While one hemisphere of the CrossFit world slept, the Pacific Regional crowned its fittest athletes, the five women, men and teams that will represent Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands and Asia in the 2016 Reebok CrossFit Games. It was no surprise that veterans like four- and five-time Games athletes Kara Webb and Rob Forte reclaimed top qualifying spots; what made the biggest waves in the Pacific was the fact that 50 percent of the individual qualifiers are rookies.
Justine Beath may be a rookie to the CrossFit Games, but she’s no newbie CrossFit athlete. After starting CrossFit in 2009, the 25-year-old competed in every Australian and Pacific Regional since, starting on a team in 2011 and finishing in the top 10 as an individual from 2012-2015. In 2013, she helped Team CrossFit Active to a 12th-place finish at the CrossFit Games. This weekend, she earned the Pacific’s fourth qualifying spot with six top-10 finishes, including second-place finishes in Events 2 and 5.
“I’m so excited,” she said after the award ceremony on Sunday. “It’s been a long time coming.”
In Event 2, Regional Nate, she showed as much brain as brawn, opting to break up her elegant strict muscle-ups and snappy strict handstand push-ups early, staving off the muscle fatigue that consumed many of her competitors. Three events later, she proved herself Carson material, matching Webb nearly rep for rep in the final round of 275-lb. deadlifts and besting her by about half a second in a photo-finish footrace to the mat.
“'I definitely thought, ‘Yeah I can do it this year, I’ve just got to do it,’” she said. “Last year I focused too much on things I shouldn't have and this year I just really tried to focus on having fun.”
At just 19, Madeline Sturt isn’t even old enough to toast to her fifth-place finish. Edging out fellow rookie Harriet Roberts by 11 points after the final event, the former track-and-field athlete earned her spot in Carson with five top-10 finishes, including a fourth-place finish in Event 5.
No one saw her coming until Event 5, in which she astounded the stadium in Wollongong, Australia, with her blistering GHD sit-up pace and unbroken touch-and-go, 275-lb. deadlifts at 5-foot-2 and 130 lb., launching her from beneath the top 10 to eighth overall by the end of Day 2. She jumped two more places in the next event, and while Roberts struggled with no reps on the legless rope climbs of the final event, Sturt scaled the rope with rhythmic pendulum-like swings, never failing on a single one.
"I'm really happy, I'm really shocked, I didn't expect this at all,” Sturt said after earning her spot at the Games.
James Newbury, the five-time regional athlete with the mop of curly, dirty-blonde locks, didn’t hit the scene until Day 2, when second- and first-place finishes in Events 3 and 5 bumped him from the edge of the map to third overall after five events.
“Five years coming, fifth time lucky,” the 25-year-old said.
After 15th- and 11th-place finishes in the first two events, Newbury played Event 3’s couplet of wall-ball shots and pull-ups like a veteran, drawing a teardrop in the air to give his arms a rest while the 20-lb. medicine ball met the target. Scooting over to the next target while the ball was airborne, he finished the 104 wall-ball shots in just over 3 minutes, before completing all 52 pull-ups unbroken to take second in the event. Two events later, he earned his first and only event win. Delicately tapping the GHD at the top of each rep like a concert pianist, he earned the jump on veteran Forte by sprinting between each station.
“That was sort of my favorite event of the weekend,” Newbury said. “I knew coming into it I’d trained really hard and really consistent … I was feeling as fit as ever and strong as ever and injury free as ever, so I knew all I had to do was go in and hurt pretty bad in each workout, and I knew that would hopefully get me across the board.”
Though he held a qualifying spot all weekend, 24-year-old Zeke Grove had no plan to look at the leaderboard.
“Not until this is over,” he said.
For most of the weekend, the young affiliate owner and former rugby and soccer player didn’t need to. After closing out Day 1 in first overall with fifth- and second-place finishes in the first two events, he began Day 3 with an event win. Finishing all 104 wall-ball shots unbroken at just after the 3-minute mark—like Newbury, he transitioned between each target without pause—he was among the first to the pull-up bar. He looked to go unbroken on all 52 reps, but mysteriously dropped before the final rep. Luckily, his tight, shallow kips and rapid cycle time bought him a 5-second lead, and he sprinted alone down the floor to take the win.
