Contributing reporters: Dave Carr, Dominique Grimard and Caroline Lambray
Canada East has a crop of veterans who have traditionally held large leads over the rest of the field.
Albert-Dominic Larouche is gunning for his fourth Games appearance. Camille Leblanc-Bazinet and Michele Letendre are aiming for their fifth and fourth ticket to the Games, respectively. All three athletes have finished in the top two at regionals since 2011.
But the competition is getting better and the gap is narrowing.
This year could be one of the closest finishes we’ve seen.
Jeff Larsh isn’t used to going first.
Last year, he ended the weekend in third at the Canada East Regional—in the final heat, the last to perform each event.
This year, ranked 50th after the Open, Larsh was in the first heat of male lifters. His 245-lb. snatch would have placed him among the best lifters in the region last year. This year, it’s considered average.
As newcomers eclipse the veterans in performance, the competition in Canada East is getting better. The North is rising.
“I’d say the good guys are still getting better,” Larsh said. “But there’s less space now between 10th and 30th. This game is getting really hard.”
Larsh’s 245-lb. hang snatch was best in Heat 1. But Kyle Charbonneau, who won the snatch ladder at the 2012 Regional with 235 lb., managed 260 lb. in the second heat to take the lead.
“I had planned to go 240, 245, 250,” Charbonneau said. “But I thought, ‘Might as well go for it. I’ve only got one chance to do this.”
Paul Tremblay opened the third heat with 255 lb., and the crowd leaned in to see him get no-repped at 265 for power snatching the weight from the hang. He called for 275 and landed it solidly to top Charles Felx Leduc’s 270 lb. in the same heat.
All eyes were on Alex Vigneault at the center of the fifth heat. A relative unknown outside Quebec, Canada, Vigneault topped everyone in the Open.
Next to him stood Larouche, who has appeared untouchable the last two years. Both opened modestly with 235 lb. Vigneault watched Larouche hit 245 lb., then called for 255 lb. His successful lift pushed Larouche to attempt 260 lb., and the crowd went wild when he hit it, though Tremblay’s 275 lb. was the top lift of the day.
“Albert is the athlete here to beat,” Vigneault said. “I was checking what he was going to do. ‘Be ahead of him’ was my objective.”
Simon Paquette, a 2013 Games qualifier, failed all three snatch attempts at 235 lb., virtually putting him out of contention. He was visibly upset.
“I arrived at the bar and (it) didn’t go well,” he said after the event. “It was light for me and something I have done often. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know …”
The top handstand walk among the men was Patrick Vellner with 305 feet.
As the quality of the competition rises in Toronto, the fans are rising to their feet to meet the occasion.
Event 1 Results
1. Paul Tremblay (275)
2. Charles Felx Leduc (270)
3. Kyle Charbonneau (260)
Event 2 Results
1. Patrick Vellner (305 feet)
2. Daniel Latour (225 feet)
3. Wes Ng (210 feet)
Larsh got Nasty Girls V2 off to a quick start in Heat 1. He grabbed the ankle of his outstretched foot as he completed each rep of pistols, saving his legs as much as possible. But Vellner overtook Larsh heading into the second round of muscle-ups—a lead he maintained for the rest of the event.
“Honestly, I was beside Jeff Larsh, and that’s probably what did it,” Vellner said. “Right at the start, we were pretty much rep-for-rep. As soon as I passed him, all I could think of was that he was still behind me.”
With energy building in Heat 3, Chris Cristini made a move during the second set of one-legged squats to jump ahead of the pack. Ripping off his shirt, the big man with the ponytail was uncontested until the last set of muscle-ups, when Tremblay pummeled through his seven and made it to the barbell first.
But Cristini wasn’t finished. Going unbroken in his last set of power cleans, Cristini took back his lead in dramatic fashion, tripping over his bouncing barbell and collapsing onto the mat just five seconds before Tremblay.
Brandon Crump was the headliner of Event 3, though. Narrowly missing out on a Games qualifying spot in 2-13 with a 33rd-place finish in Event 5, Crump took an early lead in Heat 4.
He continued to push the pace with Larouche in the lane next to him. With Rich Froning’s 7:21 event record within reach, Crump hit seven in a row, but dropped the bar before he finished his last three reps. The crowd was on its feet as he touched down at an impressive 7:42. Leduc finished second and Larouche third.
“The crowd definitely helped me,” Crump said. “I was trying to hang on for dear life on the last power cleans. I was kinda goin’ for it. I dropped the bar on the last set, but I’m still happy.”
Day 1 is in the books. The rookie, Vigneault, sits in first followed closely by Larouche and Tremblay. Eleven points separate the top five athletes.
“First place is a good start,” Vigneault said. “But nothing is settled for now.”
“Right now I’m pretty happy about how things are going for me,” Larouche said at the end of the day. “I hope to maintain that and get ready for tomorrow.”
Event 3 Results
1. Brandon Crump (7:42)
2. Charles Felx Leduc (8:10)
3. Albert-Dominic Larouche (8:28)
1. Alex Vigneault (18)
2. Albert-Dominic Larouche (22)
3. Paul Tremblay (23)
4. Pascal Baillargeon (28)
5. Daniel Latour (29)
6. Kyle Cant (36)
7. Charles Felx Leduc (37)
8. Tommy Snarr (38)
9. Patrick Vellner (43)
10. Brandon Crump (47)
The women’s spotlight was split between top performers and family ties. Kristine and Jenine Andali, and twin sisters Michele and Ericka Letendre are all competing as individuals this year.
