Contributing reporters: Dominque Grimard and Caraline Lambray
Canada East isn’t familiar with uncertainty.
When Day 3 began, the usual Sunday-morning smiles and handshakes were still evident, but athletes were noticeably distracted, focused on what could happen in the afternoon.
For Alex Vigneault, Day 3 would either mean redemption or the start of a massive Regionals hangover.
Ranked first in Canada East after the Open, Vigneault dropped 25 spots after yesterday’s handstand push-up event. Vigneault earned his spot with a solid performance in the Open, but his ability to perform over three days was in question. Vigneault wanted to remove all doubts and restore his place at the top.
Meanwhile, Paul Tremblay had capitalized on Vigneault’s fall. Poised in third, he ascended thanks more to hard work than to luck, but as he admitted on Saturday, he couldn’t control anyone else. Pascal Baillargeon, who started Day 3 in third, was prepared to dig in and hold his podium spot.
This has been Camille Leblanc-Bazinet’s most dominant performance at regionals. After winning four of the first five events, Leblanc-Bazinet’s spot was all but secure.
For the first time, however, Michele Letendre hadn’t yet won an event. Her two second-place finishes put her slightly above Kristine Andali in third—each had 18 points. A tie in any event, or in the overall standings would put Letendre back in a qualifying posittion. Andali would have to beat her.
Canada East veteran Chris Cristini had slipped out of the top heat by Day 3. He said the competition is getting tighter in the region.
“Everyone is getting better and better,” he said. “This year, seconds matter.”
In the first few heats, no one finished the daunting 50s event. Cristini, historically good in chipper events, had 94 reps to go at the 21-minute time cap.
When the heavy hitters of the final heat entered the ring, Vigneault was fastest off the rower and was quickly joined by Larouche. Vigneault stayed low on the box jumps, landing in a crouch on each jump.
Brandon Crump, in third, opted for a lateral jumping strategy; Simon Paquette turned in a clockwise circle on every rep. Tommy Snarr spun quickly, gaining ground on everyone.
Vigneault was done with the box jumps in a 20-rep lead over Tommy Snarr and Larouche, but didn’t move quickly on the deadlifts. Larouche didn’t pause before grabbing the barbell. Vigneault’s lead narrowed to seven reps, then five, and he looked fatigued in the final 20 deadlifts. Larouche did not.
Moving steadily behind them was Tremblay, who stayed with the leaders, neither gaining nor losing ground. Vigneault and Larouche finished their deadlifts at the same time, and Larouche immediately began his wall-ball shots.
Vigneault stopped halfway through, but Larouche continued. Between them on the floor was Tremblay. Larouche made it to the rings with a 10-rep lead over Vigneault, and began pacing five reps per set. Vigneault and Tremblay went for longer sets in an attempt to close the gap.
Paquette, back in the top heat after gaining ground on Saturday, steadily closed in on the leaders after the deadlifts.
Larouche was off the rings in 11:10; Snarr was next in 11:30. Vigneault followed eight seconds later, but Tremblay appeared to slow on the ring dips, performing sets of three. He was the seventh athlete in the heat to reach the second set of wall-ball shots.
Larouche stayed out front, taking a final break with nine wall balls to go. Vigneault had only 15 remaining. Paquette was closing in.
While Larouche walked to the barbell, Paquette sprinted. Away he went, 10 reps at a time, slowly pulling ahead of the leaders. Larouche glanced across and nodded to Paquette, two Games veterans acknowledging one another.
When the crowd realized Paquette was leading, they began to chant his name. Bolstered by the support, Paquette struggled through the box jumps without stopping, but Patrick Vellner passed him in the last 30 reps and made it to the rowers first. Five others from the heat joined him: Paquette, Larouche, Vigneault, Snarr and Pascal Baillergeron.
Pulling hard with each stroke as the time cap inched closer, Vellner was digging deep to notch as many calories as he could. When the horn blew, the erg read 29 calories. Competing in his first regional, Vellner stood on the finishing ma, a proud winner. His closest competitor, Paquette finished just a few calories behind him.
“I knew I had a shot at it, at least to pace well,” said Vellnner. “I had done it a couple of times in training. I kinda knew what I had to do, but you never know going into Day 3. You have a strategy, but it changes so fast.”
Paquette, displaying strength of character and finishing second in the event despite the top two spots overall falling out of reach for him, said he is using the opportunity to compete today to his advantage.
“Even with Friday’s performance, if I do really well in these events, it will motivate me for next year,” he said.
His goal? “To come back stronger.”
Larouche maintained his lead strong lead, but Vigneault’s effort pulled him into second place overall with 52 points, followed by Baillargeron with 53 and Tremblay with 55.
With Larouche’s spot all but secure, one ticket to the Games hung in the balance with one event to go.
Event 6 Results
1. Patrick Vellner (21:21)
2. Simon Paquette (21:33)
3. Alex Vigneault (21:40)
With tension rising and the audience out of their seats, the final heat paced on their starting mats. Larouche was looking to maintain his overall lead, and Vigneault, Baillargeon and Paul Tremblay, separated by only three points, gunning for the No. 2 position.
At the call of “3, 2, 1 … Go!” the top men of Canada East grabbed onto the bar, cycling through pull-ups as if they were 30 lb. lighter. Of the men fighting for a trip to the Games, Tremblay was the first to drop, followed by Baillargeon and Vigneault. But Larouche continued to butterfly, seemingly unfazed, and finished first.
Walking calmly to his bar, Larouche was passed by Charles Felx-Leduc, who ran to the bar, and Tremblay. Tremblay stuck each overhead squat, going unbroken for eight, his face revealing his emotional drive to win.
