Ben Smith might as well have been in Carson, Calif., on the final day of the CrossFit Games. That’s how electric the atmosphere inside the Prince George Sports and Learning Complex was when Smith stepped up to the 275-pound bar Sunday in the fifth event of the Mid Atlantic Regional competition.
He’d already solidified the top spot in the event by snatching 265 pounds, five pounds short of his max, and stood firmly atop the overall Leaderboard. The crowd seemed to know this next lift would be a new PR.
Smith tried once, and failed. He stepped up again amid the deafening cheers, gave one tug on the bar, and then dropped it with a chuckle.
No biggie, Ben. You’ve already given the fans what they paid for this weekend.
So has Nate Schrader, who accompanied Smith to the CrossFit Games last year after finishing 2nd in the region. Schrader finished second in the snatch ladder with a score of 245.37, meaning he snatched 245 pounds and added 37 extra double-unders to break a tie with third place finisher Steve Pinkerton (245.30).
Smith has a 13-point lead over Schrader in the standings, and Schrader is holding firmly onto second place by a 12-point margin. The real drama is the battle for that third spot on the podium -- the spot held by Spencer Hendel (now in the North East Region), last year.
Heading into Event 6, 3rd place is a tie.
Brian Quinlan, owner of CrossFit Explode in West Chester, Pa., went into the snatch event with a one-point lead over Pinkerton in the overall standings. To Quinlan, that simply meant “no messing up.” But Quinlan failed to snatch the 245 pounds, which is 10 pounds heavier than his max snatch, allowing Pinkerton to make up that one-point difference.
“If there’s one dude that I’d want to be competing with, it’s him,” Pinkerton, who trains at CrossFit Vitality, said of Quinlan. “He’s one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met. We competed against each other last Regional, and this Regional, he’s just like the most humble dude. It’s a win-win, because obviously I’ll be extremely upset if I don’t go [to the Games], but to see him get to go is just as good.”
Pinkerton finished 9th at last year’s Regionals, while Quinlan finished 18th after struggling with the longer, chipper events. So Quinlan, who’s currently listed at 6-foot, 220 pounds, lost about 15 pounds and worked on his endurance.
He thinks that has hurt him a bit in strength events like the snatch ladder, but should work to his advantage in Event 6, a brutal grinder filled with deadlifts, muscle-ups, wall balls, toes-to-bar, farmer carries and burpee box jumps.
Quinlan said he hasn’t been thinking about making it to Carson to compete alongside the likes of Smith, Schrader and the world’s other elite CrossFitters. He’s just been enjoying the here and now.
“This is what I want to be doing on a weekend,” he said. “It’s like a vacation.”
In the Athlete warm-up area prior to the Snatch Ladder event, the mood was tense. The ladies clearly had their game faces on. Tanya Wagner practiced her snatch with husband and competitor Josh Wagner looking on. He said that Wagner's previous PR was 137, but that was an old record. He said Wagner doesn't like to do max lifts in general, and doesn't do them much since having their son. Jenn Jones said she wasn't any more nervous for this type of event than a met con. In fact she said an event like this is "more like gymnastics," the kind of competition she is used to.
The first fourteen women couldn't get past 130 pounds on the snatch ladder, until Mary Webster successfully lifted 135. Webster said, "lifting heavy things, that's my thing." Webster score took 6th place in the event and leaves her in 11th place overall. The next lady to make some headway on the ladder was South Baltimore CrossFit's, Dara Ching. Ching competed in Olympic lifting in college and that was evident in her consistent form. In each lift she sailed through her double-unders, did her pre-lift ritual of chalk, belt, wrist straps and waited for the 30 second call. She then stomped her feet and addressed the bar. She said she intentionally took her time and "tried to control her breath." Ching rode the ladder all the way to 150. Her prior PR is 164 but this event didn't afford the two minutes in between lifts that Olympic lifting does. Ching says this was her first year competing as an individual and said, "my goal was top ten." After a 2nd place finish on Event 5, she's in 9th place overall.
