Like Rich Froning, Lacee Kovacs gets a do-over.
While Froning famously bounced back from rope-climb failure in 2010 to win the CrossFit Games twice in a row, Kovacs has a chance to make up for a stunning flameout on Day 3 of the 2012 Europe Regional.
Last year, Kovacs was in first overall and took a seven-point lead going into the third day of competition. After a very poor showing in the snatch ladder that opened the day, he fell to third, but one point ahead of fourth-place Numi Katrinarson.
In a slugfest chipper that closed the event, Kovacs only had to beat the Icelander to punch a ticket to the Games. In one of the most exciting finishes in Regional history, Kovacs actually got to last evolution seconds ahead of Katrinarson but failed on muscle-ups and allowed Katrinarson to pass him and claim the Games spot. Kovacs finished second overall on the event, while Katrinarson took first.
The deepest cut of all: the two finished the competition tied with 44 points, but Numi’s two event victories gave him the final Games spot, and Kovacs went back to Hungary to deadlift away his disappointment.
But somewhere above the rain clouds that covered Denmark on May 19, the CrossFit gods smiled on Kovacs and gave him his mulligan in the form of a test of character: the Hungarian started the final day of competition in first overall, holding a seven-point lead over second place.
As they say in Zombieland, time to nut up or shut up.
The teams kicked off the day with a partner chipper that featured every adult film director’s wet dream: CrossFit glutes pressed into a Plexiglas wall for partner handstand push-ups.
CrossFit Nordic played its aces in the final pairs event, sending individual Games athletes Numi Katrinarson (2012) and Jenny Jacobsen (2011) to the floor. The duo did not disappoint and smashed the double-unders, handstand push-ups and toes-to-bars with very few partner changes. They were onto the axle overhead work in only 3:34.
Their strategy for the overheads was four sets of 10 and two sets of five, and it almost went down like that. Numi had to settle for eight on set three, meaning he had to post another two reps after Jacobsen’s final set of five.
It didn’t matter though. The pair was way in front, and Katrinarson had time to sit on the barbell and rest at the halfway point of the lunges. Jacobsen crossed the line at 8:56. CrossFit Reykjavik was second in 9:55, and CrossFit Solid was third in 11:05.
Eleven of the 19 teams still in the competition did not complete all the work.
In this event teams ran the risk of going out too fast on handstand push-ups and hitting total failure, but Jacobsen thought most teams were too cautious.
“I think people decided to split it up more than they needed to,” she said of the tandem labor. Her team obviously has two elite athletes with work capacity to burn, but minimizing transitions was clearly a solid strategy.
While Jacobsen didn’t find the 100-lb. axle lifts and lunges to be brutal, she said the fat bar certainly seemed to increase in weight as the workout progressed.
“It’s OK. It’s not that heavy. Going from handstand push-ups to holding the bar, it gets quite heavy,” she said.
Katrinarson didn’t find the weight heavy but said, “It was bad because the pulse gets so high after the shoulders-to-overheads.”
As was the case in all the heats, the male athletes seemed to suffer a bit more than the women in the lunges. Most females got to collect themselves regularly as the men split the work up into four to eight sets.
“I could have gone, but I didn’t complain to get some rest. I knew the weight was quite heavy for Numi,” Jacobsen said with a smile.
The final men’s heat saw Kovacs come face-to-face with his demons, and when he finished second to Frederik Aegidius, his screams and fist pumps everyone know he had just performed an exorcism.
The post-event display was helpful, as Kovacs is refusing to speak to media.
To open the event, Kovacs was first off the handstand push-ups, while Salo’s signature semi-strict reps caused him to lag behind. Aegidius, a strategist who knows what he needs to do in every event, snapped closed like a bear trap on the toes-to-bars and beat Kovacs to the axle by a few reps.
Aegidius used pristine push jerks to please the judges and stay ahead of Kovacs, who was muscling through angry push presses that brought at least one no-rep from the judge.
Aegidius stalled for a bit at the halfway point, allowing Kovacs to come abreast, but the Hungarian dropped the bar as the Dane picked it up, and Frederik was able to cross the finish line well ahead of Kovacs. More importantly, he finished ahead of Mikko Aronpaa, who made a late charge in hopes of keeping his Games dreams alive for another event.
