In her four appearances at the Games, Julie Foucher has never finished outside of the top five. This year and last, she was favored to win.
However, that run may have ended today when she injured her Achilles tendon during the box jump overs of Event 3. Leading her heat, Foucher jumped down from the box before she paused, and looked behind herself as though she’d been struck.
“It sounds like I probably have a partial Achilles tear,” she said after the event. “I literally thought someone had, like, dropped a barbell on my foot, that’s why I looked behind me. Like, I thought something rolled on my foot.”
She added: "I know it's the last time I'm going to be out there so I want to just do as much as I can."
Three hours after the injury, Foucher returned to the competition floor to attempt the 250-foot handstand walk and max-effort snatch with her foot in a clunky black boot. Even though she had to walk to the starting line as the other athletes ran, she managed to finish the handstand walk in 2:17.1 for 11th place and soon after muscle-snatched 85 lb.
“It felt great just to go back out there,” she said. “(To) do my best. The support of everyone, the crowd, it was amazing. I’m so grateful for that.”
Foucher has been known to excel at the long, grueling events. Anything that Dave Castro programs to be almost unfinishable, one can look to Foucher to get it done.
Like Froning, Foucher has mastered the pacing. She keeps it at a slow burn and moves past her competitors as they flame out.
From the very start, Foucher seemed restrained. She held the same relaxed jog throughout the 1-mile run and seemed unfazed by Anna Rode, Brooke Wells, and Grace Dresher’s advancement to the overhead squats ahead of her.
Once Foucher got to the barbell, she completed one and a half 95-lb. overhead squats for every one of her peers’.
Dresher clung to her lead with rapid-fire GHD sit-ups and little rest, but burned out considerably with 30 reps to go. Foucher quietly moved into the lead, with her final sit-ups at the same pace as her first.
At the top of each rep, she let herself slowly fall backward, using the momentum of her fall to bounce straight back up. She lifted herself off the cushions of the GHD every 5 to 10 reps presumably to give her midline a break.
Foucher could not be caught through the double-unders or sumo deadlift high pulls, though Wells tried, attempting to string her high pulls into twos and threes. But after getting no-repped for lack of extension, Wells sat in a squat, forced to rest and re-evaluate her plan.
The crowd cheered when Foucher approached her box. Finally, she stepped on the accelerator, bouncing swiftly from one side of her box to the other and rebounding into the next rep.
But 30 reps in, a phantom road block rose up to meet her, and she stumbled on the edge of her box. The crowd did not understand why she stopped jumping, reaching for her judge with a pleading glance.
“Something felt like it snapped, and I (couldn’t) really jump off of it,” she said.
Unthinkably, she sat down on her box. Twirling her right foot, her characteristically calm countenance was replaced with a pained, panicked grimace.
As Wells and Tovar brought their boxes level with Foucher, suddenly she stood. Leaping off her left foot alone, Foucher managed to get 4 more reps.
The event win went to Sheila Barden out of the third heat, who in a display of Foucher-esque control and pacing, finished with a time-capped score and 47 reps on the floor.
Unlike most of her competitors, Barden’s face betrayed no pain as she moved evenly throughout the 450-rep chipper of running, overhead squats, GHD sit-ups, double-unders, sumo deadlift high pulls and box jump overs.
“It was way less painful than Randy,” Barden maintained. “I paced it just by taking 1 rep at a time, knowing that I didn’t have to see any of those movements again.”
When her judge’s hand went up her for her final 5 high pulls, Barden’s fans in the endzone chanted, “Shie-la, Bar-den!”
With less than three minutes to complete 100 box jump overs, she rebounded her jumps, stepping casually to the box’s opposite side. The clock stopped on her 53rd box jump over, and with her first event win, Barden jumped to the fifth qualifying spot, 19 points ahead of Mikki Nuccio in sixth.
“We’ll get to that podium by Sunday,” she said.
After the event, Foucher expressed how hard it was to end her Games career on an injury.
“I'm sad,” she said, her voice breaking. “But I don't have any regrets. There is nothing that I could have done different. It's not the way I wanted to go out, but I'm going to make the most of it. I'm going to try and do a couple of the events we have left and just have as much fun as I can.”
