Though Fifth Third Arena was packed with more than 4,100 bodies for the day’s events, a chill swept through arena this afternoon.
It was only partially the breeze; the main cause of goosebumps was Day 2 fever. The welcome party is over and it was time to get serious.
On both the men’s and women’s sides, past CrossFit Games athletes began the second day of competition uncomfortably far from the podium. While Marcus Hendren, Graham Holmberg and Michelle Kinney went into Events 4 and 5 less than 10 points away from third place overall, 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games athletes Jennifer Smith and Lindy Barber would have to claw their way through 19- and 20-point gaps over two events to end Day 2 in podium contention.
“Today, shit happened,” Barber wrote in a post on social media Friday night. “But tomorrow is a new day. A brand new day and a fresh start that I can't wait to have. I learned last week from Stacie Tovar that if I'm not smiling, I'm not having fun. So tomorrow I promise I will keep smiling and keep winking.”
And though the strict handstand push-ups and legless rope climbs of the day’s two events favored experienced veterans, the crowd would leave Fifth Third Arena with new names on its radar.
Only in an event with strict handstand push-ups are burpees considered rest.
But with the taxing gymnastics movement coupled with high-volume front squats at 195 lb., men in early heats welcomed the chance to lie on the ground for a second. With 162 reps to do in 20 minutes, most used the burpees to catch their breath, taking multiple steps toward their bars before making the two-footed jump.
Everyone except for Vincent Buttitta of The CrossFit Box—winner of the second heat. Though Tate Rivera held the lead for the first half of the heat, Buttitta saved time on his burpees, launching over his bar still mid-squat.
In the final heat, Scott Panchik got his wish.
After chasing the champ all weekend thus far, never falling more than one place behind him, Panchik tied Froning in the fourth event, sharing a new event record with a time of 9:41. It was later beat by Ben Stoneberg of the North West Region.
“Chasing him sucks,” Panchik said, in reference to Froning. “He's the champ and the real deal. You have to do everything right to beat him.”
From the moment athletes dive-bombed the wall and came up the other side inverted, Froning and Panchik worked side-by-side. Breaking their 21 handstand push-ups into two sets, they came down from the wall together while Nick Urankar and Hendren pulled ahead.
Urankar had slightly less than two sets to enjoy the lead. After repping out his set of 15 handstand push-ups in sets of 14 and one, he was the first to reach his bar for front squats at 3:37.
Froning caught him on the burpees.
While Urankar took a short step forward before making his jump, Froning sprang straight from the ground to the other side of his bar.
The technique brought Froning within three reps of Urankar, and when Urankar fell from the wall in the set of nine handstand push-ups, Froning kept going.
Though less than half the event remained, the champ walked calmly across floor to return to the wall just before the eight-minute mark. But behind him, Panchik got hungry. Though Froning had finished his set of six handstand push-ups just as Panchik started his, Froning jogged back to his bar while Panchik sprinted.
Ever consistent, Froning kept an even pace on the front squats, while Panchik went double-time again, as he did in the hang power cleans the day before in Nasty Girls V2.
The effort brought him rep-for-rep with the champ, bringing more than 4,100 people to their feet as they watched the two Central East beasts tear down Zeke Grove’s previous event record of 9:51, landing on their mats in unison 10 seconds faster.
“It’s anyone’s workout and anyone can win,” Froning said after tying Panchik for the win. “I was trying to stick to my game. Scott was ahead of me and I knew where he was at the whole time.”
CrossFit Games Director Dave Castro had a front row seat to the spectacle.
"That was very cool,” Castro said. “Scott's hungry and Scott wanted it. He sprinted from the wall to the bar (in) that last movement and that's the difference there."
Event 4 Results
1T. Rich Froning (9:41)
2T. Scott Panchik (9:41)
3. Nick Fory (10:10)
Legless rope ascents were old news for four of the Central East’s 44 men. Last year, Froning, Panchik, Hendren and Holmberg each perfected their hands-only technique in the sixth event of the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games, Legless.
Of the four CrossFit Games athletes, only Hendren and Froning finished in the top 10 in that event. But today, Holmberg showed he’s practiced since last summer, taking his first event win in 3:43.
