The world was not enough in the 1999 James Bond flick, but in 2013 six athletes from three continents took the win at the CrossFit Invitational, presented by Reebok.
Team World, made up of Europeans, Canadians and Australians, was able to avenge Team Europe’s 2012 20-6 loss by taking the fifth and final event to score a 24-19 victory over a stacked Team USA.
The 75-minute team competition took place in Berlin’s Templehof Airport, once one of the 20 largest structures in the world and home to the 1948-49 Berlin Airlift. Over 2,300 fans packed the bleachers in Hangar 6 to watch all six CrossFit Games podium finishers and six other top athletes compete in a team competition broadcast live to 59 countries in Europe and streamed live to North America.
The stacked Team USA comprised Rich Froning, Jason Khalipa, Ben Smith, Lindsey Valenzuela, Val Voboril and Talayna Fortunato—with only the latter finishing out of the top three at this year’s Games. Team World featured Games champ Sam Briggs (U.K.) along with Kara Webb (Australia), Camille-Leblanc Bazinet (Canada), Chad Mackay (Australia), Albert-Dominic Larouche (Canada) and Frederik Aegidius (Denmark).
Of the 43 points available, 21 were on the table for Event 1, in which six mixed pairs tackled Jackie. If one side were to sweep the top three positions, it would take 15 points, putting it within 7 of an overall win.
The best team time at the 2013 Regionals was 12:06, set by CrossFit Fort Vancouver, and it was smashed by the Invitational pairs.
With Briggs sporting Union Jack socks and her friend Valenzuela wearing the Stars and Stripes, the women led off. Briggs was able to notch an unofficial sub-six-minute Jackie, giving a small lead to partner Larouche. Fortunato handed off to Froning seconds later, and he made up the ground on the row. He and the Canadian went head to head on the thrusters, but Froning’s kip proved faster, and he stopped the clock at 11:11, with the World squad just behind in 11:13.
Aegidius and Webb sliced seconds off of 12:07, their combined Regional Jackie times, and they were less than a second ahead of Smith-Valenzuela to take third. Mackay-Leblanc-Bazinet took fifth, with the Aussie smoothly commanding the rower with long, beautiful strokes and Leblanc-Bazinet hammering out pull-ups with her signature kip. Khalipa and Voboril were sixth, which was surprising given their Regional times might have pointed to a clocking of about 11:20.
In a replay of last year, the World took the early lead, if only by a point: 11-10.
With almost no rest at all, the athletes were back on the floor for a chipper that began with dumbbell burpee box jumps. The movement looks utterly miserable after the first rep, and the task was made worse as the athletes had to work in unison.
“I had throw-up in my mouth the whole time,” Valenzuela said.
“Fuck’s sakes!” Briggs screamed when a no-rep cost precious seconds as two of three athletes had to come back across the box, costing both time and energy. Despite a pair of no reps from the judges, the World women were still first to the deadlifts. On the overhead squats, both squads used strategy; the USA sent Fortunato and Voboril to rest by the rings while Valenzuela finished off the squats, and Briggs did small sets for Team World.
Valenzuela and Voboril exchanged the bar back-to-back and spun like a helicopter to face forward, and the fiery Valenzuela made up a lot of ground. Still, the World women completed the workout while Team USA hit the time cap to make the overall score World 14, USA 10.
In the men’s version of the event, Team USA pulled well ahead when Froning notched 10 overhead squats at 225 while all other athletes on both teams did fives.
As Team USA cruised to victory, the event highlighted the different coaching styles on the floor. While Matt Chan of Team USA ran frantically between athletes and screamed encouragement until he was hoarse, Mads Jacobsen sat back with arms folded calmly, saying little if anything.
“I wish there was a way they could have tagged me in. I was fresh and ready to roll,” Chan said after the event.
No rest for the wicked: Event 4 had mixed pairs logging max-weight cleans in brackets for 2, 3 or 4 points.
While the pair of Khalipa-Voboril was able to take down Aegidius-Leblanc-Bazinet for 2 points, World’s Mackay-Webb pairing grabbed 3 points in the middle bracket against Smith-Fortunato. Webb’s 235-lb. lift was the deciding factor. The 4-point bracket went to Froning-Valenzuela, who dominated Larouche-Briggs.
The score after four: USA 19, World 17, setting up a winner-take-all final.
Athletes opened the last test with a single-file line of handstand walks, and while Leblanc-Bazinet made it look easy, Briggs and Mackay were steady but not fast while upside down. Team World was 3 reps behind when they got to Worm thrusters, but they made up ground by repping out 20 and 20 without dropping the segmented log, while Team USA stopped to rest after the first set.
The American squad also dumped the log by accident in a chain reaction in which Valenzuela looked to get the worst of it. World perhaps got overly ambitious and had a domino dump of their own, and they collected themselves before banging out a final 10 to get to the overhead lunges 8 reps before Team USA.
Team USA struggled to get lined up properly as Chan screamed “Win it!” to Smith, who took the anchor position behind Voboril.
Froning led for Team USA, but when he crossed the line he was greeted by all three of World’s females. With everything on the line, the World squad started to falter as its males got to the halfway point. Aegidius looked slightly unsteady as Mackay stacked up behind him and had to slow down, but one mat over Voboril was struggling mightily with Smith waiting behind her.
Voboril’s battle continued, while Aegidius won his, leaving only Mackay to finish for World. He dumped his bar but one step before the end, then slipped his hands off the bar to miss a clean before looking back and realizing he had time to collect himself for one more step.
He took it and claimed victory as 2,300 fans pounded on the plastic seats.
“We went into the competition as underdogs … so we had to come out firing on all pistons,” said Aegidius, who earlier in the week had suggested his team could win only with great teamwork. “We communicated well all the way through.”
Briggs, who came through a half-marathon row at the CrossFit Games none the worse for wear, noted that the Invitational was very challenging due to its frantic pace.
“As soon as you’ve done Jackie, everything became so much heavier,” she said.
She added: “Everything became a lot harder because of what we’d already done.”
On the USA side, the sagging shoulders and sad faces afterward told the story, perhaps most of all for Froning, a man not accustomed to losing after three years at the pinnacle of CrossFit competition. It was a drastic contrast to the iconic images of Froning’s triumphs in Carson.
“It’s a completely different event when you have to come together like that,” said the only male to win the Games more than once.
He’s no stranger to volume, so the workload didn’t bother him much, and he said fed off the crowd, which supported him even if it was clearly behind Team World.
“It’s hard for things to feel heavy when you have that many people cheering for you,” he said.
Khalipa also took consolation from the fans who wanted to meet him and get his autograph, though he said “it was a tough loss to take."
While CrossFit was born in the United States, it’s clearly a successful worldwide export. European women have won the Games for the last three years, and the top of the female leaderboard is usually full of international flavor. On the men’s side, you have to go back to 2009 to find a male podium finisher who didn’t call the U.S. home, but broadcasting sold-out CrossFit competitions like the CrossFit Invitational to countries around the globe ought to change that.
Updated Oct. 29, 2013--The first line of the article was corrected to identify six athletes from three continents rather than three countries.
Updated Nov. 1, 2013--The description of Event 2 was clarified to indicate Talayna Fortunato's and Valerie Voboril's spots in the order of athletes during the overhead squats.