Del Mar, Calif.—There are no sure things in SoCal.
Kicking off under drizzle and May gray skies, this year’s SoCal Regional is taking place at the historic Del Mar Fairgrounds and Racetrack, made famous by the thoroughbred Seabiscuit in the 1930s.
The field in this competitive region is littered with Games veterans and formidable athletes hungry for their shot at a ticket to Carson.
Although well known in the CrossFit world, neither Andrea Ager, Ryan Fischer nor Bill Grundler has made it to the Games. They are all hoping 2013 will be their year.
To accomplish their goal, they’ll have to best Games veterans like Kristan Clever, Josh Bridges and Valerie Voboril, among others.
It all began with Event 1 — the CrossFit classic Jackie, a brutal sprint comprised of a 1,000-meter row, 50 empty-bar thrusters and 30 pull-ups.
Chilly coastal breezes blew through the Del Mar Arena — a pavilion-type venue with a roof and open sides — but the excitement of the crowd warmed up the space as the SoCal women took on Jackie.
The final women’s heat was so full of former Games competitors and contenders it was a challenge deciding who to watch. Would Lindsey Valenzuela be able to beat her recent training partner Sam Briggs’ time of 6:05 from earlier in the day at the Europe Regional, or would Valley Girls Becca Voigt and Kristan Clever take the lead?
When the announcer yelled “One minute until we start,” the athletes were still chalking the bars. From the sidelines, Coach Dusty Hyland yelled at Lindsey Valenzuela, “Believe in yourself kid, let’s go!”
In the end, the biggest surprise came from CrossFit South Bay’s Lauren Baer, who competed in heat two, but turned in the fourth-best time of the day with a 6:47 Jackie, beating out Andrea Ager and Kristan Clever.
"My coach, Cody Rice, gave me a great game plan and I stuck to it,” Baer said. “So off the rower, then book it until the end after that!”
Clever, 2010’s Fittest Woman on Earth, knows this is only the first event of many. She was philosophical about her ninth-place finish in this initial event (she tied with Chelsey Grigsby and Christina Sloyer).
“Even though I was slower on the rower, I feel that I still went too fast during the event,” Clever said. “I'm really looking forward to Sunday's Chipper event — it should be fun!"
Although Valenzuela was first off the rower, consistency through the thrusters and rapid butterfly pull-ups won the race. Becca Voigt showcased the precision she’s known for and won the event with a time of 6:14.
“Slow and steady wins the race,” Voigt said after the event.
Val Voboril, a three-time Games competitor, says she’s more nervous than last year. At the 2012 SoCal Regional, she says there were no expectations — she was a new mom and just happy to be competing.
This year, things are different.
Her plan to survive the weekend?
“Have fun and lots of ice baths,” she says with a smile.
Bridges is back.
Unable to compete last year due to military duties and injury, Bridges announced his return to competition with a winning Jackie time of 5:11.
“This is a three-second PR for me,” Bridges said after the event, “and I'm very happy about it.”
Historically, SoCal women have dominated the worldwide CrossFit scene, but this year, the men of West are coming on strong.
Jeremy Kinnick, competing in the second-to-last heat, had a very specific goal in mind before he took the floor.
“When I saw that Mikko Salo did (Jackie) in 5:21, I told myself that I wanted to do it in 5:20, and that's what I did!” Kinnick said.
His time earned him a third-place spot overall.
All of the men in the final heat finished under 6:01, but Bridges and Lipson took the lead early on. Lipson was the first off of the rower, followed closely by Bridges. Both men completed their 50 thrusters unbroken, but Lipson was the first to the pull-up bar.
A smaller athlete, known for his endurance, five-foot-five Bridges caught up on the pull-ups, cycling through 30 unbroken, as consistent as a metronome. Lipson, who held the lead through the row and the thrusters, slowed pace on the pull-ups. His hands never left the bar, but he paused at the bottom, and kipped the last few pull-ups.
Earlier in the day, Lipson said he wanted to finish the event in the area of 5:30 to 5:45. His time of 5:17 beat his goal, and put him in second place going into Events 2 and 3.
Event 1 saw the teams taking on a partner Jackie. As Erik Tilove of Team CrossFit Rx'd said before the event, this one is an all-out sprint. The victors would be the teams “who could withstand the pain the longest.”
The event was also about who could keep their hands on the bar, with lead spots going to those who finished the thrusters and pull-ups unbroken.
Split between three heats of 10 teams, many pairs struggled to finish the work under the 15-minute time cap in the early heats.
CrossFit Shifted, of Palm Springs, Calif., made a decisive move, dominating heat two from start to finish. Both the female and male athletes completed all thrusters and pull-ups unbroken, earning a second-place finish overall with a time of 12:46.
This time was bested by just one second in heat three, when past Games competitors Team Invictus grabbed first place overall with a time of 12:45. Invictus’ Nichole DeHart struggled a bit with the thrusters, accumulating a number of no reps from her judge, but she made up time on the pull-ups by completing all 30 unbroken.
“It’s great working out next to Brick Nation,” DeHart said after the event. “They are amazing athletes who really pushed us throughout the whole (event).”
Shane Farmer, the Invictus teammate who is also master trainer for Concept 2 rowers, easily handled the row, and worked through all of his thrusters and pull-ups unbroken.
Team CDR Redlands, who took the third spot with a time of 13:10, showed their CrossFit spirit by staying behind to cheer for OCCF, who didn’t manage to finish under the time cap.
Events 2 and 3 will be a test of strength and gymnastics skills, with the entire team coming together to take on overhead squats and burpee muscle-ups.
Jenn Ryan of CrossFit Pacific Beach, in fourth place for teams after Event 1, said they are looking forward to Events 2 and 3.
“We’re all so well-rounded,” Ryan says of her team. “We’re confident of our skills.”