"I don't know what the points look like yet, but I know that helps,” Holmberg said after the event. “You know, anytime you can beat a guy ahead of you, it helps close the points spread.”
In true CrossFit spirit, competitors in the first heat rallied around Jesse Mascoe of CrossFit Perseus, stuck on his sixth ascent as the ninth minute turned over.
He leapt, pulled and kipped, feet kicking erratically as he clawed for the knot. The crowd let collective cry of despair as he crashed to the floor.
But with a clap on the back from Superman—fellow athlete John Fortune, clad in a cape and blue knee socks with miniature capes—he shot up the rope in one final furious attempt, touching the top in the last few seconds.
Mascoe appreciated the camaraderie on the floor.
"It's the best thing in the world,” he said. “This is my first CrossFit competition, period. It really means a lot to be out here with these guys. I mean, I'm not the strongest (or) fastest, but everyone's supportive and will come together for each other, and I love that."
In the final heat, athletes had a choice: run, or sprint. But more important was when they chose to do which.
Hendren, who placed sixth in Legless at the Games last year, chose to sprint from the start. Needing only four pulls after each leap, he was first off the rope. He rounded his marker and was onto his second round just 12 seconds in. Before anyone had finished a second ascent, Hendren had taken off down the floor for his second sprint.
But Hendren gave too much, too soon.
On the sixth run, Alex Anderson of CrossFit Ktown sped up while Hendren wearied. The newcomer held the spotlight for just a few seconds before two CrossFit Games champions showed the crowd what it takes to win a sprint event: pacing.
Though neither champ had trouble on the rope, both paced the earlier sprints, keeping a reserve in the tank.
In the final two rounds, Froning and Holmberg went from warm to white-hot. As the pair dropped from their final ascents, it looked as though Froning would pull out another last-minute win. But it was Holmberg who reached his mat first, at 3:43, one second faster than Froning.
Almost unnoticed amidst the frenzy, newcomer Will Moorad tied Froning for second place in the event at 3:44.
“I think everyone took off fast, but I knew it was a matter of not breaking that consistency on the rope climb,” Holmberg said. “Steve Prefontaine said, 'The best pace is a suicide pace,' and part of me wanted to do it on that workout, but I knew I needed to be strong in the end because that's where the foot race comes down to.”
For Holmberg, the win meant fresh hope that a ticket to Carson, California, might be still up for grabs, though it won’t be easy.
“I've got a lot of work to do tomorrow,” he said. “I need to make sure I recover well and do the best I can tomorrow … every year this region gets tougher."
Event 5 Results
1. Graham Holmberg (3:43)
2T. Rich Froning (3:44)
2T. Will Moorad (3:44)
1. Rich Froning (6)
2. Scott Panchik (12)
3. Will Moorad (23)
4. Graham Holmberg (33)
5. Marcus Hendren (42)
6. Alex Anderson (45)
7. Nick Urankar (46)
8. Nick Fory (59)
9. Gerald Sasser (62)
10. Cody Keathley (72)
With just two events remaining in the Central East Regional, a new name occupies a podium spot. In his second regional competition, former Division 1 soccer player Moorad of CrossFit Talon has just 23 points.
Panchik has all but sealed his third trip to Carson with 12 points after Day 2 and a second-place ranking. Froning remains untouched in the top spot with just six points.
With 19 points between Hendren and third place, it will take nothing short of a seismic Leaderboard shift to send him back to the Games.
The first woman to finish the forearm punisher of the fourth event came from the first heat.
After placing 33rd in Nasty Girls V2 yesterday, Lauren Rutan redeemed herself with a second-place finish in Event 4. While her fellow competitors struggled to string pairs of handstand push-ups together, Rutan finished her first two rounds in just two and three sets.
But it was the front squats that set Rutan apart. Once Rutan set her stance, it never wavered.
Her time of 9:43 would hold until the final heat, only to be beaten by Julie Foucher, who finished two seconds faster.
"I’m not even sure what happened yesterday,” Rutan said after Event 4. “I did Nasty Girls three times prior and finished in 9:15, but yesterday I felt like I (had) never done a muscle-up before. I have no idea what happened yesterday, but that fueled my fire, and today I had to come back and get it back.”
