For the last two years, David Levey has won by the Africa Regional by a landslide. But this year, nothing was certain until the final event.
After repeatedly missing the final rope climb on Event 5, the two-day overall leader Jason Smith slipped to third overall with 23 points between himself and the new leader, Andre Gadney.
Without a miracle, Smith was out of contention for the one spot to the CrossFit Games, but now second-ranked Quinton Van Rooyen looked to have a chance at the top of the podium. Van Rooyen is just six months into his CrossFit training, but he entered the final day of competition just six points behind the overall leader.
Since Gadney is known to struggle on long time domains, the 50s chipper that started the competition on Sunday did not play to his favor.
In this gruelling event athletes had to get as far as possible in 21 minutes in a down and back chipper of rowing for calories, box jump-overs, 180-lb. deadlifts, wall balls, and ring dips. With 50 reps prescribed at each station, the 450-rep event was more than most men the world over could handle. Only eight men have completed all the work in the past three weekends of regionals.
Some of the best performances were set in the early heats, which rattled the leaderboard.
Johann Werth, who competed in the second heat, got the furthest through the work. He came four deadlifts shy of reaching the box jump overs on the second pass through (21:55).
“My strategy was just to take it easy on the row, and my biggest stress was the ring dips. I knew if I could survive the ring dips I would be okay,” said Werth. “I love longer workouts and chippers, and anything with box jumps and deadlifts.”
In the fourth heat, another athlete from CrossFit Kyalami put in a top performance. Richard Smith was midway through the deadlifts at the time cap, which earned him the heat win and second overall (22:11).
“My strategy was just to go balls to the wall to the end, just to go as hard as I could go,” said Smith. “It felt like I ran out of gas a bit, but the crowd was awesome. I could hear the guys from CrossFit Kyalami screaming so I think that gave me my second breath.”
But in this event, the performance that caught the attention of the fans was that of the current leader, Gadney. Gadney was undone by the ring dips, even though he normally can do the movement quite well.
“A very tough one,” said Gadney. “My game-plan didn’t work out, somehow I got more no-reps than reps on the rings.”
Gadney said that due to the no-reps, he had to change his ring dip technique to ensure good reps.
“It’s really hard to change technique you’ve been training for for a year. The muscles aren’t used to it, the lungs aren’t used to it, and you kind of fall apart there,” he added.
After suffering at the rings quite a lot longer than the other men, Gadney reached the wall balls and worked through the 50 10-foot shots with most of the remaining time. Gadney got to the deadlifts with just 20 seconds to spare, which earned him a score of 23:23 and 26th place.
This unfortunate placing was the miracle that Smith needed. After Event 6, Smith was still in third place overall but the gap between himself and Gadney had shrunk to just three points.
Entering the final event, Gadney, Van Rooyen, and Smith were in such close contention in the point totals that the Games qualifying spot was truly anyone’s for the taking.
Event 6 Results
1. Johann Werth (21:55)
2. Richard Smith (22:11)
3. Jaco van der Vyver (22:16)
Event 7: The Decider
Just before the final heat started it was announced that two-time Games Qualifier and two-time Fittest Man in Africa, Dave Levey, had withdrawn from the competition. He had injured his back on Monday and it worsened after the deadlifts of Event 6.
“My heart wanted me to (complete the weekend), but when it was clear I wasn’t in contention, my head had to overrule,” said Levey.
Moments after the reigning Fittest Man in Africa bowed out of the competition, three men fought for the chance to succeed him.
The men were both elegant and quick on the 64 pull-ups in a tight race to the eight 205-lb. overhead squats.
Jason Smith was first to the barbell, with his younger brother Richard Smith on his heels, followed by Gadney. Jason Smith moved quickly through six reps before dropping the bar from the bottom of his seventh squat. Richard Smith and Gadney dropped their bars to rest too.
With all eyes on the first men off the pull-up rig, Van der Vyver swept past with an unbroken set of overhead squats to take Event 7 in a time of 3:08.
Jason Smith was unable to compose himself, and in what appeared to be a replay of the legless rope-climb that cost him so dearly, athlete after athlete completed the event ahead of him.
In the next minute and a half after Van der Vyver’s event win, Richard Smith, Dean Shaw, and Andre Gadney reached the finish mat. At 5:10, Van Rooyen reached the mat for eighth on the event.
At the six-minute time cap, Jason Smith still hadn’t completed the final overhead squat that he had started more than three minutes prior. The performance put him in 16th in the event, and dropped him off the third spot on the podium into sixth overall.
Van Rooyen had earned the top spot on the podium, and would be joined by Andre Gadney and Richard Smith.