Event 3 Results
1. Sheila Barden (CAP+47)
2. Kristen Miller (CAP+52)
3. Michele Fumagalli (CAP+57)
4. Brooke Wells (CAP+62)
5. Julie Foucher (CAP+64)
No name earned louder cheers before the start of Event 4 than Julie Foucher, and the cheers only got louder as the injured athlete walked to the starting line with her cumbersome black boot jutted out to the side, while her peers darted past her.
Once she kicked up onto her hands, Foucher no longer seemed injured. Legs suspended in a perfect pencil point, the athlete trained by legendary gymnast Dominique Moceanu traversed the entire first half of the 250-foot course without so much as a stumble. Incredibly, Foucher reached the halfway point before some of her uninjured competitors.
On the return trip, she fought a slight leftward lean, compensation for the boot’s added weight. After crossing the red 250-foot mark, she hopped on her good leg to the finish mat at 2:17.1, which was good enough for 11th in the event.
Alyssa Ritchey, who won the max-distance handstand walk at the Central East Regional with a whopping 390 feet in 3 minutes, also won this year’s 250-foot handstand walk for time with a time of 1:27.4.
“I wanted to win and I knew I could win it,” she said.
The heaviest snatch came out of the first heat, when Julianne Broadbent lifted 205 lb., nine pounds more than Akinwale would lift three heats later. While fatigued shoulders from the handstand walk kept many athletes from matching their PRs, Broadbent set a new one by 5 lb.
Like an Olympic weightlifting meet, the music cut as athletes prepared for their lifts. Broadbent loaded her opening weight of 185 lb., more than most athletes around her would reach in their second attempts. She caught the weight easily and stood it up with a smile.
After adding 20 lb. to her bar, she gave a nervous smile and shrugged before her 20-second window began. Despite the distracting screams from the crowd for Katie Schmitz behind her, Broadbent caught the weight in a wobbly squat and stood with it overhead, her grin even wider than before.
Event 4 Results
1. Alyssa Ritchey (01:27.4)
2. Elisabeth Akinwale (01:29.6)
3. Brittany Kopp (01:35.8)
4. Brooke Wells (01:48.7)
5. Marcella Morrill (01:55.2)
Event 5 Results
1. Julie Broadbent (205 lb.)
2. Elisabeth Akinwale (196 lb.)
3. Brooke Wells (186 lb.)
4. Nicole Holcomb (181 lb.)
5. Jenny Borda (176 lb.)
1. Brooke Wells (395 points)
2. Elisabeth Akinwale (375 points)
3. Nicole Holcomb (357 points)
4. Julie Foucher (347 points)
5. Stacie Tovar (338 points)
6. Lindy Barber (318 points)
7. Sheila Barden (316 points)
8. Michele Fumagalli (312 points)
9. Deborah Cordner Carson (308 points)
10. Grace Dresher (303 points)
With just two events remaining, the top five women have pulled away from the pack. Nineteen-year-old Wells, who shares Foucher’s coach, Doug Chapman, has taken the top spot with 395 points—20 points more than veteran Akinwale in second.
Nicole Holcomb leapt to a qualifying spot for the first time all weekend with 357 points, 10 points ahead of Foucher, who dropped from the lead to fourth overall. Tovar holds the final qualifying spot with 338 points, while fan favorites Lindy Barber and Deborah Cordner Carson remain below contention in sixth and ninth places with 318 and 308 points, respectively.
The chipper was just as much a test of mental fortitude as it was fitness. Few men have finished it.
Yet in the second heat, fans at the Central Regional saw an athlete pull off that incredible feat. Andrew Kuechler finished 8.9 seconds within the time cap, stopping the clock at 25:51.1. Kuechler thereby joined the five other men from around the world to pull that off. It would later become seven total men after Brent Fikowski finished the event at the West Regional.
“When you get that close and you’ve got 100 reps left, that’s where the dark place comes in,” Kuechler said.”
Kuechler said the run was almost like a warm-up, loosening him for the 135-lb. overhead squats. Consuming the squats in slow, steady chunks of 1 rep every two seconds, he took the same approach to the GHD sit-ups just after the 10-minute mark.