In the final heat, Alyssa Ritchey raised screams from the stands as she repped out her first 21 handstand push-ups within the first 25 seconds. But her lead was lost as quickly as it was won, as she struggled to remain upright with the 125-lb. barbell.
While Ritchey flamed out like a short fuse, Foucher burned on like an ember. With straight legs and perfect balance, she divided all of her handstand push-ups into sets of three reps.
She approached her front squats with the same meticulous precision, keeping an even pace of two seconds per squat, like a human metronome.
The strategy paid off, even with an extra hop nestled inside each of her burpees.
“I knew how I was going to break up the handstand push-ups, and how I practiced them,” Foucher said after her event win. “I wanted to stick to that and do the front squats unbroken, and stay steady on the burpees … I think I did it about eight seconds faster than my fastest practice time.”
Event 4 Results
1. Julie Foucher (9:41)
2. Lauren Rutan (9:43)
3. Jolene Grant (10:51)
Only two women could complete all 10 legless rope ascents and 200-foot sprints within the 11-minute time cap in the first heat: Chelsea Rankin of CrossFit Polaris and Megan McAuley of Cincinnati Strength. Most could not advance beyond the second round.
However, it wasn’t for a lack of effort.
Though most athletes in early heats were spent by the six-minute mark, still they leapt for the rope. Athletes paid the price for seconds spent just hanging on with a weakened grip, unable to withstand the several small pulls necessary to finish the climb. Some actually lost ground each time they let go to reach up.
The skill proved challenging even for CrossFit Games athlete Barber, who had her first try at the trick at the 2013 Games. After suffering two gnarly falls, she failed to advance beyond the fifth round.
Throughout the entire 2014 CrossFit Games season so far, Daniell Sidell has had one goal: redemption.
At first, she sought redemption from her early disqualification from the Open in 2013. Though she finished the Open this year in the top 10 in the Central East, her regional debut got off to a rough start, with a tie for 30th-place in Event 2 and a 27th-place finish in Event 4.
Today, she earned her redemption, winning Event 5 in a blazing time of 4:20. The time was good enough to break the previous event record of 4:31, held by the reigning Games champion, Sam Briggs.
For the first few rounds, Sidell kept pace with 2012 Games athlete Heather Welsh. Just 46 seconds into the event, each was onto her third round.
But while Welsh relied on a small kip, kicking the air with her feet, Sidell went up on pure strength alone.
"I mean, that's what I've been practicing,” Sidell said, after the event. “My coach never lets me use my legs in rope climbs, they are always legless. If I can master a legless rope climb, I can climb with my feet, so why use my feet when I don't need to?”
Each leap taking her halfway up the rope, Sidell needed only a few pulls to reach the knot set at 14 feet.
At 2:35, Sidell rounded her marker and ran for the rope to begin her seventh ascent; Welsh more than a full round behind.
Unlike most of her competitors, Sidell jogged between her marker and her rope. On the eighth round, she ran—on the last two, she sprinted for her mat as the crowd reached its highest decibel level yet.
As she slammed marker into her mat, she pumped the air and flashed the camera a sideways peace sign, redeemed.
“That event was a true test of fitness,” Sidell said. “Why not go balls to the wall? I had nothing to lose and I'm really pumped. I just kept my hands close on the rope and it worked.”
Event 5 Results
1. Danielle Sidell (4:20)
2. Julie Foucher (5:06)
3. Heather Welsh (5:14)
1. Julie Foucher (12)
2. Nicole Holcomb (18)
3. Alyssa Ritchey (35)
4. Michelle Kinney (43)
5. Heather Welsh (47)
6. Jenny Borda (49)
7. Jennifer Smith (50)
8. Brittany Kopp (51)
9. Lisa Shiu (55)
10. Jolene Grant (57)
With 12 points after five events, Foucher seems to have locked in her return the Games after her year off from the sport.
Two new faces—both former gymnasts—hold the spots below Foucher. Holcomb of 812 CrossFit in second place with 18 points, and Ritchey of 8th Day CrossFit in third with 35.
Eight points stand between two-time CrossFit Games competitor Kinney and third place. If she wants to make a third trip to Carson, she’ll have to best Ritchey in both strength and endurance in tomorrow’s final events: A brutal 450-rep chipper, and a couplet of pull-ups and heavy overhead squats.