Van Rooyen, who only started CrossFit in January this year, will be the first man from outside of South Africa to represent Africa at the CrossFit Games. The 28-year-old athlete comes from Namibia, the desert country to the northwest of South Africa.
“I just fell in love with CrossFit. The learning curve has been steep,“ said Van Rooyen. “I managed to get double-unders and I only did my first Olympic lift a couple of days before 14.1. I’m still learning all the time, and that is the beauty of this sport: You can’t learn everything, there is always something new to learn.”
Event 7 Results
1. Jaco van der Vyver (3:08)
2. Richard Smith (3:46)
3. Dean Shaw (4:15)
4. Andre Gadney (4:49)
1. Quinton Z van Rooyen (54)
2. Andre Gadney (58)
3. Richard Smith (61)
4. Dean Shaw (66)
5. Louis Achadinha (71)
6. Jason Smith (74)
7. Jaco van der Vyver (75)
8. Ivan Kruger (80)
9. Billy Pullen (85)
10. Grant Moseby (99)
Entering the final day of competition, Celestie Engelbrecht led the women’s competition but her lead over Nicole Seymour had shrunk to just six points.
Seymour had to have an excellent day, and Engelbrecht needed to do relax her hold on the top five on the next two events in order for the positions to change atop the leaderboard.
However, given the major shifts that have happened in the final event at other regionals, it was clear that Engelbrecht could take nothing for granted.
No woman in any regional has completed all 450 reps of the 50s chipper within the 21-minute time cap.
For many women, the 50 ring dips were a sand trap. The majority of the women moved well from the rower through to the ring dips, and then slowed at the rings. Most would stay there for the remaining time.
In the final heat, Engelbrecht was quickest off the rower and kept ahead of Seymour until the set of 50 ring dips. Engelbrecht broke the dips up into singles from the start while Seymour did the dips in sets of three to five.
Seymour finished all 50 ring dips and advanced to the second round of 50 wall balls within the time cap, ahead of Engelbrecht.
In the same heat, Engelbrecht was passed by rookie competitor Odette Calitz.
Seymour won the event (22:51), while Calitz held on to second (23:44) and Engelbrecht took fourth (24:12) behind Lara Erlank who put in a 24:05 performance in the second heat.
“This is my kind of workout,” said Calitz, a former gymnast who has been doing CrossFit for eight months. “The high volume, high reps. I’ve got a lot gas in the tank.”
With just one event to go, there was just a three-point gap between Engelbrecht and Seymour.
Event 6 Results
1. Nicole Seymour (22:51)
2. Odette Calitz (23:44)
3. Lara Erlank (24:05)
The 135-lb. overhead squats posed the most significant challenge in the 64 pull-up and eight overhead squat event. None finished the overhead squats within the six-minute time cap until the final heat.
All athletes were proficient on the pull-ups, but weaknesses in midline stability, flexibility and balance were exposed on the overhead squat.
In the final heat, all eyes were on the first-place contenders Engelbrecht and Seymour. The two women went rep-for-rep through the pull-ups, and then rested before attempting the overhead squats.
Seymour was the first to get the barbell overhead and got one rep before Engelbrecht joined her.
The two looked determined to finish the eight reps unbroken, but both failed on their sixth rep.
Seymour composed herself, got the bar overhead again, and successfully finished the last two squats in 5:36 to take her fifth consecutive win of the weekend.
Meanwhile, Engelbrecht continued to struggle on the last two reps, giving Anneke de Beer the opportunity to pass her with a beautiful set of overhead squats. De Beer reached the mat at 5:54. Engelbrecht got her last two reps, and joined them at the mats at 6:02.
The time was good enough to put Engelbrecht in third on the event, with a one-second lead over fourth-place event finisher, Lara Erlank (6:03).
It was just enough to defend Engelbrecht’s overall lead. Engelbrecht finished the weekend with 19 points, while Seymour followed with 20. Had Engelbrecht finished Event 7 two seconds later, she would have finished the weekend in a tie with Seymour and lost the tiebreak.
It’s incredible to see the depth of the competitors in the region, and the truly close race in the women’s competition.
Engelbrecht is the new Fittest Woman in Africa, and will represent the region at the CrossFit Games.
Event 7 Results
1. Nicole Seymour (5:36)
2. Anneke de Beer (5:54)
3. Celestie Engelbrecht (6:02)
1. Celestie Engelbrecht (19)
2. Nicole Seymour (20)
3. Anneke de Beer (37)
4. Janine Prinsloo (60)
5. Johanni Hugo (62)
6. Charne Smyth (67)
7. Eva Thornton (83)
8. Lara Erlank (85)
9. Suzie Assenmacher (85)
10. Odette Calitz (89)