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TV PREVIEW: American Gladiators

Milwaukie mom battles the baddest
by: ©2008 JENNIFER PARSONS, Formerly a Blazer Dancer for three years, Monica Carlson recently went up against bodybuilders such as Venom, Crush and Fury for television glory and $100,000 prizes.

They're tough female titans with mean handles: Venom, Crush, Fury and, of course, Hellga, a 6-foot-1-inch, 205-pound Nordic knockout.

So how did a former Blazer Dancer and Milwaukie mother of 8-year-old twins prepare to battle the bruising stars of the new 'American Gladiators'?

'I pretty much went in stone cold,' says 32-year-old Monica Carlson, whose stats ring in at 5 feet 7 inches and 130 pounds. 'It was the scare of my life, but I love that kind of thing, I love the challenge.'

Carlson danced with the Blazer Dance Team for three years; she swims, dives and does light weight training, but found chasing her twin girls through playground jungle gyms to be the best training.

The revived, revved-up version of the popular '90s athletic competition series pits 24 amateur athletes in a tournament of events against one another and pro Gladiators - the hulking male and female bodybuilders who are the nemeses of the contestants.

You'll see old-school face-offs, like jousts (opponents battling with those giant Q-Tips-like staffs), joined by new ones, like 'Hit and Run,' in which contestants must cross a 50-foot bridge while dodging 100-pound balls hurled by the Gladiators. A fall drops the loser into a 500,000-gallon water tank.

The payoff for the season's grand champions is $100,000 each.

Carlson says her fellow contestants were just as daunting as the Gladiators themselves.

'I was so intimidated when I got there. There were pro football players, a jujitsu master, a Marine,' she says. What kept her pumped was pure guts and the support of her family, including her husband, Chad, who's head coach of Lincoln High School's football team.

'They were cheering and rooting watching Mom give it all she had,' she says.

Carlson watched the series while growing up and says the difference this time around is that the events are more grueling and the pace of the action is virtually nonstop.

'This is old 'American Gladiators' times 10,' Carlson says.

'American Gladiators' airs 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 14, KGW (8)

- Lee Williams