After two weeks of combined regional competition, we’ve seen the difference a little integration can make. Last week, perennial Games competitors Valerie Voboril, Josh Bridges and Brandon Swan failed to qualify out of the California and Pacific Regionals. Christy Adkins missed what would have been her seventh trip to the Games the week before that.
Scott Panchik and eight other men who have qualified for the Games in past years will contend for five Games-qualifying spots this weekend. Though famed as the only man to challenge Rich Froning at the Central East Regional last year, Panchik was confident the champ’s absence wouldn’t mitigate his drive.
“One workout at a time with one goal in mind: make it back to the Games,” Panchik said before the regional. “I try not to think about one person, because when you do someone else starts creeping up on you.”
The women’s division is complete with Games veterans, rookies, last chances and dreams of redemption. Julie Foucher has never finished the Games outside of the top 5, and says this will be her last season in the sport before she turns her full attention to her medical career. Stacie Tovar, fresh off a year absence from the Games after a five-year run, is determined to not let that happen again.
“Although it was very upsetting not making it to the Games last year, it was definitely a turning point for me,” Tovar said. “I've done everything I can to make it back to the Games. Nothing would make me happier than to be standing on top of the podium at the end of the regional weekend.”
Event 1’s victor came from the second to last heat. Sam Dancer of QTown CrossFit in Quincy, Illinois, took the best time of the day, completing Randy’s 75 snatches at 75 lb. in 2:28.9.
“It’s an opportunity to bring glory to God,” Dancer said, tucking a streak of hair dyed strawberry blond beneath an American flag headband.
Dancer might have started in the third heat, but his name is not unknown. After taking 12th in at the 2013 North Central Regional, he helped team CrossFit Conjugate Black take second place at the 2014 Games, where, among other things, he deadlifted 655 lb.
Though he didn’t lead his heat from the start, moving slower than Dre Strohm and Shane McBride on his left, Dancer picked a pace he could maintain. Holding the bar above his head between transitions, he completed all the snatches unbroken. Second place went to Nick Bloch, who finished in 2:31.2 in Heat 2.
The final heat ended in a footrace between 2014 Games rookie Jacob Heppner and 2010 CrossFit Games champion Graham Holmberg. Holmberg, who didn’t qualify for the Games in 2014, took fourth in 2:34.4, just 1.9 seconds after Heppner, who took third in the event.
“I mean, a lot of things have to go right (to qualify for the Games),” Holmberg said. “If I come out here and perform better than I practiced … I’m sure that opportunity may come around. I hope so.”
Panchik, who took ninth in 2:37.9, was the early leader in his heat, maintaining the even pace of a veteran with shallow power snatches. But the split-second delay between catch and extension proved to be his undoing.
“I thought by dipping under I’d save my grip, let me hold on a little longer,” Panchik said. “But I probably should have muscle-snatched a few. But that was my best time out of all the times I ran through it, so I can’t be mad. On to the next.”
Marcus Hendren, another fan favorite hoping to return for his third Games appearance after failing to qualify last year, finished in 31st place, starting the weekend in a sizable hole.
“It gets harder every year,” Hendren said. “It’d be validation for the whole year you put in (to qualify).”
Event 1 Results
1. Sam Dancer (2:28.9)
2. Nick Bloch (2:31.2)
3. Jacob Heppner (2:32.5)
4. Graham Holmberg (2:34.4)
5. Shane McBride (2:34.7)
For some athletes, Tommy V was a cause for reflection.
“I’m so appreciative of people who sacrifice time from their families to do what they know is right,” Dancer said of military-service members. “Just to allow us to be here when really, at the end of the day this isn’t that big of a deal compared to what they are doing. So if I can throw on some wristbands showing the stars and stripes … and tell the service men and women that I love them and appreciate what they do, you bet I’m going to show up.”
The couplet of thrusters and rope climbs seems simple. But at 15 feet, 27 ascents means 405 feet of climbing, and fortune favored those patient enough to pace.
In the final heat, Alex Anderson pushed for the lead, limiting his rest to just two to three seconds between each ascent. But he showed signs of fatigue early with slower, shorter pulls before he’d finished his set of 12. By the end of the event, he tripled his rest time.
While all 40 men were able to complete the 72-rep event within the 16-minute time cap, earlier heats saw some approach the brink of failure, even leaving a trail of blood on the rope. In the second heat, Stephen Wallace was forced to cling to his rope, spinning in circles as he gathered strength for his final pulls.
Just two-tenths of a second made the difference between first and second place in the event. While Anderson faded, Heppner maintained his easy pace: two strong pulls and about five seconds of rest between ascents. Heppner was the first to return to the 115-lb. thrusters, his grip set wide with elbows splayed in the shape of a W.
Holmberg, too, crept past Anderson. Bringing his knees to his forehead with each pull and his long arms reaching high, the 2010 champion closed the gap between himself and Heppner to just one ascent before the final round of thrusters.
But when Heppner returned to the rope for the last time just after the 6:20 mark, his pace flickered as he added a mini-pull with his arms to his two main pulls. It gave Holmberg less than a second’s lead, but two-tenths were all he needed.
In a breakneck footrace, the pair charged to the mat. When the clocked stopped, it was Holmberg who had the faster time, finishing in 7:52.6 to Heppner’s 7:52.8.
