Fifth Third Arena is big. But not big enough to hide the elephant in the room: For the first time since 2010, only three men will qualify for the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games out of the Central East Regional.
Three years ago, Rich Froning and Graham Holmberg pre-qualified for the 2011 Games, leaving the top three regional spots for Dan Bailey, Joseph Weigel and Nick Urankar.
After 2010 and 2011 champions Holmberg and Froning each qualified alongside Bailey in 2012, Scott Panchik and Marcus Hendren claimed the two additional spots. The two former champs did it again in 2013, sending another total of five men to the Games last year.
The women of the Central East tell a similar story, as three-time CrossFit Games athlete Julie Foucher returns after a year focusing on medical school to compete against 2013 qualifiers Jennifer Smith, Lindy Barber and fellow three-time Games competitor, Michelle Kinney.
Grab the (Paleo) popcorn.
As it turns out, doing CrossFit makes you strong.
None of the top five men in Event 1 have a background in Olympic weightlifting, yet each of them put more than 275 lb. overhead in the afternoon’s first test of fitness for individuals: one-rep-max hang squat snatch.
Froning approached a bar like a starving man’s first meal, diving in without pause or contemplation.
All three attempts—255 lb., 270 lb. and 280 lb.—looked like a power snatch just slightly too heavy to catch above parallel. Still, the champ claimed it was harder than it looked. He said the most he’d ever done in practice was 260 lb.
“Even if I wasn’t a three-time Games champion, I’d still have nerves,” he said.
But Froning wasn’t the first to put 280 lb. in the air. Gerald Sasser put the weight up in the heat before the champ, setting a new personal record and surpassing his goal of 275 lb. for the event.
When the checkerboard of weights was cleared from the floor, athletes took to their hands and went for a walk.
For the men, this event was about who could recover the fastest.
Panchik was the first to finish 120 feet, padding onto his mat 45 seconds into the three-minute event. But while Panchik rested, Froning kicked back up, finishing his second length while Panchik began his.
Panchik’s steps were fast and sure, but they were small. As he finished his second length, Froning set out for his third, passing Holmberg, who tumbled just 30 feet shy of two full lengths.
When three minutes were up, Froning had traveled a full 330 feet, more than 181 feet longer than his 149-foot, 11-inch walk in the Skills 1 event of the 2011 Games.
Event 1 Results
1T. Rich Froning (280 lb.)
1T. Gerald Sasser (280 lb.)
3T. Scott Panchik (275 lb.)
3T. Nick Urankar (275 lb.)
3T. Dane Youtz (275 lb.)
Event 2 Results
1. Rich Froning (330 feet)
2. Scott Panchik (290 feet)
3. Nick Fory (235 feet)
It’s never too late to lose a lead. Just ask Landon Walker, of CrossFit Polaris.
Walker shared the lead in the third heat with Matt Hewett for most of the event, each doing unbroken muscle-ups and going rep-for-rep on the hang power cleans.
But in his haste to get ahead, Walker spent his strength on the hang power cleans turning them into quasi-muscle cleans. In his final round, he could not hold onto the bar for his last rep, allowing Sasser to seize the heat win with unbroken reps.
Panchik learned a similar lesson in his second showdown of the day with Froning in the final heat.
Wearing his customary Nanos and forgoing knee sleeves, Froning seemed to be the only man on the floor not worried about the clock. Though Panchik grabbed a small lead on the one-legged squats in Round 1, Froning maintained a steady pace.
Froning overtook Panchik before the squats were done, but Panchik went double-time on the hang power cleans, unleashing all hell on the 175-lb. barbell in exchange for a half-second’s lead.
“I played football in college and high school and that was the first Olympic movement I learned,” Panchik said after the event. “I felt really strong in that movement; I knew that I was going to haul with that movement.”
Panchik’s pace faltered in the third round, as he paused slightly at the top of each one-legged squat. Still, Froning kept his characteristically calm demeanor, barely jogging on his way back to the final set of muscle-ups and putting two reps in the bank before Panchik got to the rig.
In his last jaunt across the floor, Froning picked up the pace, reaching his bar at the seven-minute mark, just seconds before Panchik arrived at his.
Panchik sped up again on the hang power cleans, trying in vain to resurrect the gap between himself and the champ. Though Panchik flew to his mat in a fury, Froning had already stepped on his, just one-second prior.
Froning’s time of 7:21 was good enough to take the event record from South East competitor Dominick Maurici, who finished in 7:25 in Week 1.
Though Panchik didn’t win the event, he can claim partial credit for Froning’s triumph.
“I didn't want to go that fast, but I had to,” Froning said. “I don't have a game plan going in … I just go and then adapt on the fly. (Panchik) was moving a little faster than I thought."
Event 3 Results
1. Rich Froning (7:21)
2. Scott Panchik (7:22)
3T. Nick Fory (7:55)
3T. Will Moorad (7:55)
1. Rich Froning (3)
2. Scott Panchik (7)
3. Nick Fory (17)
With three wins out of three events so far, Froning’s overall lead with just three points will come as a surprise to few. In second place with seven points is two-time Games competitor Panchik.
"I just wanted to be in the top three in all events," Panchik said. " (And) just stay consistent throughout the weekend. I've done all the workouts once; I know what I need to get to do that. My goal is just to stick with my plan, not anyone else's, and just keep rolling."
After missing a ticket to the Games by just one place in 2013, Fory finished the day on track to make the podium this year, sitting in third place with 17 points—and leaving all to wonder if two-time Games competitor and fan favorite from the farm, Marcus Hendren, will be edged out this year.
