Had Pichelli finished two more handstand push-ups in the time cap, she would be the second fittest woman on Earth.
Entering the final two events of the CrossFit Games, Alessandra Pichelli had a firm hold on second place overall. With 706 points, Pichelli was 66 points behind Sam Briggs and 41 points ahead of her nearest rival, Lindsey Valenzuela.
It was Valenzuela who appeared to be in trouble. With 665 points, Valenzuela had a measly 12-point lead over Valerie Voboril (653) and 15-point lead over Jenn Jones (650). Any fan with access to the Leaderboard was watching Valenzuela, Voboril and Jones to see who would take the final spot on the podium. Either woman could wipe out Valenzuela’s lead in a single event — with first to Valenzuela’s fourth or fourth to Valenzuela’s ninth. And there were two events to go.
First, the Cinco 1: Three rounds of five 265-lb. deadlifts, five left-leg pistols and five right-leg pistols weighted with a 35-lb. kettlebell, followed by an 80-foot handstand walk.
After one minute of rest, the Cinco 2: Three rounds of five muscle-ups and five nine-inch deficit handstand push-ups, followed by a 90-foot lunge with a 100-lb. axle bar held overhead.
At 4 p.m., the announcer called the top women onto the hot stadium floor. They lined up, and at the buzzer, rushed to the barbells. Valenzuela finished five deadlifts in 15 seconds, and was the first to the weighted pistol. As the three rounds of deadlifts and weighted pistols wore on, backs began to round and hard-to-notice leads formed. Valenzuela lost the lead to Christy Phillips and Talayna Fortunato, but stayed slightly ahead of Voboril and far ahead of Jones and Pichelli.
Phillips was the first to the handstand walk, but soon Fortunato joined. Three quarters the way down the mat, Fortunato passed Phillips to secure first in the heat. Soon after, Valenzuela, Voboril and others kicked up into handstands. Like carnival derby horses, they worked their way down the mat in fits and starts. Some late joiners were quick on their hands and passed those who got to the mat earlier.
On the handstand walk, Voboril passed Valenzuela to finish in 4:52.1 for fifth, and Valenzuela followed in 5:25.8 for eighth. Nearly a minute later, Pichelli and Briggs closed in on the last stretch of the handstand walk. Pichelli appeared poised to pass Briggs, but collapsed. Several handstands and stutter steps later, Pichelli reached the finish mat (6:28.1, 15th) just ahead of Jones (6:30.4, 16th).
After the Cinco 1, Pichelli, Valenzuela and Voboril were still second, third and fourth overall, but the margins were smaller. The 41-point gap between Pichelli and Valenzuela had shrunk to 27, and the 12-point gap between Valenzuela and Voboril was now three. To hold onto the podium, Valenzuela needed to stay ahead of Voboril, and Pichelli needed to avoid another finish in the teens.
Sixty seconds later, they started the Cinco 2. Leads came and went as the women fluidly kipped through the muscle-ups before struggling on the deficit handstand push-ups. Eight of the 10 women brought their legs in deep and viciously kipped, but bowed and lost their footing on the wall as they tried to overcome the nine-inch deficit. Only two made it through without a problem — Fortunato and Valenzuela.
Around the five-minute mark, Fortunato walked up to her axle, followed 30 seconds later by Valenzuela. For most of the remaining two minutes, they were alone on the lunge. Valenzuela chased Fortunato, but had to pause midway through. Fortunato took the axle all the way to the end with just 13 seconds to spare.
In the final seconds, Voboril, Briggs and Jones finished the couplet and approached their axles for the first time. Pichelli was just three handstand push-ups away from joining them.
At the call of seven minutes, Valenzuela was three quarters of the way to the finish line, Briggs had taken her first step onto the mat, and Voboril and Jones had yet to lift the axle. For those who didn’t finish the event, the lunge was penalized as one rep. The judges recorded the same score for all the women who were working on the lunge at the time cap: seven minutes, plus two one-second penalties for not completing the lunge and not stepping on the finish mat.
In the initial moments after the Cinco 2, the only clear thing was Briggs had won. Second, third and fourth were up in the air.
Below the StubHub Center, the scoring team did the math.
Across the three heats, three women finished, 10 started the lunge, and 17 got stuck on the couplet. In other words, with 13 women finishing further along, 14th place (59 points) was the best any of the women stuck on the couplet could do.
Voboril needed to pass Valenzuela, but instead tied her for fourth on the Cinco 2. The three-point gap stayed put.
Pichelli needed to stay out of the teens to maintain her 27-point lead over Valenzuela and 30-point lead over Voboril. Yet her three handstand push-ups remaining at the time cap put her behind the three women who finished, the 10 lungers, as well as Katrin Tanja Davidsdottir and Jennifer Smith, who had both finished all but one handstand push-up at the time cap. She plummeted to 16th place, and pulled in just 55 points — 30 fewer than Valenzuela and Voboril. Pichelli was now three points behind Valenzuela, and tied with Voboril for third overall.
Had Pichelli finished two more handstand push-ups in the time cap, she would have kept her hold on second place overall. Two more handstand push-ups would have put her in a three-way tie for 14th place, and added 59 points to her total, which would have been just enough to keep her one point ahead of Valenzuela, and four points ahead of Voboril. As the second-place finisher, she would have received a check for $75,000 later that night.
Instead, she was tied for third. And even that wouldn’t last long.
The tiebreaker would have to go for three rounds before it could differentiate Voboril from Pichelli.
With that, Voboril won the tiebreaker and $50,000. Pichelli dropped to fourth overall, and received a check for $10,000.
“I knew that with two 100-point events there could still be major shifts in the Leaderboard,” Pichelli says. “Unfortunately for me, I was right.”
As the sun went down, Briggs, Valenzuela, and Voboril took the podium. Pichelli left.
“I could not watch the ceremony. I just wanted to disappear at that point,” Pichelli explains. “After the joy of making the podium with the team last year, I felt miserable missing it this year after being in a top three spot for most of the weekend.”
Now, she’s starting to feel better about what she did.
“If someone had told me at this time last year that I would finish fourth at the Games, I would have probably not believed them,” she says.
And while she admits it's tempting to calculate how slight changes in her performance could have affected her final placing, she doesn't take the bait. She knows slight changes could help any one of the top five women, not just her.
"All these thoughts are useless because I can't change what happened," she says.
“If I learned anything, it is that the Games have gotten more and more competitive each year, but the 2008 theme of ‘Every Second Counts’ is now more applicable than ever.”