Win and you’re in.
That was the message as athletes entered a bracketed competition on the Camp Pendleton School of Infantry Obstacle Course. Faced with obstacles including hurdles and walls, athletes were grouped into heats of four, with only the winner certain to advance. The top four fastest non-winners would also advance to the next round as a wild card. Three rounds, one winner.
The Pendleton O-course takes about two or three minutes to run with all the obstacles in play, though it’s much faster for people like Pat Burke, who served in the Marine Corps and has experience on the course. Two obstacles were left out because bar muscle-ups and rope climbs will show up later in the Games.
Kenneth Leverich set the tone on the men’s side in Heat 1 with 35.9, a mark that stood until Spencer Hendel notched 35.39 in the fifth heat. First-round winners included Dan Bailey, Graham Holmberg, Chris Spealler and Rich Froning, whose times ranged from Holmberg’s 37 flat to Bailey’s 42.59.
In several heats there were falls, usually as athletes sprinted toward the final low hurdle and missed their landing on the other side. A soft slide into rubber chips left none the worse for wear, including Marcus Hendren, who left the deepest furrow in the course after a fall very close to the line.
In Round 2, Leverich, Hendel Burke and Froning advanced, with Hendel setting the best time: 34.37.
The four met again in the final, where Hendel opened an early lead. He increased over the last part of the course. He took another second off his time and clocked in at 33.10, which was far faster than Leverich (34.78) and Froning (36.71).
“The transition on the parallel bars, that’s were you were made and broken,” Hendel said of an early obstacle featuring two metal bars sloping toward two logs. Athletes had to swing under the bars then on top of the logs before hopping over a high hurdle. “I got better making the transition from the bars to the logs.”
Hendel’s height also gave him an advantage on a few obstacles.
“The wall is not tall enough for me to have to exert a lot of energy,” said the four-time CrossFit Games competitor who’s just 23.
The women’s field was more spread out than the men, with the Round 1 winners in the 53- to 57-second range and many others well back of that pace.
Candace Ruiz, a former Marine, set the best opening-round time with 47.27, while Julie Foucher, Talayna Fortunato, Alicia Gomes and Jessa Lemoine posting times under 49 seconds.
The biggest cheer of the day came for 17-year-old Colleen Maher, who had to take several attempts at a big hurdle that looked taller than she is.
Lindsey Smith took a penalty for touching an out-of-bounds part of an opening obstacle and didn’t advance.
“Every second is valuable here,” she said.
Defending champ Annie Thorisdottir looked to be in good shape before thumping the 5-foot horizontal. She lost valuable time and finished second in her heat. Luckily, her 54.12 was good enough for a wild-card spot.
Iceland Annie came back in Round 2 and edged Angie Pye in the first heat, while Fortunato, Kristan Clever and Jaime Gold all advanced to the final.
The last heat of the day found Fortunato opening a very small lead over Clever, which she maintained right down to the final sprint. The taller Fortunato finished in 43.39, while Clever came home in 43.94.
“That first step is just a little longer!” the 5-foot-2 Clever exclaimed before sharing a laugh with Fortunato.
Thorisdottir’s back-door entrance to the final earned her third in 45.92.
Clever had struggled badly in warm-up, especially with the tallest hurdle, but she kept getting faster and shaved six seconds off her Heat 1 time in the final.
“I cared less about my personal safety,” she laughed. I smacked my knee a couple of times pretty good. … The last round I was like, ‘Suck it up!’”
Fortunato, a former D1 gymnast and heptathlete, expected to do very well and was saving a little extra for the final.
“I didn’t hurdle the last one until that (final) heat, until I saw her,” she said of feeling Clever breathing down her neck.”
Both Fortunato and Thoridottir said a no-fear attitude was key to getting through the course.
“We’re not scared,” Fortunato said of gymnasts, also noting there were two in the final (Gold).
“Just don’t be afraid of it … ,” Thorisdottir said. “If you’re going to hit the bar, you’re going to hit the bar.”
The long jump scheduled for today did not occur and will happen later in the weekend.
Tomorrow, the Individual competitors have a rest day before the final three days of the competition start on Friday.
Full bracket results can be found here.