Trang Nguyen, John Hauk, and Lorena Marquez — all previous number-one finishers — are just some of the recognizable names on this year’s Top 25 List. And one of those three is now retired, one came back from retirement, and one’s not left the list in five years. Know who’s  who?

Read on for the answers — and other fun facts about some of the Top 25.

He’s Number One

Eight years ago Trang Nguyen was at the top of the heap. He finished 1998 as the top competitor and planned to retire from the competition circuit. At that time he had plans to introduce his own acrylic line. With his new company, Odyssey Nail Systems, up and running, Nguyen returned to competitions during the 2004-2005 season.

Company: Odyssey Nail Systems

Years doing nails: 14

Years competing: 13

Why did you return to competitions? ”Competitions are my love, competing drives me to better my skills or create new products. Sometimes, it relaxes me, too.”

Which year was more difficult in winning the top spot 1998 or 2005-2006?

”Back in the old times, it was a little easier. Today, everyone has great technical skills.”

How have competitions changed since the ’90s? ”The competitions have changed a lot — all the competitors now are very skilled. You must be very technically correct. To win the competition now, you must practice very hard and get a lot of information from others.”

What was your favorite competition this year? ”I love all competitions — the bigger the better. I enjoy large-scale competitions like the Nailympics in Las Vegas.”

At shows, Nguyen often goes back and forth between competing and doing demonstrations at the Odyssey booth. Here, he takes a break from competing to demo Odyssey products on lucky attendees.

At the Las Vegas Nailympics, Nguyen placed second in wraps and third in acrylic sculpture, helping solidify his top-place finish.

2005-2006 Top 25 

At the last minute, and with one point to spare, Rita Horvath snuck into second place — her spot for the second year in a row. A veteran competitor, this is her eighth year on our list — and her seventh time in the top 10. 

Although new to the NAILS Top 25, Michelle Sproat sprang up the list. She held onto the second-place spot for much of the season but after missing the Nailympics in Las Vegas, she fell to third. Still, this top three finish is a nearamazing feat for a first-year competitor.

Japan’s Kaori Iwai [right] can be seen at many shows — working hard on the competition floor or working side-by-side at Odyssey’s booth with number-one competitor Nguyen, whom she credits as her biggest professional influence..

Doing nails for 15 years and competing for 11, John Hauk’s favorite competition is French Twist. “It allows more room for creativity but still keeps the shape and form of the nail,” he says. He’s been in the top five on our list since 2001.

Amy Becker [left] has been competing for 15 years and has placed on the Top 25 list for 12 years running. Her award-winning models are usually coworkers or clients.

Japan’s Chika Ihara first competed in Honolulu in 1999 “because the places for the biggest challenges are in the United States,” she says. Like Ihara, many of Japan’s elite nailists come to the United States to compete against the world’s best.

Seo Sang Mi shot up to the Top 10 after successful showings at the Nailympics in London and Las Vegas. Hailing from Korea, she was the overall grand champion in the Division III Masters Category at the Las Vegas Nailympics.

Sweden’s Karin Strom [left] , with one of her hand models, is a regular on the competition circuit, especially at Super Points shows like the Nailympics.

After nine years of competing, Lorena Marquez retired in September 2005, but her early-season wins kept her on NAILS’ Top 25. And her competition success helped her land a job as inm’s director of education.

Mayumi Hase’s [right] wins in the Super Points competitions got her a placement on the Top 25 list.

Mira Song, who works at Odyssey Nail Systems, has only been competing for a year and a half. “I love to compete!” says this competition-driven nail tech.

Working with Tom Holcomb and Tom Bachik, Christina Gonzales competes with the Entity crew. She’s no stranger to the competition arena — she was Tom Bachik’s competition model for years.

Virginia Arleo is a second generation beauty competitor. The Argentinean’s parents were competitors in the hair industry.

The Division II Overall Winner at the Las Vegas Nailympics, Marina Diaz, snuck onto the Top 25 because of her Super Points wins there.

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