Handstand push-ups have been programmed in every regional and CrossFit Games competition since 2010. They’ve arrived in various forms--from ring handstand push-ups to 9-inch deficit handstand push-ups.
The twist to this year’s programming is a throw back to the early years, before kipping became mainstream. This regional season, the competitors have to do the reps strict.
The new requirement exposed the athletes who haven’t developed the requisite strength in the descending ladder of strict handstand push-ups, front squats, and burpees that started the competition on Saturday.
Soon afterwards, the competitors finished the day with legless rope climbs and sprints.
The overwhelming majority of the women in the first two heats failed to complete the event within the 20-minute time cap, with some failing to perform one handstand push-up.
Ellie Hagopian was the only competitor in the first heat who was able to chip through the strict handstand push-ups without too much struggle (20:34).
“I’m very good at handstand push-ups,” said Hagopian. “It’s actually my freak skill. I could do strict handstand push-ups before kipping pull-ups or ring dips.” Sybil Cooke from Pretoria, South Africa, and Elzke de Goede from Namibia stood out in the second heat (20:23, 20:12). De Goede said adrenaline helped her through Event 4.
“I was actually very concerned about that event, handstand push-ups aren’t one of my strong points, but I guess adrenaline kicked in and I managed to do all of them without any no-reps, so I was very happy with that,” de Goede said.
Cooke said she expected to perform well in the event given her gymnastics background.
“I like handstand push-ups and handstand walking, more than the lifts. So I was happy for this event,” Cooke said.
In the final heat, Nicole Seymour lead from start to end. She set the fastest pace at the start of the event, and was followed closely by Johanni Hugo, Anneke De Beer and Celestie Engelbrecht.
Seymour finished in 15:10--a full three minutes ahead of the rest of the women in her heat.
After the clock hit 18 minutes, De Beer and Engelbrecht were closely matched on the last few reps. De Beer finished in 18:19, followed by Engelbrecht in 18:59.
Hugo was the fourth and final woman in Africa to finish Event 4 within the time cap--with just 14 seconds to spare! She reached the finish mat in 19:46.
The Event 4 win has helped Seymour recover from her 11th place finish on Event 1.
“I knew Event 1 was going to be my weakness, and it set me back quite far,” said Seymour about her 125-lb. hang squat snatch. “But I always say, it’s not over until it’s over, so I’m hoping for the best. Finishing so far ahead in Event 4 was great and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the events.”
After the event, De Beer said her strategy of short sets and short rest on the strict handstand push-ups paid off.
“I went into Event 4 with a plan to break the handstand push-ups into sets of 3,” said De Beer. “I did that for the first set (of 21) and after that I just went with it, making sure I stopped before I could get no-repped.”
The second place finish on Event 4 kept De Beer in second overall heading into Event 5.
“I’m quite happy, I didn’t expect it,” said De Beer. “When I saw I was catching up on Celestie (Engelbrecht), I just thought to myself now I’ve got to stay ahead, and that’s when I just went (all out).”
Although Engelbrecht’s 18:49 Event 4 finish was good enough for third on the event, she didn’t look as energetic as yesterday. She broke the strict handstand push-ups into singles, but got through the work.
“Day 1 set me up quite nicely,” said Engelbrecht, “so I knew I just had to place in the top three throughout today. I think this is the hardest day out of all three. The adrenaline is a bit down, the nerves are down, so today is all about maintaining.”
Event 4 Results
1. Nicole Seymour (15:10)
2. Anneke De Beer (18:19)
3. Celestie Engelbrecht (18:59)
4. Johanni Hugo (19:46)
Many of the early leaders either had to wait long periods to recover between legless rope climb ascents, or submit to muscle fatigue and miss the 14-foot target.
There were some impressive performances in the early heats though. Zandri Potgieter was slow but steady to finish in 10 minutes, a performance good enough for sixth place overall in Event 5. It was a happy surprise.
“We don’t have a rope, so I wasn’t expecting anything,” Potgieter said. “I’m just so happy with that finish!”
Natalie Mohr similarly approached the event with a sustainable pace to finish in 9:13.
“I knew it would be a good event for me,” said Mohr. “My upper body strength is quite good.”
Just like yesterday, the final heat of the final event ended with an upset.
In a composed and confident manner, Engelbrecht took the early lead with Seymour and De Beer just trailing her. De Beer was the first to come up against the dreaded muscle fatigue. She ended up tied for 13th place with five other women.
Engelbrecht’s performance kept looking convincing, until her final rope climb. In what appeared to be a case of déjà vu from Day 1, Engelbrecht missed the target on her 10th rep. While Engelbrecht attempted to climb again, and repeatedly failed, Seymour, Eva Thornton, and Suzie Assenmacher were able to finish their final rep and move the chess piece to the finish mat.
More than three minutes after her first failed rep, Engelbrecht was finally able to bring her chess piece to the finish mat and stop the clock. With a time of 9:17, Engelbrecht took 5th on the event behind Mohr and the leaders in her heat.
Event 5 ended Engelbrecht’s streak of top three finishes on the events, but it was by no means a bad placing. It cut her lead over second-ranked Nicole Seymour to just six points.
After the come-from-behind finishes on the last events of Day 1 and Day 2, Seymour surely goes into the final day with a slight mental edge over Engelbrecht.