“I don’t see it as competing against my sister—it’s really competing with her,” Michele said. “I’m so proud of her, to see her excel.”
“I love it,” Kristine said of competing alongside her sister. “Jenine keeps me pushing because some things she’s better at than me.”
With slightly different skill sets, and different levels of experience, the sibling rivalry added an extra element of excitement to the spectacle.
After failing her first and second attempts of the hang squat snatch at 165 lb., Jessica Cote-Beaudoin brought the crowd to its feet in Heat 1, successfully catching her third and last attempt cleanly and bringing it into a full stand.
“I was really nervous,” she said. “It wasn’t my PR, so I knew I could do it, but by the third attempt, having failed two, it was hard. The crowd helped.”
In Heat 2, former Olympic lifter Abigail Guerrero hit 170 lb. on her first lift, 180 lb. on her second and 190 lb. on her final.
Guerrero said she was “really happy” with her last snatch, adding she had no particular strategy going in. “Just training,” she said. “That was the strategy.”
Guerrero’s lift went unmatched until Heat 5, with Camille Leblanc-Bazinet and Michele Letendre side by side in the middle lanes. Like Guerrero, Leblanc-Bazinet opened at 170 lb.; Letendre opted for 165.
With each lift, Leblanc-Bazinet took her time, letting Letendre complete her lift first. Letendre hit 175 lb. with a characteristic smile on her face. Leblanc-Bazinet dropped under 180 lb. and raised it with a smile, as well. On their last attempts, Letendre notched 185 lb. Seconds later, Leblanc-Bazinet hit 190 lb., tying Guerrero for the win and clapping with excitement.
“I heard Abigail did it and in the end I thought, ‘You know what, I have nothing to lose’,” Leblanc-Bazinet said.
The women moved on to the handstand walks as a field deep with experience. Though Guerrero, Maude Charron, and Jenn Lymburner displayed acrobatic skills, it was the Andali sisters and Leblanc-Bazinet who stole the show.
In Heat 4, Jenine Andali walked on her hands for three lengths, muscle fibers bulging with each step. She then turned on the finishing mat and kicked up again to try and gain as much ground as possible on the fourth length, finishing with a total distance of 375 feet.
“We practiced that a lot at the gym,” she said. “I’m a retired gymnast, so it’s kind of second nature to me, but I was getting tired.”
In Heat 5, the race was between Jenine’s sister, Kristine—with whom she competed on a team with last year at regionals—and Leblanc-Bazinet. At the time cap, Leblanc-Bazinet had traveled 345 feet inverted and Andali hit 315 feet.
“I knew for sure I could do two,” said Leblanc-Bazinet. “I was trying to finish before the clock so I just tried to go as fast as I could.”
Events 1 Results
1T. Abigail Guerrero (190)
1T. Camille Leblanc-Bazinet (190)
3. Michele Letendre (185)
Events 2 Results
1. Jenine Andali (375)
2. Camille Leblanc-Bazineet (345)
3. Kristin Andali (315)
Cote-Beaudoin won the first heat of muscle-ups, pistols and hang power cleans in 10:44.
“I was just thinking about finishing it, because it’s an (event) that I liked,” she said. “My forearms were hurting and it was difficult, but I came to have fun and that’s what I did.”
In Heat 2, Renée Martin and Guerrero were in a dead heat until the second round of muscle-ups. Martin jumped and missed her rings, opening the door for her competition. Guerrero was solid on the hang power cleans, thanks to her Olympic lifting background, and went unbroken on her last set of muscle-ups. She stepped onto the mat at 9:03.
“I’m very happy,” Guerrero said.
Heat 4 was, yet again, a match-up between the two proven women of Canada East: Leblanc-Bazinet and Letendre. Andali stayed with the leaders through the first round of pistols, muscle-ups and power cleans, but Leblanc-Bazinet and Letendre pulled ahead of the pack on the second set of squats. Letendre remained slightly ahead of Leblanc-Bazinet until last set of muscle-ups, when she dropped from the rings after four reps. Leblanc-Bazinet dropped from the rings after seven reps, and with the crowd going wild, stepped onto the finishing mat at 7:06, setting a new event record.
With three events down and four to go, Leblanc-Bazinet sits in first with a six-point lead over Letendre and Andali, who are tied.
“I pushed as hard as I had to, and didn’t let anything get in my mind—no negative thoughts, just, ‘Do your best’,” said Leblanc-Bazinet after Day 1. “I’m excited for tomorrow—there’s gonna be some gnarly workouts.”
“I feel great,” Michele Letendre said. “Today I was worried about the pistols a little bit, but so far so good. And tomorrow is going to be another day. I feel pretty ready.”
For the past several years, fans and media alike have been waiting for someone to challenge Larouche, Leblanc-Bazinet and Letendre for the top of the podium.
Vigneault and Andali are as close to the leaders as anyone has ever been; can they continue tomorrow, and pry a ticket to Carson, California from the grasp of Games veterans?
Event 3 Results
1. Camille Leblanc-Bazinet (7:06)
2T. Michele Letendre (7:21)
2T. Kristine Andali (8:32)
1. Camille Leblanc-Bazinet (4)
2. Michele Letendre (10)
3. Kristine Andali (10)
4. Abigail Guerrero (12)
5. Maude Charron (16)
6. Jessica Cote-Beaudoin (21)
7. Ericka Letendre (24)
8. Renee Martin (29)
9. Marie-Emilie Perreault (30)
10. Kendra Cross (41)