The guards change every day at noon at Amalienborg Palace in Denmark.
At 8:30 p.m., there was a similar changing of the guard at the Ballerup Super Arena: Sam Briggs replaced the injured Annie Thorisdottir as the fittest woman in Europe. The clear winner of the Open, Briggs didn’t surprise anyone by having her way with the competition and emerging victorious after it was announced that Iceland Annie would not be able to participate.
Lacee Kovacs, on the other hand, surprised many by becoming the new king of CrossFit in Europe, and he earned the title by defeating Mikko Salo.
Since Mikko’s win at the 2009 CrossFit Games, the Salo legend has been intact, and it only grew stronger when he was unable to compete in 2011 and 2012. A ruptured eardrum and a bum knee gave fans reason to whisper “what if?” while Salo himself stood outside the ring like an injured prizefighter unable to defend his title.
Salo has simply always been considered the fittest man in Europe, and if there was a criticism of Frederik Aegidius’ brilliant comeback victory at the 2012 Regional, it was only that he didn’t beat Salo. It was an unfair criticism to be sure, but it reveals Salo’s near-mythic status in CrossFit.
Indeed, the entire weekend felt like the beginning of a new world order in European CrossFit. The level of competition has increased dramatically, and no longer can top athletes afford to make mistakes. Now, a stumble or a missed rep is costly as rivals gain ground and make qualifying for the Games harder and harder.
But maybe that’s a global theme. New names dot the Leaderboard in other regions, and even Kristan Clever is in a fight for her life in the brutally cutthroat SoCal Regional. Multi-year Games vet Jeremy Kinnick is in a dogfight on the men’s side of that event. Shana Alverson is already out in the South East. Spencer Hendel is trying to claw back into the Games in the North East but needs a monster Day 3 performance to do it.
Perhaps the guard is changing on a global scale.
The image was as symbolic as it was special: Lacee Kovacs finished third in Event 7
to claim first overall, and as he broke down into tears, a very classy Mikko Salo came over to raise the Hungarian’s hand in victory and point to the new champ. In the background, someone raised a Hungarian flag.
After Kovacs’ bitter disappointment in losing a Games spot on the last day of the 2012 Regional in the same arena, he redeemed himself and will be Europe’s top seed going into the CrossFit Games.
His first word to the media for the entire weekend: “Unbelievable.”
Kovacs and Salo dueled throughout Event 7, with the Finn leading throughout, mostly due to metronome-like efficiency on the cleans. Kovacs went Froning 2010 and chose to do the rope climbs without using his legs, and though many wondered if he would fry his grip and stall, he flew up the rope with relentless aggression and shook engorged arms out as he jogged back to the bar.
Salo won in 4:41, Christer Idland was second in 4:59, and Kovacs was third in 5:12.
Frederik Aegidius was 10th, and the placing very nearly cost him a spot on the podium. He ended up but one spot ahead of Games veteran Mikko Aronpaa, who occasionally glanced over to track Aegidius during the workout.
Kovacs’ performance was outstanding and left no doubt: he never finished below seventh and had four top-three placings. If 2012 was a year of disappointment, 2013 is already one of triumph. No doubt the loads will feel lighter as he trains for the Games with a sizable monkey off his back.
Sam Briggs will lead the European charge at the Games in 2013. That was all but assured heading into the final event, but Briggs put an exclamation point on things.
Unlike the team version of this event where there’s only a single sprint across the floor, individual athletes could make up or lose ground on the 100-foot sprints, and it’s always thrilling to watch top athletes separated by seconds as they sprint for the finish line.
Briggs, however, ruined that visual treat by nearly lapping the field. The Brit climbs like a lemur, runs like a deer and lifts like a cyborg. The event played right into her strengths, and she smashed it to end the Regional in style.
She opened the event by reaching her legs almost above her head to clamp the rope and drive herself up in seconds. While former snatch world record holder Oxana Slivenko kept pace due to an excess of strength and power, she soon tired and eventually failed to advance from the rope climbs in the later rounds.
Briggs finished in 4:36, raised her arms in victory and then proceeded to lead the cheering for the other athletes. She’s a sort of a mother hen, moving back and forth to cheer and coach each competitor. Her biggest cheers were reserved for countrywoman Nicola Simpson, who finished second in 5:34 and received a monster bearhug from Briggs. Caroline Fryklund finished third in 5:45, and others followed shortly. Moments later, the entire group ran the length of the floor to show some CrossFit spirit and cheer for Martina Barbaro, Marianna Tzourtzek and Slivenko, who were all stalled on the ropes.