Event 5 Results
1. Nicole Seymour (6:01)
2. Eva Thornton (7:13)
3. Suzie Assenmacher (7:57)
1. Celestie Engelbrecht (12)
2. Nicole Seymour (18)
3. Anneke de Beer (26)
4. Johanni Hugo (45)
5. Charne Smyth (45)
6. Janine Prinsloo (45)
7. Eva Thornton (49)
8. Suzie Assenmacher (66)
9. Natalie Mohr (72)
10. Sibyl Cooke (72)
Strict handstand push-up were the game-changer in Event 4. The front squats were heavy at 195 lb., but were manageable for most athletes. Those that managed their work to rest ratio most effectively on the handstand push-ups performed best, and rearranged the leaderboard.
The first two heats passed without a single man finishing all of the work within the 20-minute time cap. Many fell short on range of motion standards, with some receiving no-reps for using their hips to create momentum in the press.
Sean Tangney was fastest in Heat 1 with a time of 20:22, and in Heat 2, Kyle Howard of BST CrossFit reached the finish mat in 20:01.
In the third heat, Garth High shocked the crowds by not just finishing the event, but doing it with seven and a half minutes to spare. The Cape Town based athlete had a rough start to the weekend with a 27th place finish on Event 1 (195 lb.), and other finishes near the teens. But as he admits, this event played perfectly to his strengths.
“Those are my three best movements so from the start it was something I was very comfortable with,” said High. “It’s also short range of motion, and being five-foot-nothing, it did help a bit,” he said with a laugh.
(According to his athlete profile, High stands at 171 cm or 5-foot 7-inches.)
High’s pacing strategy was also effective.
“I planned only to break up the rounds of 21 and 15 to not tax the shoulders too much, and after that to go all out,” he said. “I actually felt good on the 15 and probably should have gone unbroken, but I played it safe to be sure of getting those handstands push-ups on the later rounds.”
From 5-foot-nothing to just over 6 foot, Jaco van der Vyver was a surprise second place finisher in Event 4, with many expecting his height and weight to be a limiting factor on the handstand push-ups. But Van der Vyver proved that Event 4 was not only event for the short athletes, and that having a plan goes a long way.
“I went out with a nice and easy pace on Event 4,” Van der Vyver said. “I saw in the previous heats the guys went out all guns blazing, hitting 21 unbroken handstand push-ups, and I just thought that I am going to stick with my plan, and just do it like I trained at home, hitting small sets in the handstand push-ups and making strides on the front squats.”
None of the usual suspects were at the top of the leaderboard on Event 4. The overall leaders--Andre Gadney, Quinton Z Van Rooyen, and Jason Smith--finished the work, but fell behind their peers to take seventh, fourth, and fifth, respectively, on the event.
The man who took third on the event, Dean Shaw, seemed to come out of nowhere in a heat where Smith, Billy Pullen and Quinton van Rooyen seemed to have it in the bag. Shaw gained momentum from the round of 9, speeding up when the other contenders were slowing down, to finish his Event 4 in a time of 15:46.
“I pretty much came into it with a plan not to gas myself on the first (round of) 21. I came down after 7 or 8 handstand push-ups and saw guys going unbroken and you start getting bit worried, but I stuck to my guns,” said Shaw. “By the round of 15, going into the burpees I started pulling away, so that worked out. I looked around at that point and realised that I’m not feeling as bad as everyone else seemed to look at that point, and just went for it then.”
Event 4 Results
1. Garth High (12:26)
2. Jaco van der Vyver (15:18)
3. Dean Shaw (15:46)
Similar to the women, the men in the early heats performed better than expected on the legless rope climbs and sprints.
In Heat 1, Egyptian athlete Adham Salloum set the standard for the rest of the field by reaching the mat in 4:29.
In Heat 2, Grant Bydawell rose to the challenge to finish in a time of 3:50--just six seconds slower than Rich Froning’s time on the same event two weeks ago!
In Heat 3, Roman Chausse was the first to the finish mat with a time of 3:57, which was good enough to hold fourth overall.
The final heat showed that in sports, anything can happen.
Gadney, the former South African gymnast, lead the field from the start with Smith chasing him in second place. It seemed like the two men would hold onto those positions until the very end, but then, on his 10th rope climb Smith failed to reach the 14-foot target. Gadney finished his and raced to the finish mat (3:46).
Smith immediately jumped back on the rope, but failed again, and again, and again, until two minutes before time ran out, and behind the support of all his fellow athletes, he completed the final rep.
When Smith finally placed his marker on the finish mat at 8:31, 35 other athletes had posted better times than him. After taking nothing less than 8th place so far this weekend (and two event wins), Smith suddenly had a 36th place finish to his name.
The extra 36 points in his point total moved him from first overall to third overall, behind Gadney and Van Rooyen. Starting the final day of competition, Smith has to close a 23-point gap in order to return to the top of the leaderboard and earn the region’s one Games berth.
Although visibly shaken, Smith said that he is not giving up.
“You know, that’s why we fall, so we can pick ourselves back up. Hopefully tomorrow I can come back stronger, and give a 100 percent,” he said.
With a six point gap the top two men, there’s plenty of room for shifts on the final day of competition in Johannesburg.
Event 5 Results
1. Garth High (12:26)
2. Jaco van der Vyver (15:18)
3. Dean Shaw (15:46)
1. Andre Gadney (28)
2. Quinton Van Rooyen (34)
3. Jason Smith (51)
4. Ivan Kruger (51)
5. Dean Shaw (55)
6. Richard Smith (57)
7. Louis Achadinha (57)
8. David Levey (58)
9. Nico van der Walt (62)
10. Billy Pullen (66)