A hazy dawn breaks over Los Angeles County as two buses of the world’s best athletes roll toward Camp Pendleton for the first event of the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games.
Original firebreather Greg Amundson has written about the nervous introspection of his bus trip to military bootcamp, and the Games athletes might as well be going to their first day of training at Camp Pendleton.
The bus is almost completely silent. A few sleep with heads bouncing cadence to the bumps in the road, while others just sit silently and think. The mood is completely different than when Dave Castro announced the surprise event on Monday night. It was fun then. It’s real now. A year of training can be washed away by 5 minutes in the Pacific surf.
All know it, and they have 90 minutes to deal with it.
Camp Pendleton is sacred ground. The federal base has seen more than its share of blood, sweat and tears. It’s been in the business of hardening Marines since 1942, and its gate has been manned without absence since. The men who trained here took Iwo Jima. At 8:10 a.m., the installation became a part of the CrossFit Games, as just under 100 Individual competitors raced down the beach to collect swim fins before running into the Pacific surf.
After a 700-meter swim, their next tasks were an 8-kilometer bike ride and an 11.3-kilometer run/hike through Pendleton’s hills.
Following a brief run down the beach, athletes popped on fins and swam out from shore before swimming parallel to the beach and back in. A sea of yellow and orange swim caps bobbed in the Pacific, and a few of them quickly separated themselves from the pack.
Icelander Numi Snaer Katrinarson wore the cap at front of the pack, and he was recognized by a tattooed arm that kept popping out of the water as he approached the shore. The Icelander, who trains in Sweden, was on Iceland’s national swim team for seven years and exited the water first. Katrinarson was followed quickly by Australian Chad Mackay and former water polo player Matt Chan.
The top woman wasn’t far behind. Smiling Annie Sakamoto was the first to get out of the water, with Julie Foucher second and Ruth Anderson Horrell third. All three finished in the top 10 on last year’s opening event at the Santa Monica Pier.
After almost pulling out of the event before the swim, Deborah Cordner Carson, who was eliminated in the first swim event last year, headed into the waves following a discussion with Dave Castro. The Minnesotan finished the swim portion of the event near the end of the pack, but inspired the small crowd of staff and volunteers by overcoming a pretty obvious fear of the ocean.
Only Orlando Trejo did not complete the swim after injuring his lower leg while entering the water. He was spotted massaging his ankle in the athletes’ tent later on.
The transitions went smoothly for most, though Ben Smith had his bike stolen and Lucas Parker lost his clothes — on purpose — in the Games’ first incident of nudity.
Equipped with single-speed bikes, the athletes pulled out of the beach area and disappeared into the hills, where they were forced to carry their bikes for parts of the rough course.
Katrinarson kept his lead and won the first scoring opportunity just after the bike-run transition. His time of 42:13 was better than Mackay’s 43:04 and Chan’s 43:58.
For the women, Anderson Horrell, who was blisteringly fast in the swim-bike transition, finished first in 48:14. Julie Foucher sprinted to 49:18, which was but two seconds faster than Annie Sakamoto’s 49:20.
With 11 kilometers still ahead of them, the athletes had to settle into a pace they could maintain over the broken ground and steep hills.
After less than two hours of total time, it was Mackay who came down the alley of flags and military vehicles lined up near the finish line. He crossed in 1:57:33, well in front on Katrinarson, who finished second in 1:59:16. Third place went to Kyle Kasperbauer in 2:01:54.
“It was tough, tough at the end,” Mackay gasped as he walked to the recovery tent set up beside the O-course that will be used this afternoon.
Former Marine Pat Burke has experience in the wilds of Pendleton and finished in seventh (2:03:06). He wasn’t sure if he’d ever climbed the same hills on the course before, but he was definitely prepared for what he’d find in the bush.
“It was pretty tough. It got warm. Some serious cramping. I accept the cramping,” he said with a stoic smile.
Jeremy Kinnick emerged from the course with tattered shorts and attributed the damages to “a wolverine” before saying the shorts were cutting off circulation so he performed some on-the-fly alterations.
Foucher was first on the women’s side, proving she’s a dominant endurance athlete. She came across the line in 2:05:12. In the morning’s most exciting moment, Anderson Horrell and Christy Phillips sprinted down the chute, with Phillips taking the win in a photo finish that came down to 1 second. She clocked in at 2:05:33.
“She (Foucher) really put the pressure on coming down the hill,” said Horrell, who gave up her Pendleton 1 lead in the second half of the event.
“The last thousand meters in the run was the toughest,” Phillips said.
She her calves were cramping badly, something many athletes reported.
“I said, ‘No!’ to my calves. ‘Do not cramp!’” she laughed.
She tried to maintain a steady pace throughout before her duel with Anderson Horrell.
“You don’t have to go faster, but don’t slow down,” she said. “When I saw it was possible (to beat Horrell), it was like, ‘OK, calves: we’re going to do this!’”
In fifth was Val Voboril (2:09:45), who provided one of the 2009 Games’ tear-jerking signature moments when she literally fell across the finish line and collapsed. This time, she ran across.
“I like it when my legs work,” she laughed while walking it off beside the O-course. She said she didn’t know how to pace in 2009, but tried to hold a solid 85 percent this time around to avoid burning out.
“That was the most radical thing I’ve ever done! It’s so bad to the bone!” Sakamoto exclaimed as she crossed the line.
After a short rest, the women will begin the standing broad jump, while the men go head-to-head on the O-course.
Overheard in the athletes tent: “Oh my God. Now we’ve got an obstacle course and a standing broad jump.”