CrossFit fans from around the world descended on the Tribute Communities Centre in Oshawa, Canada, to watch the capstone event in the 2016 CrossFit Games season, the 2016 Reebok CrossFit Invitational.
The Invitational is the CrossFit community's all-star game. For the last few years, athletes from around the world have come together for one special evening of team competition.
On this Sunday night in Oshawa, top athletes in the Sport of Fitness blinked under bright arena lights as they walked onto the arena floor and prepared to represent their corner of the globe: Canada, Europe, the Pacific and USA.
Stacked with experience, the Europe Team was once again the statistical favorite going into Sunday's competition. The USA Team, however, managed to pull off an upset last year, even though the odds were not stacked in their favor.
Going into Event 1, it was unclear who would walk away with the victory: the Europe Team, with the two-time Fittest Woman on Earth at the helm; the USA Team, who came in as defenders of the title; the Canadian Team, who had the home-field advantage; or the Pacific Team, with its powerhouse lifters poised for a win.
The live competition was action-packed, with event after event containing over-the-top demonstrations of elite athleticism. In the end, fans from the host country and abroad were on their feet as it all came down to the final event. A collective gasp was audible as Sean Woodland announced the winning team, a clear sign that everyone had been holding their breath while waiting to see who would come out on top.
Event 1: Deadlifts and Bar-Facing Burpees
The first event of the 2016 Reebok CrossFit Invitational was a classic couplet containing deadlifts and burpees over the bar. But there was, of course, a catch.
At Friday night's event announcement, the athletes learned that Rogue had engineered a special bar for the deadlift portion of the workout. Instead of lifting a regular barbell, or even one of the two-person or three-person bars that have made appearances during the last few competition seasons, each team would have to fit all four members onto one bar.
Incidentally, a regular bar cannot hold the 800+ pounds required (the bars weighed 854 lb.), so the teams would be testing their grip strength as they came together to lift heavy axle bars.
"It looks more like a cartoon than an implement of fitness," said Games host Rory McKernan, looking at the axle bars before the event.
The lift proved to be a bit of a challenge for USA team member and 2015 Fittest Man on Earth Ben Smith. Smith, recovering from a recent back injury, told Chase Ingraham before the competition, "You can talk about the back, but it's really a non-issue."
By the end of the event, however, the announcers and spectators weren't so sure.
The Pacific Team, on the other hand, expertly handled the lifts and burpees. They finished the event with a solid 10-second lead on the next team, Europe, and the USA and Canada Teams were left trailing behind heading into Event 2.
Event 1 Results
1. Pacific - 5:08.12 (6 points)
2. Europe - 5:18.44 (4 points)
3. USA - 5:24.10 (2 points)
4. Canada - 5:58.59 (0 points)
Event 2: Women’s Team Max Snatch and C&J
Event 2, the one event with Olympic lifts, allowed each team's heavy hitters to shine. Kara Webb was expected to put up big numbers on the snatch, and she did not disappoint.
Webb attacked a 200-lb. barbell with sniper precision. Though she didn't quite reach the PR she set during the warm-up, she was able to give the Pacific Team a comfortable lead.
That lead proved fleeting, though, as Katrin Davidsdottir took the floor for her second round. The reigning Fittest Woman on Earth was a model of grace under pressure as she out-lifted Webb by two pounds, successfully completing a snatch at 202 lb.
Kari Pearce and Michele Letendre both put up respectable weights (180 lb. and 198 lb.), but their teammates couldn't overcome their deficits on the clean and jerk portion of the event.
Pearce's teammate, Brooke Wells, put up 247 lb., and the second Canadian athlete, Carol-Ann Reason-Thibault, put up 232 lb. The USA Team finished the event in fourth place, and the Canada Team closed it out in third.
Sara Sigmundsdottir had a successful clean and jerk at 240 lb., but that wasn't enough to hold onto the lead for Europe. In the end, Olympian Tia-Clair Toomey took over the top spot for the Pacific by matching Wells' 247-lb. lift.
Event 2 Results
1. Pacific - 447 lb. - 3 points
2. Europe - 442 lb. - 2 points
3. Canada - 430 lb. - 1 point
4. USA - 427 lb. - 0 points
The Pacific Team extended their lead going into Event 3.
Overall Standings (2 / 7 Events Completed)
1. Pacific - 9 points
2. Europe - 6 points
3. USA - 2 points
4. Canada - 1 point
Event 3: Women’s Team Handstand-Walk Relay
Katrin Davidsdottir was the clear favorite for this event, but the USA Team was also expected to do well. Davidsdottir took first place in the Handstand Walk Event at the 2016 Games, but USA teammates Kari Pearce and Brooke Wells took second and third in the same event.
In the end, the USA Team made up some ground, beating the Europe Team by nearly 19 seconds and taking their first event win of the day.
Event 3 Results
1. USA - 1:03.44 (3 points)
2. Europe - 1:22.34 (2 points)
3. Canada - 1:32.68 (1 point)
4. Pacific - 1:48.87 (0 points)
The event closed the point-gaps between teams, but that wasn't enough to shake up the leaderboard.
Overall Standings (3 / 7 Events Completed)
1. Pacific - 9 points
2. Europe - 8 points
3. USA - 5 points
4. Canada - 2 points
Event 4: Bars, Rowers, Bikes and Pigs
Event 4 brought full teams back onto the floor together as they prepared to perform synchronized bar muscle-ups, rowing and biking for calories, and Pig flips.