Though Heppner said he’d had his sights set on an event record, he happily settled for second place.
“It was a fun one,” Heppner said. “It was fast.”
Ahead of his plan to finish the first set of ascents before the three-minute mark, Holmberg said he almost got a little too comfortable, taking generous rest between ascents in the middle of the event and forcing himself to play catch up in the final round.
“I think the (round of) 9 was crucial to stay steady,” Holmberg said. “I think I was able to add that kick in round six of rope climbs to help me pull ahead.”
Event 2 Results
1. Graham Holmberg (07:52.6)
2. Jacob Heppner (07:52.8)
3. Alex Anderson (08:01.0)
4. Kevin Scholtz (08:17.9)
5. Scott Panchik (08:25.6)
1. Graham Holmberg (185 points)
2. Jacob Heppner (185 points)
3. Alex Anderson (165 points)
4. Sam Dancer (153 points)
5. Scott Panchik (149 points)
6. Andrew Wissman (142 points)
7. Zak Carchedi (132 points)
8. Tristan Moore (122 points)
9. Nick Bloch (121 points)
10T. Justin Allen (118 points)
10T. Nick Urankar (118 points)
Like a glimpse from the past, Holmberg sits atop the men’s overall leaderboard after Day 1, tied for points with Heppner in second. Surprisingly, Panchik ended the day in fifth with 149 points, rookie Andrew Wissmann biting at his heels just 7 points behind.
A rookie broke free in the women’s first event. In her first individual regional appearance, 19-year-old Brooke Wells of CrossFit Fringe in Columbia, Missouri, shattered the record set earlier today by two-time Games champ, Annie Thorisdottir. While all eyes were on veterans like Tovar, Foucher and Akinwale, Wells finished first and ran to the mat in 2:21.6, more than seven seconds faster than Thorisdottir had done.
She didn’t even do it unbroken.
“I was going to try and go unbroken, but I decided to break up the last set so that my last reps would be faster,” Wells said.
While Tovar and Foucher set the tone with smooth muscle snatches at the start, by the second set of 25 reps, both had switched to a slight power snatch. Their hips sunk deeper as the rep count rose, their turnovers slowing ever so slightly.
Meanwhile, Wells maintained her muscle snatch, her long ponytail whipping over her face as she bent at the knees for touch-and-go reps. She showed no sign of fatigue save for a slight forward hip thrust on her last set of 25.
At first glance, she appeared to be behind the rest, a consequence of a slight backward hop at the top of each rep. But it didn’t matter where she stood when her 75 reps were done; she dropped her bar and sprinted for the finish mat.
Event 1 Results
1. Brooke Wells (02:21.6)
2. Mikki Nuccio (02:29.4)
3. Stacie Tovar (02:40.9)
4. Elisabeth Akinwale (02:45.4)
5. Julie Foucher (02:49.0)
In the final heat of the day, Foucher reminded us why she was the third-fittest woman last year. With just as much grace as ferocity, she maintained an even pace from the start while others around her went out in a blaze.
At first, it seemed this would be Tovar’s event. Known for her strength, she put away almost two thrusters for every one of Foucher’s, who paused for a split second at the top of each rep.
But Tommy V is won on the rope, which proved a formidable foe for Tovar. Though she leapt high for her first pull, she leaned back and sideways when she reached with her feet, forcing her to do a sideways twist with each pull.
To her left, Foucher and Grace Dresher each planted their feet and pulled with their arms in two swift back-to-back motions, breaking away from Tovar within the first few ascents.
Though Dresher held the lead for the event’s first half, she fatigued in the round of 9 rope climbs.
“I felt kind of gassed to begin with,” Dresher admitted after the event. “I was just trying to fight through that entire time.”
Meanwhile, Foucher climbed at the same machine-like pace she’d set from the start, earning a full ascent and five thrusters of lead time over Dresher. Foucher’s final thrusters looked no different than her first, and though a slight slip at the top of her second-to-last ascent betrayed that she was in fact human, she still stopped the clock first at 9:15.9.
“I actually took Chyna Cho’s advice,” Foucher said of Event 2’s record holder. “I took two deep breaths between each rope climb. Eventually it got to be like three or four toward the end, but two was the goal.”
Event 2 Results
1. Julie Foucher (09:15.9)
2. Kristi Eramo (09:44.2)
3. Lindy Barber (10:21.4)
4. Grace Dresher (10:26.2)
5. Deborah Cordner Carson (10:42.2)
1. Julie Foucher (180 points)
2. Stacie Tovar (151 points)
3. Elisabeth Akinwale (150 points)
4. Lindy Barber (147 points)
5. Nicole Holcomb (144 points)
6. Mikki Nuccio (136 points)
7. Brooke Wells (135 points)
8. Deborah Cordner Carson (135 points)
9. Anna Rode (134 points)
10. Grace Dresher (132 points)
After two events, the five Games-qualifying spots are all filled with past Games competitors. Foucher has a 29-point lead over Tovar. The second through fifth-ranked women span just 7 points, with Akinwale falling one point behind Tovar.
Three-time Games athlete Deborah Cordner-Carson, who gave birth less than a year ago, ended the day in eighth place, 14 points shy of a qualifying spot. But with five events to come, there are plenty of points to be claimed, and it’s too early to tell who’s in and who’s out.