Throwing the bar down behind him, he sprinted to the finish, let out a battle cry and stomped down onto the mat in 1:52.
Felx-Leduc finished just behind him in 1:54, Baillargeon in 1:56, Vigneault in 2:06 and Larouche in 2:10.
While Tremblay was excited to take the event, he didn’t let his emotions show. The second ticket to Carson, California would come down to number crunching.
After several minutes of anticipation, the International Center erupted in cheers when the final Leaderboard results came online. Tremblay, Vigneault, and Baillargeon were in a three-way tie, with 56 points each. Tremblay nabbed the No. 2 spot with the tiebreaker.
Tremblay leapt high onto the side of the bleachers, shaking the guardrail and bellowing. His supporters enveloped him, chanting his name until he finally dropped off. It took several minutes to regain his composure before he would appear on camera.
“I wanted to win, and that’s what I kept saying to myself,” he said. “It was such a rollercoaster.”
Tremblay went to the Games in 2012 with a team, but is headed there for the first time as an individual.
“It’s a sick sport, and to get to be with the highest caliber athletes at the Games. I’m very, very excited.”
Larouche, who is headed to Games for the fourth consecutive year in his CrossFit career, was still speechless about qualifying again.
“There are no words for it … there are no words,” he said.
Event 7 Results
1. Paul Tremblay (1:52)
2. Charles Felx Leduc (1:54)
3. Pascal Baillargeon (1:56)
1. Albert Dominic-Larouche (38)—Games Qualifier
2. Paul Tremblay (56)—Games Qualifier
3. Alex Vigneault (56)
Second place was the most hotly contested spot as the Canada East women lined up for the long Event 6 chipper.
Would Letendre hang on to second or would Andali edge her out?
Before the final heat, the athlete closest to finishing was Alexandra Bergeron, who achieved 39 reps of the final 50 deadlifts.
Renée Martin was the first off the rower in 2:49, followed closely by Marie-Emilie Perrault, Andali, Leblanc-Bazinet and Leann Lapp. Virtually the entire field was even when they reached their last box jumps, but Letendre and Andali pulled ahead on the deadlifts, dropping their barbells as one and walking stride-for-stride to the wall.
Letendre’s strength in the wall-ball shots showed, and she moved ahead before the rings, but was forced to break her dips into sets of three and then two. When she turned back toward the crowd for her final 25, she was doing singles. The crowd leaned in, counting.
Leblanc-Bazinet made her break on the rings. Kipping rapidly on each dip, she seized the opportunity and took the lead. But with fatigue setting in, she was no-repped on the first rep of her wall-ball shots.
Andali was next on the wall, and built a 10-rep lead over Letendre. As Leblanc-Bazinet finished the wall-ball shots and started chipping away at her deadlifts, Andali was another 10 reps behind the leader. When Letendre came off the wall almost a minute behind the two leaders, the crowd went wild, spurring her on to challenge her competitors.
Gaining considerable ground on the deadlifts, Letendre was fighting not only for second position in the event, but also second place overall and a ticket to the Games.
Leblanc-Bazinet held a strong lead entering the box jumps. Andali plugged away, jumping, turning 180 degrees on top of the box, and jumping again.
Letendre made it to the box jumps and hit as many as she could before the horn sounded, but couldn’t overtake Andali. She knelt on the box, uncharacteristically upset. Andali double fist-pumped with a huge smile on her face.
“I feel amazing!” said Andali after the event, who went into the event with a strict plan. “I was just telling myself, ‘This is yours, this is yours.’ I knew I had to grab first or second.”
And she did. With one event to go, her performance kept her hopes of qualifying for the Games alive.
Event 6 Results
1. Camille Leblanc-Bazinet (22:09)
2. Kristine Andali (22:20)
3. Michele Letendre (22:36)
With anticipation building, the focus was on Andali and Letendre. It all came down to Event 7.
The smaller Letendre had faster pull-ups than Andali, whose big swinging butterflys cycled longer. Andali dropped before the halfway mark, but Letendre stayed on for another 20 reps. As quickly as she hit the pull-up bar, Andali dropped again.
One minute in, Leblanc-Bazinet dropped from the bar—she had gone unbroken in signature style.
The crowd’s roar soon took over the building, and then intensified as Letendre dropped 4 seconds later. Both solid on the bar, Leblanc-Bazinet and Letendre repped out the eight overhead squats quickly.
Leblanc-Bazinet would finish in 1:41, breaking the event record set by Pip Malone in Australia. Letendre, just behind her, ran to the mat with her arms raised to the sky. She was going to back to California and she knew it.
Andali was still on the pull-up bar, her grip on second place gone.
With tears streaming down her face, Letendre fought back to win.
“I did what I had to do,” she said. “I was very happy after being down. It was a feeling of utter relief.”
But she knows she’s not done fighting. In just more than two months, she’ll have to be ready for her fourth CrossFit Games.
“I feel just as nervous as the first time,” she said. “I just have to get ready for anything.”
Leblanc-Bazinet, who won seven of eight events, is headed to Carson, California for her fifth time. She said she was also relieved when she stepped onto the mat.
“I wanted to swear with an “F yeah!” she said. “I did it. Just like, a lot of relief. I’m so stoked to go back.”
Event 7 Results
1. Camille Leblanc-Bazinet (1:42)
2. Michele Letendre (1:47)
3. Abigail Guerrero (1:55)
1. Camille Leblanc-Bazinet (8)—Games Qualifier
2. Michele Letendre (23)—Games Qualifier
3. Kristine Andali (28)