July 24, 2017

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) The muscles glistened as bodybuilders from Haiti and the Dominican Republic flexed and strutted onstage in the first such showdown between the neighboring countries whose relations are often tense.

Sunday's event was organized by the Dominican Bodybuilding Federation and a local Haitian bodybuilding group to generate support for the sport and make it more accessible, especially in Haiti where a handful of bodybuilders struggle to become professionals in a country where many people make less than $2 a day.

Among those competing was Spely Laventure, a 30-year-old Haitian who won five competitions in the past year but struggles to find sponsors and the nutrition he needs, especially after losing his job as a loan officer.

''As you know in Haiti, when you lose your job, it's not very easy to find another,'' he told The Associated Press before the competition. ''I spent all my savings on my body. I don't regret that.''

More than two dozen men and one woman competed in Sunday's Haiti Bodybuilding Classic. Laventure won it and said he hopes it will lead to sponsors and more exposure.

''I proved (to) everyone that I'm really a champion,'' he said.

He gave his biceps one last squeeze for the audience as second-place finisher Jose Solano, one of two participants from the Dominican Republic, congratulated him.

Tony Pena, president of the Dominican Republic's Bodybuilding Federation, urged Haiti's government to support their local bodybuilders.

''Haitians have very good genetics to be world-class champions,'' he said. ''They just need support.''

Laventure gets to work out for free thanks to the owner of a gym in Haiti's capital. But he spends $50 to $100 a week on a single meal plan, considered an exorbitant amount in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

''Most of the things that you eat to prepare for competition, they import it,'' he said.

Laventure could not find a coach when he began training, so he studied YouTube videos and followed bodybuilders on Instagram to learn about the sport and imitate workouts.

He now wants to become Haiti's first professional bodybuilder and dreams about participating in Mr. Olympia, the world's biggest bodybuilding competition.

''I know it's going to be very hard. ... In Haiti, especially, it's not easy,'' he said, adding that he believes he'll make it: ''I was a skinny guy, but look at me right now.''

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