“Don’t use your legs. That’s the sissy way.”
Rich Froning Sr. said that when his son was little, and it was a piece of advice that might have cost Junior three consecutive CrossFit Games victories.
In 2010, Froning famously finished second at the Games after a poor showing on the rope climbs in the final event. Froning hadn’t climbed a rope since second grade and followed his father’s recommendation: he climbed without using his legs.
Froning, of course, learned how to use his legs shortly after and went on to dominate the next two editions of the Games.
Friday night’s final event was 27 thrusters (95/65 lb.) and four rope climbs, 21 thrusters and three rope climbs, 15 thrusters and two rope climbs, and nine thrusters and one rope climb.
Most important of all, athletes weren’t able to climb the rope the sissy way. The challenge was suitably named Legless and forced athletes to go Princess Bride on the rope.
Few women made it to the final rope climb, and several found the proverbial brick wall much earlier in the event on a preceding round of rope climbs.
Among the most exciting heats was the third, which saw Emily Carothers catch Elisabeth Akinwale and Jenn Jones. Behind her was Valerie Voboril. The two women were the closest to finishing the event under the 10-minute time cap of any females to that point. To roars from the crowd, both attempted the final rope climb after finishing nine thrusters with mere seconds left on the clock. Carothers and Voboril recorded the same time: 10:02—the time cap, plus a second each for one missed rope climb and one run to the finish mat.
“I have 18 years of a gymnastics background, and in gymnastic legs are never allowed,” Carothers said.
Still, she wasn’t exactly thrilled by the movement.
“My upper body already felt pretty beat up after the morning event, so I was pretty apprehensive about how well my upper body was going to function,” Carothers said.
As expected, the final women’s heat was the nail-biter.
Briggs opted for the Princess Bride approach, looking like she was walking through the air and proving her firefighter career has served her well. But just when it looked like the Brit had a lock on first, she kept failing on the final ascent of the third set of rope climbs.
That opened the door for Christy Phillips, the first woman to the set of two rope climbs. She was joined in short order by Alessandra Pichelli, who employed a massive kip on the rope.
"When you kip you can keep your arms straight," she said. "I knew if I could keep my arms from blowing up, then I wouldn't fail a rep, and I could catch up."
Legless rope climbs have been part of her training, Pichelli noted.
"I do them a lot. It paid off," she said.
Pichelli arrived first to the final rope climb to finish the event in 9:33.7. Phillips followed suit shortly afterward in 9:41.9. They were the only two women to finish the workout under the 10-minute time cap.
"I didn't expect to win, but I did," Pichelli said.
The final rope climb made waste of men, as many athletes made it more than halfway up only to have their arms betray them.
Gary Helmick posted the best time of the first three heats at 6:08.1 before being bested by Josh Bridges, who finished in 6:07.3. Bridges, the event winner, made the thrusters and rope climbs look like a warm-up. The Navy SEAL knocked out unbroken thrusters and quickly ascended the rope with some rest to chalk up and take a few breaths.
Bridges said he knew the time to beat going into the event and, "of course," knew he could do better, watching the clock at the end and knowing what he had to accomplish. On his agenda was sufficiently resting before ascents.
"I was saving my arms so I knew I could get it and do the workout unbroken," Bridges said.
Indeed, reaching failure cost many athletes dearly, including Matt Chan, who repeatedly failed on the final ascent and did not complete all reps under the cap. Last year’s third-place finisher took 34th on the event.
The final men’s heat was performed before a standing crowd and saw two-time Games champion Froning pull into the lead. But several athletes were hunting him down, including Marcus Hendren and Jordan Troyan. As Troyan and Froning stood before the final rope climb, they watched each other, almost daring the other to go first. Seemingly out of nowhere, Hendren hauled himself up the rope and passed Troyan to finish but a 10th of a second ahead.
"I didn't want to fail," Hendren said. "I knew I couldn't do 15 (thrusters) unbroken like Bridges.”
He added: "I just tried to keep my five-breath metronome.”
Froning finished eighth overall, and the top five times all came from the previous heats.
1. Alessandra Pichelli (9:33.7)
2. Christy Phillips (9:41.9)
3T. Emily Carothers (10:02)
3T. Valerie Voboril (10:02)
Overall leader: Christy Phillips
1. Josh Bridges (6:07.3)
2. Gary Helmick (6:08.1)
3. Kenneth Leverich (6:17.6)
Overall leader: Jason Khalipa