When you push human beings to their absolute limit, their struggles with barbells, sleds, natural obstacles and inner demons are on display for the entire CrossFit world in the crucible that is the Games.
From July 11 to 15, the athletes of the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games battled through the competition and provided a host of shining moments that define our sport and will be remembered for years.
Here are 10 of the very best of those moments.
1. Foucher Beats the Guys
Few people were at Camp Pendleton to see Julie Foucher cross the finish line first in the Pendleton 2 event, but it was a special moment for Marines and staff members who were there. Foucher was the top female but also finished ahead of all but eight men. Exhausted and in pain after the brutal swim-bike-run event that lasted just over 2 hours, Foucher grimaced in pain before receiving congratulations from Nicole Carroll. Twenty seconds later, Christy Phillips and Ruth Anderson Horrell tore down the final straightaway for a breathtaking photo finish people will talk about for years.
2. Carson Takes the Plunge
Deb Carson, an outstanding athlete from Minnesota, was eliminated from the 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games because she wasn’t comfortable in the water. She worked an entire year to get back to the Games, and to her dismay, the 2012 event opened with another ocean swim. On Wednesday at Camp Pendleton, Carson was visibly shaken and ready to pull out of the swim. After a talk with Dave Castro, Carson decided to go for it. A few eyes were less than dry as Carson emerged from the water after beating something that had haunted her for an entire year. Her efforts earned her the Spirit of the Games Award.
3. Valenzuela and Akinwale Finish the Clean Ladder
Max-effort ladders are unbelievably exciting, especially in a stadium packed with screaming CrossFitters. Lindsey Valenzuela looked like a caged beast before she entered the Clean Ladder on Saturday, walking back and forth and eyeing the sea of bars with confidence. She knew she could run the board, and all she needed was a judge to cut her loose on the iron. When she was given the go, the powerful woman from Valley CrossFit laid waste to the ladder by easily power-cleaning the majority of the bars with disdain before resorting to a squat clean for 230. The crowd was on its feat and roaring when she stepped up to the final bar loaded with 235. It was California sunshine, screaming fans, loud music and bumpers flying off the ground—and of course Valenzuela made the lift. Elisabeth Akinwale also finished the Clean Ladder and added five lifts to Valenzuela's two and won the Event.
4. Speal Endures
Chris Spealler has provided more shining Games moments than any other over the last six years of competition. In 2012, he delivered again. Poised to pull ahead in the long Pendleton event, Spealler cramped badly about 3 miles from the finish line. He fell out of contention and finished 44th in an event many thought he would win handily. He crossed the line in obvious agony with an awkward, labored stride that replaced the free and easy gait CrossFitters have seen since 2007 in Aromas. Spealler won the Spirit of the Games award in 2010, and he showed that same heart in 2012 by pushing through the pain, then pulling himself back together to finish 11th in the next event. The Utah athlete has said this will likely be his last Games, and if so, the CrossFit community has a message for him: “Thanks for all the memories, Speal.”
5. Bouroumand on the Run
At the host hotel during an interview, Azadeh Boroumand had a complete breakdown when she shared the very personal, very spiritual experience she had on the run at Pendleton. At her weakest moment on the route, when she was hurting the worst, a butterfly started flying around her. She explained that her mom — whose name translates to “butterfly” — has an illness and has had a very hard life. The butterfly fluttering about the rugged hills of a Marine base was exactly what Boroumand needed to get her head right, and she found the strength to pass 14 people on the run to finish 19th. Many people only see the physical effort of a Games workout, and few get to see what happens inside the athletes. Boroumand’s peak revealed a lot about the inner struggles that happen when the body and mind are pushed to the limit.
6. Kate Foster Gives Hope
Kate Foster is a 13-year-old girl who beat leukemia and lost her leg in the fight. On Saturday night, the little warrior took the microphone in the main stadium to thank all the CrossFitters who raised about $2 million for charity through the Hope workout. Foster’s fought more battles in her young life than many will face in a lifetime, and she reminded the crowd that the next year of fundraising starts now.
7. Clever and Fortunato Race for Third
What better way to finish the CrossFit Games than with the hardest workout of them all? Fran was the perfect finisher to a great competition, and 2010 champ Kristan Clever and newcomer Talayna Fortunato provided and unbelievable finish to the final heat. While Annie Thorisdottir had already assured herself of the overall title and Julie Foucher was on her way to second, the race for the final podium spot was spectacular. Clever and Fortunato went rep-for-rep until the final set of nine pull-ups. Clever got to the bar first and was one rep ahead of Fortunato. With only a few reps between her and third place, Clever’s hands gave out and she was forced to drop of the bar. That gave Fortunato all the time she needed to finish the last reps and claim the bronze medal in her first trip to the Games. The come-from-behind win was dramatic proof of the CrossFit motto “every second counts.”
8. The Masters
The Masters competition provided loads of inspiration throughout the weekend. The fittest over 45 showed what’s possible with unbelievable feats that would put them on the leaderboard in most gyms. In the 50-54 Division, the match-up between Gord Mackinnon and Brian Edwards was particularly special. Mackinnon is big and beefy and a former rugby player for the Canadian national team. Edwards is smaller and almost died in a bike accident five years ago, and he’s been CrossFitting for five years in his garage by himself. Mackinnon came out on top, winning the category for the second year, in a row, and his duel with Edwards was special to watch. For the women, 2011 60+ champ Betsey Finley, 62, had a similar rivalry with Mary Schwing, 60. The two were either first or second in 4 of 7 events, with Schwing taking the title in the end. Watching 60+ women doing unbelievable things all weekend was proof that age is never an excuse.
9. The Teams
Defending Affiliate Cup champions CrossFit New England definitively lost their shot at repeating on the Rope-Clean workout. The women were working through 20 rope climbs and clearly fell behind after several athletes stalled only feet from the top before descending for a very tough no-rep. When time was called Heather Bergeron buried her head in her hands and leaned over on the mat for a while before the men made their way 100 yards downfield to console her. Jenny LaBaw was forced to tears after failing to finish the Medball-Handstand Push-Up event. Prior to that, LaBaw had two top-10 finishes, and taking 39th on Friday night’s event was a severe blow to her hopes of a top performance. Gretchen Kittelberger was also in tears after a similar result in the same event. The agony of defeat provided powerful moments throughout the weekend and will no doubt motivate the athletes who experienced them for the next year.
10. Repeat Champs
No one had ever repeated as CrossFit Games champion until 2012, when both the 2011 men’s and women’s champions defended their titles. Iceland Annie Thorisdottir is known for her ever-present smile, but she was in tears after completing Fran to retain her crown. Rich Froning opened up a large lead in the second half of the competition and didn’t have to put the pedal down hard in the end — but he did. Froning won two of the three final workouts and finished fifth in the last one to keep his title for another year. He beat second-place Matt Chan by over 100 points, and proved his fitness beyond a shadow of a doubt. As always, Froning was humble and gracious in victory, showing the kind of class that makes him a great representative for the sport of fitness.