Arguably, the women of the Central East have the hardest job in CrossFit — they have to keep up with the men of the Central East. And if history has taught us anything, it’s that this doesn’t seem to faze them one bit.
“Decent CrossFitters are going to have a tough time. People who are great CrossFitters are potentially going to have a more difficult time, and they’re going have to dig and go places they have never gone before,” Dave Castro said in a video released on Tuesday night.
He wasn’t kidding.
The next night, 2,000 spectators packed the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium to hear the Live Announcement of 13.5 and watch four of the world’s fittest athletes set scores to beat.
Dressed in a tuxedo, Castro stepped onto the stage, lifted the mic to his mouth and quickly announced a well-known workout — chest-to-bar Fran — with an unprecedented twist.
Finish all 90 reps of chest-to-bar Fran within the first four minutes, and you’d receive a bonus four minutes to try her again. Hit 180 within eight minutes, and you would receive another four minutes to try her a third time, and on, and on.
The first and second-ranked women in the worldwide Open, Samantha Briggs and Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, were the first to try 13.5. Both sped through the first 90 reps, and received a bonus four minutes. Facing chest-to-bar Fran for a second time, both athletes slowed considerably. At the seven-minute mark, Leblanc-Bazinet was clearly on pace to finish within the time-cap but no one was certain whether Briggs would make it. She forged on for another minute, but fell five reps shy of the 180-rep requirement.
For the next four minutes, Leblanc-Bazinet continued alone on a stage surrounded by thousands of spectators. Exhausted but determined, she continued to thruster the 65-lb. barbell and string together beautiful chest-to-bar pull-ups. At the time cap, she had accumulated 64 reps into her third Fran, for a total score of 244.
Moments later, 2008 CrossFit Games champion Jason Khalipa took the stage. The 210-pound competitor squeezed into a CrossFit Mayhem T-shirt as a nod of respect to his opponent, CrossFit Mayhem owner and two-time CrossFit Games champion, Rich Froning Jr. Froning returned the favor by wearing NorCal CrossFit gear, Khalipa’s affiliate.
They both stand at 5-foot-9, but have a 15-pound weight difference. Khalipa is well known for his bearish force and willingness to take himself past his breaking point on endurance events. Froning, at 195 pounds, had an edge on Khalipa on the chest-to-bar pull-ups.
Surprisingly, Khalipa and Froning were matched rep for rep for the majority of the first Fran. Hitting 90 reps within the four-minute time cap, both men received a bonus four minutes. At the 7:30 mark, Froning was in the lead as Khalipa flagged. It was clear Khalipa wouldn’t make it to 180 within the time cap, and although Froning was ahead, he would have to race the clock. Getting his final chest-to-bar right before the clock hit eight minutes, Froning continued into his third chance at Fran alone.
Over the next four minutes, Froning accumulated 46 reps for a total score of 226 on 13.5. Khalipa followed with 169 reps.
Over the next four days, 85,000 competitors would chase Froning and Leblanc-Bazinet’s scores. Only 0.04 percent (33 people, 3 women and 30 men) would receive a second four-minute bonus like Froning and Leblanc-Bazinet. One of the three women, Lindsay Bourdon of the South East, beat Leblanc-Bazinet’s score, and 11 of the 30 men beat Froning’s.
The Central East Region put in incredible final performances and closed out the 2013 Open in style. Let’s take a closer look.
For the second year in a row, Froning has won the Open along with the Central East’s top spot. But that didn’t matter to Games competitor, Scott Panchik, when it came to chest-to-bar Fran. After all, Panchik already had the Fran victory from last year’s final event at the Games.
“Stay as calm and relaxed as I could,” Panchik says about the strategy that allowed him to post 233 reps to Froning’s 226. “I was really trying to concentrate on breathing.”
Like Froning’s 13.5 performance, concentration and breathing were at a premium. Both athletes were visibly thrown by the third and final workout extension. Froning actually had time to get a pep talk from Castro, while Panchik was knocked to his back on his 12th thruster of his final set. The Fran that would not end was no joke.
At the close of the Open, Panchik, the athlete nobody knew until after last year’s Games, is proving last year was no fluke. He’s the Central East runner-up, and fourth in the world.
Familiar name Marcus Hendren isn’t far behind. Neither is 2010 CrossFit Games champion Graham Holmberg with a 13.5 score of 157 reps, placing him sixth in the Central East, directly behind Nick Urankar and Dan Bailey, both previous Games competitors.
Three men in the Central East turned a four-minute gasser, into a 12-minute slugfest full of brazen pull-ups and stout thrusters. None of the Central East women would match this. However, 30 athletes would earn one four-minute addition with sweat effort and sheer will.
Among those would be the second fittest women in the world, Julie Foucher, who scored 170 reps for a Central East 13.5 victory. Six reps behind her was Mikki Nuccio who sits ready to take on her first Regional event less than a year after starting CrossFit.
The 13.5 tie for third goes to Jolene Grant and Crissy Cannon, each posting 158 reps, and both continuing their season past the Open.
Also above the Leaderboard fold after 13.5 are Games athletes Heather Welsh, Michelle Kinney, Lindsey Smith and Lisa Shiu. And with Foucher taking a hiatus from competing beyond the Open, you can’t help but speculate which competitor will take the Open spot she’s leaving unattended.
Well knowns aren’t the only athletes in the hunt. Competitors like Jennifer Smith, the top athlete in the Central East finally taking a shot at competing solo, is throwing in. Not to mention Alyssa Ritchey, the dark horse from 8th Day CrossFit, who sits in second in the Central East after the fifth and final workout.
Arguably, the women of the Central East have the hardest job in CrossFit — they have to keep up with the men of the Central East. And if history has taught us anything, it’s that this doesn’t seem to faze them one bit. In fact, the most climatic Regional events on the horizon, may be the ones where Central East females lay it all on the line.
CrossFit The Ville, from Louisville, Ky., finished first in the Central East on 13.5 with 791 reps. They were followed by CrossFit Mayhem’s 13.5 score of 759 reps and SPC CrossFit 2’s 756 reps.
As it stands however, after the final team throwdown, the top three in the Central East are no different than they were upon the close of week three. In first place overall, CrossFit Maximus stands poised, ready for a Regional rematch. Fresh affiliates CrossFit Mayhem and CrossFit Polaris take second and third place, respectively, both looking toward their first turn at the Central East Regional.
In the Central East alone, nearly 180 teams stayed in it for all five Open workouts. Of those competitors, only 30 teams will be invited to Regionals. The rest will be granted another year to train in hopes of carrying their Games season beyond the Open.
For many, the CrossFit Games season is now a spectator sport. But as we watch, we can remember many of us were part of the original 138,000 competitors who made the 2013 Open the most inclusive search for the Fittest on Earth.