For the past two years, Kara Saunders (formerly Webb) and Tia-Clair Toomey have swept the field at the Pacific Regional, last year taking the duel to the Games, where Toomey won the title of Fittest on Earth by a slight margin over second-place Saunders.
This season promises to be no different, Toomey ending Day 1 at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney Olympic Park, New South Wales, atop the leaderboard with two event wins and a clean 200 points. Saunders finished the day in second, 30 points behind her countrywoman.
The pair was well matched on Event 2.
Toomey did touch-and-go cleans from the start, but Saunders held the lead with faster transitions through the first half of the event. But then came the round of 6—Saunders took her bench presses in 3 sets of 2 while Toomey did 2 sets of 3 to take the lead, which only grew as Toomey picked up her pace and Saunders held steady.
Toomey finished at 14:04.01, more than a minute faster than Saunders, who took second.
The win was a welcome surprise to Toomey, who admitted she’d been a tad frightened by this version of Linda, which was a bit heavy for her. And even after her dominant start to the weekend, the champ remained cautious in her predictions. After all, Saunders has won five of her seven Regional appearances.
“There’s still two days to go and a lot more events to come,” Toomey said.
In a similar show of dominance, defending Pacific champion James Newbury proved last year’s performance was no fluke with two event wins on Day 1. And he did it from all the way back in Heats 1 (Event 1) and 2 (Event 2), the low seeding a result of a 21st-place Open finish in Australasia.
But the seeding never bothered him.
“In the last two months my effort in training has been the best it’s ever been and my mental state has been the best it’s ever been. ... It was a clean slate when I got here,” he said after winning Event 2 in 12:25.88.
Meanwhile, Games veterans Brandon Swan and Khan Porter sit in seventh and eighth after Day 1, outside Games contention but only by 4 and 10 points, respectively.
The Meridian Regional’s got a new look.
Last year, athletes from all of Europe and Africa competed at this Regional. This year, athletes from Europe North and Europe Central competed two weeks ago at the new Europe Regional, leaving men, women and teams from Europe South and Middle East Africa to compete in the Meridian Regional—held at Caja Mágica in Madrid, Spain—for four spots each at the 2018 Reebok CrossFit Games.
The new Regional lines resulted in something of a mass Meridian exodus: Gone are the Dottirs and their Icelandic brothers, and just two of 2017’s male qualifiers (Jason Smith and Lukas Esslinger) and one female qualifier (Jamie Greene) return to compete among a sea of new hopefuls.
One of those hopefuls is Elliot Simmonds. Last year, in his debut individual Regional appearance, he fell out of a Games-qualifying spot in the final event. After winning Event 1 and taking a respectable fifth-place Event 2 finish this year, he sits in first overall with 180 points to second-place Willy Georges’ 168. Incidentally, he shares top-spot glory with his fiancée, Jamie Greene, who finished Day 1 the leader of the women’s competition.
If Georges can hang onto his spot in the top four, he’ll be the first French individual to qualify for the CrossFit Games.
Smith and Esslinger ended Day 1 outside contention, in 10th and seventh, respectively.
Both event wins on the women’s side came from early heats.
In her first individual Regional event, 31-year-old Jess Towl won Triple 3 in 39:29.75, a new event record. Towl, a former pro triathlete, finished the day in ninth overall.
Event 2 went to Manila Pennacchio out of Heat 3. One of just two women in the Meridian to complete Linda (Greene was the second), Pennacchio finished at 15:47.06. Combined with her sixth-place finish in Event 1, the performance was good enough to put Pennacchio in second at the end of the day, splitting up the dynamic duo predicted to lead the Meridian women: Greene and Lauren Fisher, who won the California Regional in 2016.
Greene’s back-to-back second-place finishes in the first two events put her in the overall lead, but with just 12 points more than Pennacchio. Fisher—who’d led Greene for the first half of Event 2 but lost ground on the bench presses in the later rounds—landed in third overall after seventh- and third-place finishes on Day 1.