It was his only victory of the weekend, but still, Grove said Event 7 was his favorite.
“There were so many highs and lows, but I wouldn't change it for the world, it was unreal,” he said.
Sitting in fifth overall, he took an early lead in the couplet of thrusters and legless rope climbs, Fran’s feisty baby sister, with thrusters that looked faster than gravity. He was the first to return to the bar after demolishing the set of 3 rope climbs in little more than 10 seconds. But a no rep on the second set of ascents cost him precious time, and Khan Porter took a 13-second lead that he never relinquished.
After the event, the men waited to see what prize their work had wrought. When the results were announced, Grove was thrilled to learn that not only was his third-place event finish good enough to keep a qualifying spot, he’d even bumped up one place to finish in fourth overall.
“I’m over the moon,” he said.
Mitchell Sinnamon, the man with a spice for a name, proved his salt in his first regional appearance as an individual by snatching the fifth and final qualifying spot with five top-seven finishes, including a second-place finish in Event 1.
“I’m stoked, absolutely stoked,” the 26-year-old former member of the Royal Australian Navy said.
Though a rookie to the individual Games competition, last year, he helped team Schwartzs CrossFit Melbourne to a 21st-place finish in the team competition at the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games. The experience, he said, gave him the confidence of a veteran when he took the regional floor solo.
“Crowds used to mess with my head a little bit, but now it's just another day,” he said.
The progress was evident in Event 1. While other athletes gripped and ripped with touch-and-go reps on the first two barbells of the ascending ladder, Sinnamon executed methodical, relaxed singles from the start. The only indication the barbell got heavier up the ladder was a slightly deeper squat; his technique remained solid. Even a no rep on the 245-lb. barbell couldn’t shake his resolve. After a step back and a deep breath, he continued with even more pristine reps than before, taking little notice of Brandon Swan and Kevin Manuel closing in on him to the side. A pause before the final rep at 265 lb. cost him the event win—which Swan snatched—but a second-place finish was no bad way to start the weekend.
Sinnamon continued to display the calm of a veteran across the remaining six events, surviving 16th- and 15th-place finishes in Events 4 and 7 with wiggle room bought by iron-clad consistency across the rest of the events.
“I felt good all weekend,” he said. “I was in a good headspace.”
Port(er) in a Storm
As exciting as a podium-full of rookies is, fans hate to see veterans go. Though Aussie Khan Porter has only been to the Games twice, many see him as a veteran, the lovable fan favorite who delighted audiences with a dance. And so when he finished Day 2 in sixth, 8 points out of Games contention, you could almost feel hearts breaking throughout the stadium.
Porter started the weekend strong, finishing Day 1 in second overall with third- and fifth-place finishes in Events 1 and 2. But three finishes outside the top 10—including a possibly catastrophic 20th-place finish in Event 4, in which a plan to break up the 52 pull-ups into multiple sets backfired as his competitors zoomed past, unbroken—put Porter in sixth by the end of Day 2. That night, his playful charm was nowhere to be found.
“I’ve never been in a position where I’ve had to fight for that last spot,” he said. “(Day 2) sucked; nothing went to plan, I finished out the day in a terrible head space. I was just really down on myself, I really got into my own head for a bit.”
But come Sunday morning, he re-set his focus.
“I knew (in Day 3’s) events, I could do what I needed to do,” he said.
His third-place finish in Event 6 shrunk the gap between him and a qualifying spot from 8 points behind rookie Ricky Garard to just 3, now trailing Grove. It all came down to the final event.
Throughout the first set of thrusters and legless rope climbs, Porter raced Grove, trailing by no more than one ascent. When Grove got no-repped on his second set, Porter seized the lead, scaling the rope like a man fleeing for his life. After his last set of thrusters, he was back on the rope almost before the barbell stopped bouncing, sprinting to the finish at 2:27.64 for his first event win.
The last 3 blistering minutes of the regional meant more to Porter than three days of competition; the victory boosted him not only into contention, but into third overall.
“This is without a doubt the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” he said.