The 130 pounds bar seemed to be the events henchman taking out competitors like, Wagner, Emily Pale and Michelle Crawford. Christy Phillips split snatch through her entire ladder. On her successful attempt at 130 she had to run to catch the bar and lock out the lift. She moved on to 135, which was her last successful lift. However she differentiated herself from Webster, by completing 15 double-unders after her failed lift at 140 for a 5th place finish in the event. Kittelberger powered through her lifts with a final successful lift of 150, tying Ching. However two double-unders locked her first top finish of the competition. After the event she said, “I knew I needed to do well to give myself a little buffer." Jones made it to 145, a score that put her third in the event- and continued her streak of top three finishes. She said, "I did the double-unders unbroken like I wanted," but says she started getting anxious out of the bottom of her snatches as she progressed.
With one event to go, the top three ladies spots have remained unchanged. There are eight points in between Jones and Phillips, in first and second respectively. Third place held by Kittelberger is just four points below Phillips, so there could be a potential shake up in those standings after Event 6. Top five however has shifted. Wagner has jumped up to 4th place but is a full 16 points behind Kittelberger. 5th place is held by Michelle Crawford.
The ladies know going into Event 6 that no female has finished under the time cap so far in Regional competition. Both Kittelberger and Jones say that in practice they were not able to finish. Phillips however thinks it is definitely possible that she can accomplish what so far has been unachievable by other competitors. She says she likes to save her adrenaline for game day, so she only practiced parts of the event. Since she did not practice the event in its entirety she can't be assured that she can do it. However, Phillips is confident, and ready to take on the challenge.
Team Workout 5
After four events, the battle for three teams to advance to Carson is going down to the wire. Half a dozen teams sit close enough to get third place. They have two chances today to make the move.
Event 5, the snatch ladder, was the first test of the day. RAW Training, which had five athletes set PRs in this event, claimed first with 1090 points. CrossFit Greensboro and CrossFit Wilmington tied for second with 1080 points.
Although this was a team competition, all eyes were on the individuals as the field narrowed to just a few in the women and men’s rounds. Tanner Martin of CrossFit Wilmington took first lifting 275 for a 15 pound PR. Nick Cherish from RAW Training finished second getting 275 overhead, setting a 20 pound PR. Casey Haines from CrossFit Inspire finished third lifting 255 pounds.
On the women’s side, Dawn Hutchison of CrossFit Wilmington took first, being the only athlete in Regionals competition to climb the full ladder, topping out at 185 pounds. Cameron Williams of CrossFit Greensboro completed 155 pounds. She struggled with the weight moving off the mat before she showed lock out. Krista Owens of RedPoint CrossFit and Loren Churchin of RAW Training lifted 150 pounds for a third place tie.
CrossFit Inspire was the only team to advance two women, Michelle Kasker and Michelle Wisla, to the 145 pound bar. Neither completed that weight. District CrossFit and CrossFit Wilmington have the distinction of advancing their three men all the way to the 245 lb bar.
This Snatch Ladder event is the only one where all six team members compete. CrossFit Wilmington would have taken first in the event, but Melissa Hoff had an injured shoulder and wasn’t able to lift the 105 pound minimum. For affiliate owner Tony Cowden, that’s all part of the competition. He was beaming after this event and extremely proud of his team, which placed 16th in the Games in 2010. His box has 500 members and 43 coaches. “We have come a long way since we opened our doors in 2008. Olympic lifting is clearly our strong suit.”
No doubt about that. Event star and CrossFit Wilmington athlete Hutchison has competed in Olympic lifting over the years and is used to the pressure of the crowd. She was all alone on the floor for the last three weights she snatched. The crowd went crazy as she made each lift. Once she nailed her 170 pound PR, it was all about the intensity of the venue. She got 175, then 180 and then 185. “I had no clue walking up to that last bar whether I’d get it overhead. Once I got to the bottom, I knew I had it, even with the little bobble overhead,” she said. “When I saw the ladder event I was stoked. I knew I’d excel at it. One of the women on the CrossFit Atlanta team got 175 last weekend. I was gunning for that. I power snatched up to 155 pounds to save my legs, then started squat snatching.” Her team members jetted across the arena to celebrate with her. The team, which moved into second overall after starting Day 3 in fourth, is working hard to earn a place on the podium.
The top 12 teams now advance to Event 6, the final event of Regionals. CrossFit Greensboro, RAW Training, and CrossFit Wilmington are the top three overall, but CrossFit Explode is just one point behind.