The difference between Kuechler and even the veterans who came after him seemed to be his focus. Never once looking to the athletes around him, he seemed to move in slow motion, showing no sign of wearing until his final 20 box jump overs.
With less than two minutes remaining, he looked around the stadium, raising his hands in a plea for help from the crowd. It happily obliged, raising the room’s decibel level to that not yet heard in the Minneapolis Convention Center thus far.
“I had nothing left in the tank,” he said. “I needed something to get me through the last 40 (reps).”
As the crowd cheered, he abandoned his rest, ramping to double-time jumps and leaping to the mat with less than 9 seconds to spare.
In the final heat, Jacob Heppner also managed to reach the finish mat within the time cap. With a time of 25:53.5, Heppner finished 2.4 seconds behind Kuechler for second.
Event 3 Results
1. Andrew Kuechler (25:51.1)
2. Jacob Heppner (25:53.5)
3. Nick Fory (CAP+13)
4. Bobby Noyce (CAP+26)
5. Landon Walker (CAP+31)
The back-to-back handstand and snatch events saw both glory and heartbreak.
A record fell in the second heat of Event 4, as Matt Rattay made short work of the 250-foot handstand walk. His time of 1:11.9 was 12.3 seconds faster than the previous record-holder Filip Yang Fisker from the Meridian Regional.
The rookie from Noblesville, Indiana, maintained an almost manic pace the entire event, clad in skintight red tights with legs splayed in a wide forward-facing V. Though he stumbled briefly after clearing the rig on his return trip, the field around him was clear. He tumbled over the red line and sprinted to the barrier to earn his first event win.
“It felt awesome,” Rattay said. “I knew when they announced it that if I had to pick a workout for me, it would be a sprint on your hands because I did it all the time back in wrestling … it feels pretty amazing to be able to say that you break an event record … with the best in the world.”
Nick Fory has flirted with Games qualification for years, placing seventh, sixth, ninth and fifth at the Central East Regional over the past four seasons. Though he began the day in sixth, tantalizingly close to a qualifying spot, 19th and 20th-place finishes in Day 2’s events dropped him to eighth.
Nick Bloch posted a score of zero, missing each attempt at 262 and 277 lb. over and behind.
For the first time all weekend, first place in an event was shared by two competitors from separate heats. Though Arlen Castenada threw the weight wide and was forced to chase it, he was the first to stand with 290 lb. overhead in the first heat. Two heats later, Nick Urankar matched the lift, jumping 20 lb. from his opening weight of 270 lb.
Event 4 Results
1. Matt Rattay (01:11.9)
2. Jacob Heppner (01:38.3)
3. Roderick Holloway (01:38.7)
4. Scott Panchik (01:39.2)
5. Kevin Scholtz (01:43.9)
Event 5 Results
1T. Arlen Castenada (290 lb.)
1T. Nick Uranker (290 lb.)
3T. Sam Dancer (275 lb.)
3T. Roderick Holloway (275 lb.)
3T. Scott Panchik (275 lb.)
3T. Stephen Wallace (275 lb.)
1. Jacob Heppner (422 points)
2. Scott Panchik (393 points)
3. Sam Dancer (342 points)
4. Alex Anderson (336 points)
5. Graham Holmberg (326 points)
6. Duke Burk (303 points)
7. Nick Urankar (296 points)
8. Nick Fory (296 points)
9. Jack Long (295 points)
10. Zak Carchedi (293 points)
The top five men have done little more than swap spots.
Though Heppner has yet to win an event, his consistent top-three placings—save for his 20th-place finish in Event 5—put him in the top spot with 422 points. He has a sizeable 29-point lead over Panchik heading into the final day of competition.
Dancer’s shortcoming on the handstand walk, where he failed to cross the line within the time cap, didn’t do him any favors but he made up for it with a 275-lb. snatch. Dancer is in good position in third, but the point totals of the men behind him are uncomfortably close.
Anderson follows 6 points behind Dancer in fourth overall, while 10 points divide Anderson from fifth-ranked Holmberg. Fortunately for the 2010 champ, who missed qualification in 2014, a 23-point safety net separates him from Duke Burk in sixth.
“That’s right where I want to be,” said Anderson. “So hopefully I can have a big day tomorrow.”
Panchik agreed: “Everything has been going as planned.”