Event announcers Sean Woodland and Chase Ingraham had two questions going into the event: 1. How would Brooke Wells do with these gymnastic movements? and, 2. After struggling with the deadlift in Event 1, would Ben Smith have trouble flipping the 500-lb. Pig?
The race was tight as the teams completed the muscle-ups, biking and rowing, but the field started to spread on the Pig flips. While Ben Smith surprised everyone by making the heavy lift and drive appear easy, Carol-Ann Reason Thibault of the Canada Team struggled with the movement.
The Pacific Team held a small lead heading into round 2, with the USA Team close behind. By the end of round 2, the USA had taken the lead and looked like they were going to walk away with their second event win.
The Europe Team surprised everyone, though, when they caught up with the athletes from the USA. Both teams reached the Pig at the same time, but the Europe team ultimately prevailed, creating the first major shift of the day on the leaderboard.
1. Europe - 8:27.92 (6 points)
2. USA - 8:29.48 (4 points)
3. Pacific - 8:36.28 (2 points)
4. Canada - 11:04.36 (0 points)
Overall Standings (4 / 7 Events Completed)
1. Europe - 14 points
2. Pacific - 11 points
3. USA - 9 points
4. Canada - 2 points
Event 5: Men's Team Max Snatch and C&J
"A great battle is developing for that top spot," said Sean Woodland heading into Event 5.
The Canada Team found themselves out of contention for the top spot, but the other three teams still had a shot going into the two men's events.
Björgvin Karl Guðmundsson took the floor first for the Europe Team, putting up a solid 255-lb. snatch on his first try.
Rob Forte matched him and then got back on the bar too quickly, failing at 260 lb.
Brent Fikowski then had the spectators on their feet when he took the lead for Canada with a snatch at 275 lb., and Ben Smith kept the energy high when he pulled off a lift at 262.
The second round brought in bigger numbers. Guðmundsson went for 265 lb. and then quickly put up 275 lb. before the 30-second window closed. Smith jumped to 277 lb., Forte succeeded at 260 lb., and Fikowski held onto the lead for Canada with 285 lb.
The teams' other members then took the floor for the clean and jerk.
When Patrick Vellner put up an amazing 355-lb. lift, it looked like Canada would finally secure an event win.
But then Rich Froning did what Rich Froning does. With a 365-lb. clean and jerk, he stole the event win for the USA.
Event 5 Results
1. USA - 642 lb. - 3 points
2. Canada - 640 lb. - 2 points
3. Europe - 610 lb. - 1 point
4. Pacific - 597 lb. - 0 points
Overall Standings (5 / 7 Events Completed)
1. Europe - 15 points
2. USA - 12 points
3. Pacific - 11 points
4. Canada - 4 points
Event 6: Men's Team Handstand-Walk Relay
It was still a tight race heading into the penultimate event of the day. Any one of the top three teams could walk away the winner.
Rob Forte developed a quick lead at the beginning of the second lap of the men's handstand walk, but Froning began to close the gap. Vellner wasn't far behind.
The Pacific managed to hold off the USA and Canada Teams, and with Canada holding the lead over Europe in this event, the USA remained in contention for the top spot at the end of Event 6.
Event 6 Results
1. Pacific - 1:06.49 - 3 points
2. USA - 1:08.99 - 2 points
3. Canada - 1:10.45 - 1 point
4. Europe - 1:11.53 - 0 points
Overall Standings (6 / 7 Events Completed)
1. Europe - 15 points
2T. Pacific - 14 points
2T. USA - 14 points
4. Canada - 5 points
Event 7: Climb, Push, Clean, Jump, Thrust
With a mere one-point separation between the first-place spot and second and third, Event 7 proved to be a nail-biter.
"It's pretty much winner take all," said Sean Woodland as the athletes took the floor one last time for legless rope climbs, handstand push-ups and holds, slug cleans, Pig jump-overs and slug thrusters.
The USA was fighting hard for their third-straight Invitational win, but the Europe Team was equally eager to bring home their first Invitational victory ever.
Froning led the USA at a controlled and methodical pace on the slug. The Europe Team, meanwhile, moved with what appeared to be reckless abandon.
"Europe is a little bit out of control," said Ingraham as they maneuvered under the slug. "This is not a fast movement."
By the time they reached their second slug movement, however, Europe had clearly found a rhythm.
The USA tried to put pressure on the Europe Team, but was soon overtaken by Canada. Europe began to develop a clear lead.
"Europe has never won the Invitational," said Woodland. "That could change."
The excitement in the arena increased as Europe closed in on the finish line.
"Believe the hype," said Woodland, his voice taking on the exuberance of the moment. "Europe has won the 2016 Reebok CrossFit Invitational!"
Event 7 Results
1. Europe - 9:24.16 - 6 points
2. Canada - 9:27.59 - 4 points
3. USA - 9.38.87 - 2 points
4. Pacific - 9:38.97- 0 points
1. Europe - 23 points
2. USA - 16 points
3. Pacific - 14 points
4. Canada - 10 points
The Europe Team celebrated their victory with hugs and champagne.
When asked about his strategy going into the competition, Europe Team athlete Lukas Högberg said, "I tried to keep up with these awesome Icelandic people."
"They're crazy," he said.
The entire 2-hour competition is available on YouTube, ESPN3 and Games.CrossFit.com.