The first ever U.S.A. vs. Europe CrossFit Invitational, presented by Reebok, was a competition of the best of the best going head to head for a series of workouts that would determine who could claim bragging rights.
They set the stage at London’s ExCel Arena, the venue for a number of Olympic events this year. It was a fitting venue to crown new champions.
With two-time CrossFit Games champions Rich Froning and Annie Thorisdottir as team captains, it was immediately obvious no athlete was taking this lightly.
Seasoned competitor and 2008 CrossFit Games champion Jason Khalipa made it clear he was taking this competition as seriously as he takes the Games. “I feel honored to have been chosen for Team U.S.A., and to be representing my country and a sport that I love with such passion is awesome,” he said.
When asked if he thought it would be an easy victory for Team U.S.A., he responded, “I never take anything for granted. In fact, I have never gone into a competition feeling confident. I always respect the opposition and I know we have all worked hard to be here.”
Kristan Clever, another CrossFit Games champion, was laid back throughout the event, her teammates and the opposing team. “It’s not a big deal to work with them, these people are my CrossFit family.”
Rebecca Voigt, who trains with Clever at Valley CrossFit said this was like any other competition. “We are taking this competition very seriously, Team U.S.A. desperately wants to win and so we are enjoying helping each other and working together on strategy,” she said.
Team Europe athletes were equally excited about the prospect of working together, Katrinarson said. “We haven’t had much time to practice together, but already we have been able to give each other tips and advice and worked together on team tactics and strategy,” he explained.
The workouts were planned collaboratively and announced in advance. They were broken up into stages with several events within in stage.
The first event of Stage 1 was a thruster/box jump fest with one male and one female athlete from each team taking part. The current female champion Annie Thorisdottir led her team from the front. When she was done, she tagged off to teammate Tuomas Vainio, from Finland. Vainio only found out he was competing a few days ago when Frederik Aegidius pulled out due to injury. Their opponents needed no introduction as Voigt and Khalipa stepped up for U.S.A. Khalipa was able to pull ahead of Vainio, who was struggling with the thruster weight. Team U.S.A. won the first two points of the day.
Samantha Briggs, the only athlete truly on home turf, sat out of this year’s Games season with a fractured patella. Now, fully recovered, she was hungry to prove her fitness. The crowd showed their support to the Brit when she stepped onto the floor for Team Amanda with teammate Katrinarson. Their opponents: Fittest Man on Earth Rich Froning and second fittest woman Julie Foucher.
This was the event Katrinarson was looking forward to the most. “I was excited to be going head to head against Rich Froning,” he said after the event.
The duos swapped leads in the first two rounds. Briggs had the advantage on the muscle-ups and Foucher would catch up with excellent form on the squat snatch. Briggs was able to forge ahead and command the lead as Foucher began to fail muscle-ups.
After two events, it was tied 2-2.
Stage 2 was a battle of strength as the six women from both teams stepped up to play. Youngest competitor, 19-year-old Icelandic Katrin Davidsdottir, went up against Clever in a max snatch effort. With just three minutes, youth was victorious with Davidsdottir snatching a stunning 175-lb. PR. Thorisdottir had a similar victory over Voigt in the clean and jerk and took victory with a 205-lb. lift, taking Europe into the lead 6 points to 4.
The last part of the women’s workout included handstand push-ups, bar muscle-ups, front squats and kettlebell swings. Team U.S.A. got an early lead when Davidsdottir was no-repped on a few bar muscle-ups. They won the event and pull ahead 7-6.
Then experience took over. Froning and Chan dominated the men’s snatch and clean and jerk max effort. Froning completed a 290-lb. snatch and Chan had the crowd on their feet with a 345-lb. clean and jerk. The Finnish pairing, Vainio and Aronpaa could not respond.
The men extended the lead 14-6 after winning the final part of Stage 3. With only 6 points left to win, even if Team Europe could win the final event, it wouldn’t be enough points to win the event overall. Don’t think that meant they didn’t fight in the Finale.
The finale was a mix of relay-style and synchronized movements, including pull-ups, overhead squats, double-unders and deadlifts. Team U.S.A. finished and won the last 6 points. In the end it was 20 to 6.
To celebrate, all team members gathered to hug, high-five and chest bump. Clever, Froning and Khalipa all said this team victory meant more than an individual success at the CrossFit Games.
“At the Games you are on your own, which is great, but here you are, not only representing yourself, but also your country,” Froning said after the event, “and the pressure to not let them or your teammates down is greater than any individual performance and the delight at success is stronger.”
Reflecting on the defeat, Thorisdottir said she was proud of the team. “I was immensely proud of our team. We came here as underdogs and put up an amazing performance. We have learned a lot about each other in the short time. I am sure if the event takes place again next year we will come back stronger."
Find footage of the event at Eurosport.