A Champion Team

November 10, 2014

Andréa Maria Cecil

In third year of Invitational competition, Games champion Rich Froning leads USA Team to a win.

In third year of Invitational competition, Games champion Rich Froning leads USA Team to a win.

Rich Froning finally learned how to talk to women.

After last year’s CrossFit Invitational in Berlin, Germany, the four-time CrossFit Games champion said his communication with his team’s female athletes contributed to the squad’s loss.

“It’s a tough thing to work with two different genders,” said Froning, who was the team’s captain, in a “Sub-3 Minutes” interview with Dave Castro.

“I think with the ladies … I may have not taken the correct approach,” he told the Director of Training and of the CrossFit Games.

But after USA Team’s come-from-behind win over three other four-person teams from around the globe on Sunday in San Jose, California, it was clear he had sorted out his communication issues.

“This team came together very well,” he said after Sunday’s five events.

Froning added: “With these athletes, you’re not even a cheerleader … you’re a calming presence.”

His goal, he said, was to “keep everybody level headed.”

Although USA Team walked away with its second win in three years of Invitational competition, the team didn’t dominate from the start.

Before beginning Event 4—the second-to-last event—Canada had recorded two first-place finishes and one second-place finish, giving the team 11 points. USA Team had 6 because of two third-place finishes. Meanwhile, Australia Team followed with 5 and Europe Team was in last with only 2 points.

Despite the slow start, USA Team wasn’t rattled.

“The fact that we didn’t win the Fran didn’t shake us,” said three-time Invitational team member Jason Khalipa, referencing the opening event that called for each athlete to perform 45 pull-ups, followed by 45 thrusters at 65 lb. for the women and 95 lb. for the men.

When Khalipa—the final USA Team athlete to make his way through the event—approached the barbell, the crowd was roaring. Canada Team’s Paul Tremblay, gunning for the first-place finish in the event, was fast and consistent on his thrusters. Froning, standing on the finish mat, drew imaginary circles in the air with his right index finger, seemingly telling Khalipa to move faster. But once both Tremblay and Australia’s final athlete raced across the finish mat, Froning changed the gesture to a flat, horizontal palm that ebbed downward. Relax, it seemed to say.

Froning had joked for several days that his role as team captain was to “keep Jason in check.”

The team won Event 2—the 1-rep-max snatch—with a total of 482 lb., with Froning contributing 305 lb. The total was 25 lb. more than second-place finisher Canada Team. But the momentum was lost on Event 3—the 1-rep-max clean and jerk—with a total of 560 lb. Canada Team won with 603 lb. courtesy of Tremblay and Camille Leblanc-Bazinet.

USA Team’s second-place finish in Event 4—including synchronized muscle-ups, rowing, heavy deadlift holds at 405 lb. for the men and 275 lb. for the women, and snatches—certainly helped. But it all came down to the final event. USA Team needed the win to win.

Event 5 called for all four athletes to handstand walk 120 feet, then flip a 950-lb. tire the same distance in pairs before performing legless rope climbs and, finally, lunges with the infamous worm seen at the CrossFit Games.

USA Team members finished their handstand walks first and never looked back. In pairs—one female, one male—the team was perfectly in sync in flipping the gargantuan tire, never faltering. In the next lane, then-leader Canada Team’s women had to squat low in the process of flipping the beast in order to move it down the stretch. It was a slow go, laborious. When it was all over, USA Team finished the event in 6:12.84. The next-fastest team was Europe at 7:43.17. Canada Team was unable to finish the event.

“The last event was awesome, flawless. It felt easy,” Froning said, as female teammates Emily Bridgers and Julie Foucher nodded enthusiastically.

The team, he continued, had “no doubts” after the first three events.

“’All right, we’re gonna keep goin’,’” Froning said of the team’s mentality at the time.

He credited coach Becca Voigt, a seven-time CrossFit Games athlete, with keeping the team cohesive and composed.

Voigt said she watched archived videos of last year’s Invitational and came away with one thought: “It just didn’t feel like it was one unit at all.”

Likewise, she had this year’s Invitational team play team-building games, including one that involved folding a bed sheet in half with all four athletes standing on it.

“Things to get them laughing,” she said, adding, “You want to be able to walk away as friends.”

Minutes after USA Team won, Castro was unsurprised.

“On paper, they were the best team,” he said, though he added that it wasn’t a sure thing going into Sunday afternoon.

And they were a much-improved team over last year, Castro noted.

“They had a better attitude, better spirit,” he explained. Last year, Castro said, USA Team was “cocky.”

The team’s win proved that though it was a team of champions, it also was a champion team.