Nicole Holcomb of CrossFit 812 made a statement with her opening weight of 165 lb., as former CrossFit Games competitor, Heather Welsh, chose 135 lb. on the platform next door.
Waiting until 30 seconds remained on the clock, Holcomb put the weight up easily. When her second attempt of 175 lb. went up just as smoothly as the first, the crowd started to notice her. She had them screaming before she even approached the bar for her third attempt at 185 lb.
After pausing to set her grip, Holcomb seemed to drop to the hang, pull the bar and catch it in one fluid movement. Though she stood more slowly than before, the bar remained solidly overhead, giving Holcomb her first event win of the weekend.
In the final heat, all eyes were on Julie Foucher making the first appearance of her regional comeback. She opened at 150 lb., and went on to make successful further successful lifts at 165 lb. and 170 lb.
Like Froning, each of Foucher’s reps looked exactly alike, a deeper squat the only indication she’d added any weight to the bar. Never wavering, she proved her year out has not been a year off, taking second place in her first event back in the game.
“It's just fun to be back out there,” Foucher said. “And be able to do it and be on that side of the floor instead of watching this year."
As the crowd shrieked in delight to see the beloved competitor succeed in her return, a new fan favorite faltered several platforms over. In her individual regional debut, Danielle Sidell from Rubber City CrossFit attempted to open at 160 lb., just 5 lb. below her PR.
She missed, falling to the floor behind her bar.
Before her second attempt, she rehearsed the movement sans barbell, like a coach demonstrating the lift to the judge before her.
Her third attempt at 160 lb. was good, though not according to the look on her face. Releasing the bar behind her neck, Sidell stepped from her platform without celebration, visibly disappointed with her opening act.
“I think I was just nervous,” Sidell said afterward. “I just need to get used to people watching me. It was definitely nerves. My arms were shaking out there.”
The crowd shared in her disappointment, letting out a collective sigh with every miss.
But in the next event, Alyssa Ritchey of 8th Day CrossFit picked its spirits back up by running away with 390 feet on her hands in Event 2.
Moving as fast as some people might jog, Ritchey finished her first 120 feet in only 28 seconds.
Foucher made a move to catch up on the second length, but tripped just a few paces behind in the second length of the floor.
Her body arched in a “C,” Ritchey took off for her third length in the final minute, the only woman still on the floor. Though her legs splayed outward, her core remained solid, and she hit the mat at 2:30.
For a second, it seemed she forgot there was still time on the clock. Fans and competitors were begging to see a fourth attempt. After shaking her arms, she dove forward once more managing 30 more feet before the three minutes was up.
She greeted her fans with a quick somersault and a fist pump, taking her first event win of the weekend.
Event 1 Results
1. Nicole Holcomb (185 lb.)
2T. Julie Foucher (170 lb.)
2T. Jennifer Osborn (170 lb.)
Event 2 Results
1. Alyssa Ritchey (390 feet)
2. Brittany Kopp (345 feet)
3. Nicole Holcomb (280 feet)
Foucher and Froning could be secret siblings.
Both known for their humility, quiet strength and world-class fitness, Foucher pulled a Froning, winning Event 3 with her consistency.
“Same as when I practiced it—smooth and unbroken,” Foucher said after securing the win.
All but seven women finished the three rounds of one-legged squats, muscle-ups and hang power cleans. In the final heat, Lauren Rutan of CrossFit Utility brought the stands to life as spectators willed her to turn over the rings.
A human chair in the air, her arms failed to press out, and she never advanced beyond the second round.
Meanwhile, Foucher and Smith of CrossFit Maximus raced for the win.
Foucher’s one-legged squats were slower, but Smith’s were sideways. As the clock wore on, Foucher’s consistency paid off. Smith started to fatigue, while Foucher ran to the rings for the muscle-ups in Round 2.
Ritchey caught Foucher in the air and met her at the bar.
But Ritchey struggled with the 115-lb. bar—which weighed as much as she did—and was forced to break her reps into two sets in the second round.
Just before the five-minute mark, Foucher sunk onto one foot for her last round of one-legged squats. Like her hang snatches in the first event, her final reps were indistinguishable from her first.
At 7:25, Foucher dug her toe definitively into the mat, grinning as she took her first event win of the weekend.
Perfect practice makes perfect, in Foucher’s case.
“(The time) was 15 seconds faster,” Foucher said of her finish at the regional. “I got 7:40 both times I practiced it.”
Sidell followed 25 seconds later, her feet catching on her bar as she scrambled to claim second place.
“Oh my God, I dug myself a pretty deep hole (in Event 1),” Sidell said. “So the only thing I had to do was climb up; it's all I got to do.”
Event 3 Results
1. Julie Foucher (7:25)
2. Danielle Sidell (8:00)
3. Nicole Holcomb (8:34)
1. Nicole Holcomb (7)
2. Julie Foucher (9)
3. Alyssa Ritchey (18)
On Day 1, three-year CrossFit athlete and former gymnast, Holcomb, made a name for herself with two third-place finishes and one event win, taking first overall with just seven points after Day 1.
Foucher follows in second place with nine points and Ritchey takes up third with 18 points.
Unexpectedly, three-time CrossFit Games athlete Michelle Kinney ends the first day outside of the top three. Eight points stand between Kinney and a podium spot, while Lindy Barber sits even farther below in 13th place with 41 points.
Still, Day 2 events will test skills favoring CrossFit veterans, including legless rope climbs and strict handstand push-ups.
There’s still time for the big guns to pull out the heavy weapons.