Reaching the podium isn’t easy. Not even for the fourth fittest man on Earth.
Last year, Scott Panchik took fifth at the Central East Regional and fourth at the Games. It was a stellar rookie season, but one that left him achingly close to the podium. Twice, he watched as the man just a few points ahead of him stepped onto the box, bowed to receive the bronze medal around his neck and wave to the cheering crowds.
”I was on the outside looking in,” he says. “This year, I want to be standing on that podium.”
He got to feel the weight of the medal and hear the applause and clicking camera shutters for the first time at the 2013 Central East Regional this June. He stood just below Rich Froning Jr., and wore the silver medal along with his famous toothy smile.
Although he was proud to have reached that height, he now wants to climb to the tallest box on the Games podium.
“My goal is to win,” he says. “No one goes into the Games wanting to be second.”
It’s a big goal, but one that may not be out of his reach. After all, he entered the 2012 season with little more than one local competition under his belt and managed to finish fourth at the Games.
Over the last year, he has joined a box, dramatically improved his technique and taken part in far more CrossFit competitions.
“This year, I will be entering the Games much more confident, knowing what to expect and just feeling more confident in my own abilities,” he says.
Although his ultimate goal is to win the Games, he had a much more modest goal at the Central East Regional: qualify.
“It is a competitive region, and I think it’s tougher than the Games,” he says. “Once you get to the Games, you are already there, but at Regionals, you have to lay it all on the line. It can be a lot of pressure, because one slip up, and someone may take your ticket.”
Events 3, 5 and 6 hit him like punches to the jaw, dropping him to seventh, eighth and sixth.
“If I could do them over again, I would,” he says. “I learned burpee muscle-ups are something I still want to work on. I also was slower on the deadlift/box jump (Event) than I think I could be, and for (Event) 6, the jump rope went wrong in the beginning and I dropped my axle bar twice on the shoulder-to-overhead. One of the times my clips and weights came off, so that slowed me down to get everything back on.”
With the taste of tin in his mouth and nerves in his belly, he had to fight back after each of the disappointing finishes. The Leaderboard didn’t care that the event didn’t go as planned or that he did better in practice.
“When all was said and done, I was pleased,” he says.
Yet for someone who wants to win, second is just the first loser. And standing one spot beneath the two-time reigning champion will make anyone ask, “Can anyone beat Froning?”
“Anyone is beatable on any given day,” Panchik says firmly.
Twice this year, Panchik has beaten Froning on events. Panchik bested Froning by two spots on Jackie, and 10 seconds on Event 7.
He remembers those moments while training.
“There’s always someone out there working harder, someone who wants it more,” he says. “I want to be that guy out there doing everything I can. At the end of the day, it comes down to littlest things — suffering a little more is what separates you. If you let go of the bar for one second, it could cost you the whole workout.”
His willingness to suffer longer and more intensely than other competitors is Panchik’s less-than-secret recipe for success. He’s willing to put it out in the open because many people know they need to suffer to succeed, but few will drink that poison.
Other than that, his plans are fairly ordinary. He has no secret Games programming or diet.
“I’m not doing anything different than what I’ve done the past year with my training. I’ve made big gains,” he says.
At the beginning of the Open, his shoulder-to-overhead one-rep max was 290 lbs. At the Central East Regional, he got 305 lbs. overhead and overhead squatted it three times.
His coaches, Travis and Regina Page of CrossFit Distinction, have managed all of his programming.
“It’s CrossFit,” he says. ”My workouts are constantly varied. From rowing to swimming to Olympic lifting and gymnastics. I really work on it all.”
Around competition time, his coaches increase the volume and intensity. He will be in the box in the morning, afternoon and evening to work out or work on a lift or skill.
Lately, he has been focused on gymnastic skills and overall strength. He wants to be more efficient with muscle-ups and better with deadlifts and Olympic lifts.
“Everyday is a new day to PR, and my focus is really to continue to become a more well rounded athlete and efficient,” he says.
In a month, he will travel to Carson, Calif., to compete for the title Fittest on Earth. He’s serious about the competition, but not too serious.
“It’s supposed to be fun, and I will be smiling all weekend long,” he says. “I’m only 25, and I am blessed to be able to do what I do. I am humbled to be competing alongside some great athletes, and that I was able to even stand on the podium during the Regional. CrossFit can easily consume you as an individual, but for me, the bigger picture is the fun I have doing it and the impact I hope to make for other people. I aspire to inspire others that they are capable of achieving great things that they may have not thought were possible.”
All it takes is heart.
“I take it one workout at a time and pour my heart into it. I push my body to the limits, that’s what the CrossFit Games does to you — makes you push.”