While the Meridian has more open slots than returning Games vets, the Atlantic has four of its five 2017 qualifiers for both men and women returning to the floor this year, including defending Atlantic Regional champions Noah Ohlsen and Cassidy Lance-McWherter.
The competition was held at Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Event 1 went to Adam Klink out of Heat 1. The former soccer player and multiyear Regional athlete finished Triple 3 in 36:46.03. Event 2 went to John Coltey at 12:45.95 despite his barbell technique, which CrossFit Games commentator Bill Grundler described as “terrible.”
Coltey—who had never done Linda before Event 2 was announced—admitted as much.
“Just kind of bastardized the cleans a little bit; didn’t really use my hips, and I think it saved a lot of energy,” he said after his victory.
Klink followed his Event 1 win with second on Event 2 to end the day in first with 194 points, 30 points more than Mitch Wagner in second. Coltey’s win added to his 10th-place Event 1 finish to put him in third overall.
Meanwhile, fan favorites and Games veterans fell below the line: Nine-time Games veteran and 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games champion Ben Smith ended the day in eighth, Ohlsen in ninth and four-time Games athlete Travis Mayer trails in 11th after capping out in Event 2 with 1 rep left on the floor.
Another less-familiar name took the first event win for the women—Whitney Stephenson, who took 24th last year in her first individual Regional appearance—while Lance-McWherter took 10th. Lance McWherter, the first-place finisher in the 2018 Open, looked uncharacteristically winded on Triple 3, pausing for a moment with her hands on the rails to catch her breath on the 3-mile run. Four-time CrossFit Games veteran Emily Bridgers took 19th in Event 1, and fans feared for their top Atlantic females.
Thankfully, Lance-McWherter assuaged those fears come Event 2. She unequivocally led Heat 4 from the first round onward, chipping away at the reps in calculated sets. Though it was clear she’d win her heat, it seemed unlikely that she’d win the event—the time to beat had been set at 13:54.13 in the previous heat by two-time Games athlete Whitney Gelin, who looked unstoppable with strong, unbroken reps on all rounds.
But when Lance-McWherter began her final round at 13:32 with about 22 seconds before the time to beat, all bets were off. After an all-out sprint to the final clean, she hit the mat at 13:54.12, just one one-hundredth of a second faster than Gelin. The win launched Lance-McWherter to second overall with two points more than Gelin in third.
“I’m stoked to be here. … Let’s just keep the momentum going,” McWherter said after Event 2.
Mekenzie Riley, who qualified for her first Games appearance out of her individual Regional debut last year, held the top spot after Day 1 with fourth- and third-place finishes in the first two events.
Bridgers, who is competing with a broken toe, ended the day in 11th, 18 points out of qualification.
Pacific - Standings After Day 1
1. James Newbury
2. Bayden Brown
3. Dean Linder-Leighton
4. Matt McLeod
5. Matthew Reilly
1. Tia-Clair Toomey
2. Kara Saunders
3. Kat Baker
4. Alice Tucker
5. Jessica Coughlan
1. Reebok CrossFit Frankston
2. Schwartzs CrossFit Melbourne
3. CrossFit East Tamaki
4. CrossFit Kirrawee
5. CrossFit 121
Meridian - Standings After Day 1
1. Elliot Simmonds
2. Willy Georges
3. Mohamed Elomda
4. Phil Hesketh
1. Jamie Greene
2. Manila Pennacchio
3. Lauren Fisher
4. Karin Baalbaki
1. Cape CrossFit Wolfpack
2. CrossFit PBM Unite
3. CF Riviera Team
4. Team Crash
Atlantic - Standings After Day 1
1. Adam Klink
2. Mitch Wagner
3. John Coltey
4. Ethan Helbig
5. Norman Woodring
1. Mekenzie Riley
2. Cassidy Lance McWherter
3. Whitney Gelin
4. Melissa Doll
5. Paige Semenza
1. CrossFit Balance
2. Dwala Rangers
3. Team Soul
4. TTT Animus
5. Hustlehard CrossFit
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