The event did not change the final standings, and it will be Briggs, Fryklund and Katrin Tanja Davidsdottir going to the Games, where all have competed before.
Davidsdottir forgot to move her bar once during the event and had to run back across the floor to fix it before proceeding to her next rope climb.
“It cost me about two places,” she said. “But I made it back to the Games. That was the major goal.”
Briggs was both happy and relieved to be victorious.
“It’s great to be back,” she said, adding that she’s set a goal of finishing in the top 10 at the Home Depot Center.
Europe’s champion won’t be taking a lot of time off and will be getting right down to the business of peaking for the CrossFit Games.
“I’ve got two weeks left in the U.K., then I’m off to train with the Sweatts to work on my lifting,” she said, referring to powerlifting experts Shane Sweatt and Laura Phelps-Sweatt of Ohio in the U.S.
While Briggs was dominant this weekend, she’s well aware that other athletes are gunning for her, and Europe’s talent pool is getting crowded with bigger fish.
“It’s getting a lot tougher, and that’s definitely a positive for the sport in Europe,” she said. The feisty Brit is hoping the Euros will “give the Americans a run for their money” at the Games, and well they might.
The final test for the teams was a quick a dirty couplet reminiscent of the clean-and-jerk/rope workout in the CrossFit Games in 2011.
With CrossFit Nordic and Thor tied at 17 points and CrossFit Bath in third but two points ahead of CrossFit Reykjavik, the overall win and a Games berth were still very much on the line.
Full team participation meant 60 athletes were rattling 20 barbells loaded at 225 and 135, and judges were ruthlessly enforcing full depth on the squat cleans.
CrossFit Nordic’s Numi Katrinarson found that out the hard way after his judge hit him with no less than five no-reps for depth. Luckily, Katrinarson’s teammates had given him a big lead, and he was strong enough to replace the reps without issue.
The Nordic squad, a mixture of Icelanders and Swedes, was the class of the field and completed the workout in 16:36, 46 seconds ahead of Thor.
With the tie broken, it remained to be seen if CrossFit Bath could break Scandinavian dominance of the team competition. Alas, the British team stalled on the rope climbs and took 16th in the workout, falling to fifth and claiming the same placing as last year. The beneficiary was CrossFit Reykjavik, which finished third in 18:46 and pulled into the final Games spot.
Sveinbjorn Sveinbjornsson of Thor was part of the 2009 Icelandic invasion of Aromas led by Annie Thorisdottir, and he’ll be heading back to California in July. Happy as he was to qualify, he had hoped to go in as Europe’s top team.
“I feel good about the Games, but I wanted to win,” he said.
Jenny Jacobsen, sidelined by injury in 2012, will be going back to the Games as well, this time as part of CrossFit Nordic.
“That’s fantastic, and going back as a team member will be different, but it’s going to be fun. I wanted to go back one more time, and now it seems that I’m going back!”
Jacobsen says she feels far more pressure as a team member than a wolfpack of one.
“I’m much more nervous now,” she said, noting that strong team members are impossible to replace.
For the third year in a row, two Icelandic teams will head to the Games, and Nordic countries swept the Games spots for third year running as well. If Briggs and Kovacs have solved northern supremacy of CrossFit in Europe, the team competition still very much belongs to the Vikings.
CrossFit Games Competitors
Europe is the first region to name its fittest athletes for the main event in California in July.
1. Lacee Kovacs (25 points)
2. Mikko Salo (33 points)
3. Frederik Aegidius (54 points)
4. Mikko Aronpaa (55 points)*
Since Mikko Salo, the 2009 CrossFit Games champion, took a qualifying spot, one additional invitation to the CrossFit Games was offered to the European men. Mikko Aronpaa will return to the CrossFit Games with the extra invitation.
1. Sam Briggs (13 points)
2. Caroline Fryklund (30 points)
3. Katrin Tanja Davidsdottir (39 points)
1. CrossFit Nordic (18 points): Ellinor Rhenstrom, Jenny Jacobsen, Louise Akesson, Andreas Sjostrand, Erik Eliasson and Numi Katrinarson.
2. Thor/CrossFit Stodin (19 points): Hjordis Oskarsdottir, Inga Ingadottir, Sigurlaug Gudmundsdottir, Arnar Sigurosson, Dadi Hrafn Sveinbjarnarson and Sveinbjorn Sveinbjornsson.
3. CrossFit Reykjavik (31 points): Anna Hulda Olafsdottir, Helga Torfadottir, Jakobina Jonsdottir, Eirikur Baldursson, Evert Viglundsson and Heidar Heidarsson.