In 2011, Individual athletes opened the CrossFit Games by running into the surf at the Santa Monica Pier, marking the first time swimming was seen at the Games.
In 2012, swimming returned, with athletes opening a swim-bike-run endurance test in the waters at Camp Pendleton, home of the U.S. Marine Corps. That event was announced at a dinner where athlete found out they’d be competing Wednesday of Games week rather than Friday.
Games Director Dave Castro dropped a similar bomb at the 2013 athletes dinner, and once again, competition would start Wednesday rather than later in the week. But this time, instead of running into ocean surf, athletes would be diving into a 25-yard pool at the Woollett Aquatic Center in Irvine, Calif., before hitting bar muscle-ups.
Previous swim events were chippers, and once athletes completed the swim, they were done with the water. Both years, great swimmers came out of the Pacific with a lead, while poor swimmers had a chance to make up ground during the rest of the workout.
The 2013 combo—10 rounds of 3 bar muscle-ups bracketed by 25-yard swims—put athletes in the friendly confines of a seven-foot-deep pool but forced them to deal with the water each and every round for a total of 500 yards.
Breaststroke, backstroke, front crawl—female athletes got it done by any means necessary, adding in a “bonus muscle-up” to get out of the pool onto the deck before doing three muscle-ups in singles.
The mechanics of a muscle-up put a wet torso right overtop of the bar on every rep, and less than ideal grip slowed even athletes with great gymnastics skills.
Some chose to make a nice paste of chlorinated water and chalk, while others simply toweled off, gripped it and ripped it. In either case, awkward, squiggling reps were seen, while others employed looping kips that sent sheets of water in a plume behind them.
Emily Friedman was easily the class of the field in the first heat that kicked off the Individual competition. She posted 30- to 34-second lengths in the late rounds and moved very quickly from the bar to the water to carry momentum, catching her breath with a breaststroke before going back to a front crawl.
“I’m not a great swimmer. I’m a pretty good swimmer for not being a swimmer,” said Friedman, who considers muscle-ups a strength.
While many thought the swim was the key, Friedman pointed to time between movements as critical.
“In my opinion, there are 20 transitions in this workout,” she said. She said she tried to be steady on the swim, get the bar work done and then get back into the chlorine.
“You almost have to tell yourself to push as hard as you can,” she said. Her 16:08.9 was the best in the first heat, but Rory Zambard smashed it and literally left everyone in her wake in Heat 2.
Zambard looked like an outboard engine, using a flip turn at the wall to keep moving and bang out 20-second lengths. Alessandra Pichelli lost ground on the swim and made it up on the bar, setting up a duel that lasted only up to Round 5, when Zambard pulled away and swam to a time of 14:06.1.
Deb Cordner Carson mustered all the courage she had last year to complete the ocean swim, but there was no fear this year, and the 2012 Spirit of the Games Award winner finished in 20:05.1. It wasn’t a top time, but it wasn’t the worst, either.
In the final heat, top athletes including Lindsey Valenzuela and Ruth Anderson Horrell failed on muscle-ups early, while Michele Letendre, Christy Phillips, Kara Webb and Ashley Carriveau pulled out front of a field including 2010 champ Kristan Clever, 2012 third-place finisher Taylana Fortunato and Open winner Sam Briggs.
Letendre, a short athlete who used to play water polo, used a one-legged sideways jump off a block to get to the bar, and luck of the draw had her right next to Carriveau. Letendre was better on the bar, while Carriveau owned the water, and both used the speedy flip turn to race neck and neck right into Round 9. When Carriveau failed on a muscle-up, Letendre ditched her swim cap and brought the hammer down.
She arced gracefully and powerfully into the water for her final length and stopped the clock in 13:19.2. Webb also pulled ahead of Carriveau and put up the only other Heat 3 time better than Zambard’s.
“For once, I had a plan to just go balls to the wall and not stop from bar muscle-up to swimming,” said Letendre, who picked up US$3,000 for the event win.
“She was right next to me, so she pushed me really hard,” Letendre said of being beside Carriveau. The Canadian was unaware of Webb making ground several lanes over, but she stuck to her plan, made very fast transitions and secured the victory.
With the waters of the pool placid after the women churned things up, the men hit the deck to open their side of the individual competition.
The men in the first heat were cranking out lengths in the 20-second range, and Daniel Petro raced David Levey for most of Heat 1. Petro used a giant running dive to cover three or four yards in the air alone, and with a few powerful underwater kicks, he actually covered almost a third of the pool without pulling a stroke above water. His 11:55.9 was tops in the first group of men, with Levey behind him in 12:15.8.
In Heat 2, avid surfer and rescue firefighter certified for open-ocean water rescue, Wes Piatt took about 50 seconds for a full 50 yards in the opening rounds, using the flip turn that gave the best swimmers a huge advantage over their competition. If Heat 1 was spread out, Heat 2 found the competitors bunched more closely together, with Piatt trying to hold off Brandon Swan, who was only one muscle-up behind in Round 7.
By Round 8, Bryan Miller came into the mix using a sidestroke technique, but Piatt didn’t relent, nor did he stop to dry his hands. He banged three final muscle-ups, churned out 25 yards and set the best time of the day with 11:13.4.
“I had absolutely zero plan,” said Piatt, a Games rookie. His whole goal was to “just get it over with, butterflies out.”
In the middle rounds, Piatt “thought about not wasting any time,” so he stopped drying his hands, didn’t take his goggles off for muscle-ups and went straight from bar to water with speed.
Piatt knew he was doing well due to announcer calling his name repeatedly, but he said he didn’t know Swan was hot on his tail.
“Oh, man. I had no idea. (I was) just doing my own thing,” he said when asked if he could feel Swan stalking him.
When the top men took the deck, most eyes were on two-time defending Games champ Rich Froning Jr. and Matt Chan, the 2013 second-place finisher. Chan, of course, played water polo and was fired lay out and cut into the pool again. Also in the heat were past champs Graham Holmberg and Jason Khalipa, as well as Navy SEAL Josh Bridges.
As expected, Chan was a force from the start, but Jordan Troyan was actually in the lead. The two traded spots several times, with Chan using a backstroke from time to time. Both used the flip turn, though Troyan lost time drying his hands while Chan just shook the water off and grabbed the bar. That might have cost the Colorado athlete, as he failed a muscle-up in Round 7, leaving the door open for Ben Smith to pull into second and Bridges to get back in the mix.
By Round 8, Troyan was covering half the pool in the air and underwater, and he was well ahead. He actually seemed to get faster. He clocked 10:06.0 and easily beat Ben Smith, who posted 10:28.5. In a sprint finish, Chan went head-to-head with Bridges, and while Chan beat him to the wall, Bridges was over it faster to stop the clock in 10:59.9.
“I knew I would probably win it,” said the man who was an All-America swimmer at West Chester University in Pennsylvania.
His plan was to use “every dive” by using a running start, flying as far as possible, using a minimum number of strokes and pushing off the wall with a flip turn.
Immediately after the interview, he hit the pool for a few more laps.
Next up for the Individuals: a pair of rowing events this afternoon.
1. Michele Letendre (13:19.2)
2. Kara Webb (13:55.9)
3. Rory Zambard (14:06.5)
1. Jordan Troyan (10:06.0)
2. Ben Smith (10:28.5)
3. Josh Bridges (10:59.9)