take full advantage, helping out and giving back. I plan on attending seminars and shows, helping promoters and fellow competitors by providing knowledge tips or advice. I think it’s so important to put myself out there. Holding the title means I should be doing that as a representative of the division.
BarBend: Do you have anything specific in mind that you plan on doing that would be different or new?
JL: I am putting on Battle of the Bodies in Fort Lauderdale, FL on July 31, 2021. It’s the inaugural show. I think this is pretty special because I can’t think of one bikini champion with her own show. It’s such a special show for me because so many people have been a part of my journey, and now I get to be a part of so many other people’s journeys. I’m so blessed that I’ve had this opportunity to have this show and this event.
It’s pretty cool to be the first reigning Bikini Olympia champion to have her own show. We’re going to have all divisions for the NPC (National Physique Committee). This will be an NPC National qualifier. There will also be an IFBB Pro League Bikini show. I’m really excited about that.
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BarBend: If there is an IFBB Pro League Bikini Division contest at your show, that means all winners this year qualify for the Olympia. The reigning Ms. Bikini Olympia’s show will literally determine one of your opponents when you defend your title later this year.
JL: That’s right! Isn’t that crazy? I know it’s an individual sport, but there are many people and a lot of comradery in this division. I love this division, and I love all the girls in the division. I’ve seen so many of them come up, and I got to be a part of their journey — past champions like Ashley [Kaltwasser], Angelica [Teixeira], Elisa [Pecina], and Courtney [King]. I’ve beaten them before, and they’ve beaten me. At the same time, we’ve had so many experiences around the world. I’m so honored to have been around these amazing women. So some of these women will compete at my show, and one of them will get to compete at the Olympia against me.
BarBend: So where can competitors and fans learn more information about the first “Battle of the Bodies”?
JL: All of the information about registration and how to be a part of the show will be available on the website — janetsbattleofthebodies.com. Information about registering and tickets will be announced soon. Anyone interested can also follow me on Instagram because I will be sharing a lot more information there as well. You have no idea how excited I am about this. It’s another stepping stone in my career, and I really want to help bring the sport to a bigger audience. I want to increase awareness of the sport. Anyone who loves fitness and health, everyone who wants to transform their bodies can be a part of this.
BarBend: Do you plan on defending your title at the 2021 Mr. Olympia?
JL: You know, New Year’s Eve was only a couple of weeks after the show, and one thing I said was that it would be neat to be a two-time reigning Bikini Olympia champion. The last three years have had three different champions, and I think it’s time we have a repeat champion. So yes, I have every intention of going for it.
Featured image: @janetlayug on Instagram / photo by Jason Breeze