Aegidius—who was looking forward to the chipper—finished in 10:04, while Kovacs stopped the clock at 10:42. Jakob Magnusson was third in 11:22 and is a two-headed monster who has a three top-three finishes to go with a 26 in Event 1 and a 20 in Event 5. Aronpaa was fourth in 11:27, while the other Mikko came fifth in 11:32.
After the event, Aegidius received a huge hug from girlfriend Annie Thorisdottir, who knows he needed the win to give himself a chance at the Games. Still, Aegidius knows nothing is decided just yet.
“Mikko’s right on my butt, and the last one is heavy and technical,” he said, noting the Finn’s strength.
“It was a good confidence boost. Points-wise, it didn’t make that much of a difference,” he said. But the Dane actually doubled his lead over Aronpaa from three to six points, and he might ask Kovacs how valuable even a single point can be on Day 3 of Regionals.
Going into Event 6, Games athlete Katrin Tanja Davidsdottir was tied with Nicola Simpson for third. With Carolina Fryklund 11 points ahead of her and a sizeable gap behind, third place was looking like a fight between two athletes. Davidsdottir used Event 6 to deliver what looks to be a knockout punch to Simpson.
The Icelander does handstand push-ups in a spastic manner that’s incredibly fast if not graceful. With her hands well away from the wall, she leans her butt back into the wall and then uses vicious hip extension to drive her hips and chest up and forward while she locks her arms. In truth, it looks a lot like a kipping pull-up performed upside down—and it works for Katrin.
Davidsdottir planned to go 20, 10, 10, 10, and she damn near made it, using one more set than planned to complete the 50 reps. Toes-to-bar came quickly as well, and Davidsdottir was well in front of the field going to the axle overheads.
While it briefly looked like overall leader Sam Briggs would catch Davidsdottir with three sets of 10, she took a no-rep on the eighth lift of set two and had to drop the bar. The break hurt her, and she was forced to go from steady push jerks to baby splits to finish the remaining work.
Davidsdottir was long gone at that point. As the compact powerhouse easily stomped her way down the rubber, the crowd started to scream as they realized she was speeding up instead of slowing down. Like a tractor trailer, Davidsdottir’s got a shit-ton of power down low and was just building momentum.
When she hit the halfway point at 45 feet, people wondered if she could go unbroken; after a few more steps, they knew she would. She stood up for the last time at 8:31, and the crowd produced its loudest roars of the weekend.
“When I practiced it, I dropped the bar once,” Davidsdottir said. “But I knew at Regionals with everyone screaming and girls coming after, I would not stop.”
When asked if she knew she was free and clear for the win and could have slowed down, Davidsdottir said no.
“I heard someone coming after me,” she said.
She was wrong. Kristin Holte was almost a minute behind her (9:29), and Briggs came in at 9:43. Simpson’s 13:51 did significant damage to her chances of a Games berth.
With all but one competitor over the line in the final heat, the finest moment of the Regional arrived. With about 30 seconds to go, Patricia Strenius of Sweden had a lot of rubber to cover. Most didn’t give her a chance of stepping across the line, but the 143-lb. athlete dug in and ate the pain as the crowd grew increasingly louder and her competitors gathered near the finish line to cheer her forward.
Her face set in determination, she took the final step to roars and was the literally shoved onto the finish mat by Briggs to stop the clock at 14:55 and create a truly memorable CrossFit moment.
After the event, the significance of the win was not lost on Davidsdottir, who knows she rammed and Icelandic flag deep into the turf of third place. She also knows a heavy barbell is coming in the final test, and she’s not one to shy away from some Oly lifting.
“This was fun, but the last one definitely comes close.”
After five events, Kovacs is locking down top spot with 22 points, and he’s got a sizeable cushion over Salo (32 points) and Aegidius (44 points). Nothing is certain, but if Kovacs can climb a rope, he looks to be ready to fully redeem himself from 2012 failure.
Briggs (12 points) remains dominant and has opened up a 15-point lead over second-place Caroline Fryklund (27 points). Davidsdottir is alone in third with 35, while Simpson has dropped to fourth with 43 points. Given the points spread, the top three can claim their Games spots with respectable performances in Event 7.
In the team standings, CrossFit Nordic (1st, 17 points) and Thor (2nd, 17 points) have flipped spots, while CrossFit Bath (26 points) is still in third. CrossFit Reykjavik has made up some ground and now sits but a pair of points out of third place.
Evert Viglundsson is very confident his squad will make up the ground.
“Chances are good,” he said. “We have a stronger overall team.”