June 4, 2017
Déjà Vu All Over Again
By Brittney Saline
Repeat victors and record breakers.
Repeat victors and record breakers.

The final week of Regional competition has wrapped, and the wild, wild West was something to see. Tight races among the top five in each division had fans on the edges of their seats wondering who would emerge victorious. In the end, two repeat Regional champions were crowned, and a record-breaking team separated itself from the rest of the field. 

MEN

They call him "The Professor," and for the second year running, Brent Fikowski has schooled the West Regional, taking first place with two event wins, one event record and five top-four finishes.

After missing qualification by just a few places from 2013-2015, Fikowski finally made his CrossFit Games debut in 2016, taking fourth place overall and the most event wins of any male individual at the Games that year. Since Fikowski was named the fourth-fittest man in the world as a rookie, fans could only imagine how he’d perform after a year of Games experience.

The 26-year-old accountant got off to an inconspicuous start, taking fourth and 13th in the first two events to end Friday in fifth place. But come Saturday, he took his place at the head of the class with back-to-back wins in Events 3 and 4.

Fikowski executed the grueling Event 3 chipper—a 100-foot dumbbell overhead walking lunge, 100 double-unders, 50 heavy wall-ball shots, 10 15-foot rope climbs and back through the works all over again—with precision, lunging without wavering and tracing a wide circle in the air between wall-ball shots.

Fans wielded signs with slogans like “schooled by the professor” and “my second-favorite F-word” as Fikowski churned through the work, cinching the rope between his thighs in a technique borrowed from Katrin Davidsdottir out of the East Regional two weeks ago. His time of 10:25.44 broke 2016 Reebok CrossFit Games champion Mathew Fraser’s previous Event 3 record by more than 51 seconds. He followed his first event win of the weekend with his second, winning Event 4 with his pacing and poise after early leaders went out too hot.

Both performances, he said, were faster than what he’d done in training, which he did with a rope cut a foot higher off the ground than the Regional set-up and with improvised kettlebells and dumbbells. A 75-lb. dumbbell with four 2.5-pounders taped to each side made for an 85-lb. training dumbbell, and his “Frankenbell,” as he called it—a 75-lb. kettlebell with two 40-lb. dumbbells taped its sides—was even more awkward than the real deal, he said.  

Second- and third-place finishes in Events 5 and 6 secured Fikowski’s overall victory, though he said winning wasn't what mattered most.

“Every competition I go into, I just try to focus on doing my best in every event,” he said on Day 2. “I'd be a lot happier in fifth than sixth, and I'd definitely be happier in first than fifth, but if I can leave knowing I did my best in every event, I'll be able to go home happy." 

Cody Anderson, who hasn’t made it to the Games since his debut year in 2014, earned his way back with three top-two finishes and just one finish outside the top eight. His first and only event win was also an event record; he finished the 21-15-9 reps of muscle-ups and single-arm 80-lb. dumbbell overhead squats in 6:03.18, besting Fraser’s previous record by more than 5 seconds.

Anderson had the floor to himself for most of the event since he was the first off the rings and the lone squatter in each round. We knew he’d fly on the rings, but he was just as steady with the dumbbell, which was 47 percent of his body weight.  

Anderson had fans biting their nails after he took 21st in the final event, but luckily the 77-point buffer between himself and Mitchel Stevenson, who entered Event 6 in fifth, was enough to hold Anderson in a qualifying spot, and a true podium spot, at that.

“To me it's a spiritual thing; I really just want to give it up to God,” he said of his weekend’s performance. “Whether I'm last or I'm first, I just want him to receive glory, and I want to do what's pleasing to him.”  


Cody Anderson during Event 5

Four-time CrossFit Games veteran Ben Stoneberg withdrew after Event 2, citing an injury incurred before the Regional began.

“It's not worth me going any farther,” he said after Event 2. “I'm sure I'll be fine in a couple weeks ... but for this, to keep going, it's not worth doing any more damage.”  

WOMEN

Like Anderson, Emily Abbott, a three-time CrossFit Games athlete and West fan favorite, had fans squirming in their seats as she moved throughout the weekend, hovering treacherously on the border between qualifying and not.

Sixth- and 14th-place finishes in the first two events put her in seventh after Day 1. Although she jumped to fourth after Day 2 when she won Event 3’s chipper, her 15-point lead over Christina Seeley in sixth was anything but secure. 

Abbott admitted that being on the bubble was less than comfortable, but she didn’t let it get to her.

“Basically I go home (and) have my little pity party. Luckily I have good people around me, and I wake up the next day, and I come in with the passion of the Dalai Lama and fucking tear it up,” she said on Saturday night. “I just put my horse blinders on and do what I have to do.”


Emily Abbott during Event 5

She made good on that promise but not without making fans tear a bit more hair out first, taking eighth on Event 5 and getting time-capped to boot. Abbott entered the final event in fifth with just 2 points between her and Carly Fuhrer in sixth.

But Abbott is a workhorse, and Event 6 was all grunt work: a 25-calorie Assault AirBike sprint, 20 burpee box jump-overs and 10, 100-lb. sandbag cleans. Abbott knew she needed a win and left nothing to chance.

The first off the bike before a minute had passed, she got two box jump-overs in before Fuhrer joined her. Though the pair was neck and neck on the cleans, trading the lead as each athlete bagged a no rep, it was Abbott who cleared the floor first, relief etched on her face as she faced the crowd behind the finish line, arms spread wide. Her second event win of the weekend was good enough to earn third overall.

Unfortunately, the weekend ended with déjà vu for Tia Wright.

In 2016, Wright missed the Games by two spots. Though she entered the West’s final event in fourth that year, her tie for 32nd in that event knocked her down to seventh and out of a qualifying spot.

"It was really emotional,” Wright said on Saturday, recalling the final event last year. “Like a dream that almost came true and then just slipped away.”

While she admitted she was tempted by negative thoughts, she said focusing on how close she was rather than the fact that she didn’t make it helped her build confidence over the past year.

“You can choose to make it positive or negative, and I just chose to make it positive,” she said.

She competed with a smile, sitting in a qualifying spot all weekend—until the final event. Though she started on the burpee box jump-overs in the mid- to bottom-half of the heat, she was still jumping at around 3:15 when more than half the field had advanced to the cleans. She could not make up the ground, and her 28th-place event finish dropped her to sixth overall, one place and 23 points out of qualification.

Carleen Mathews also experienced some déjà vu, only hers was for the better. Though she only won one event all weekend (Event 2), she earned her second consecutive Regional victory with her overall consistency, finishing among the top four in five of the six events. She held the lead from Event 2 onward, taking her gold with a 15-point lead over Regan Huckaby in second.

Though it was Mathews’ second Regional win, she said it feels different this year.

“I'm really emotional this year,” she said after her victory. “I think it's just because this is now the accumulation of not just one year. It's three years, four years of hard work. It just feels really good.”


Carleen Mathews during Event 5

She’s also excited to be among the first to compete in the CrossFit Games’ new home in Madison, Wisconsin.

“I think it puts everyone on a level playing field,” she said. “No one really knows what to expect, so I'm excited for the change. I'm excited for what's to come.”

TEAMS

All they do is win, win, win no matter what.

In the most dominant team performance of the 2017 Regional season, CrossFit Fort Vancouver qualified for its ninth CrossFit Games appearance, tying California team Invictus for the record. Not only did Fort Vancouver take the record and the gold, it did so with five event wins—every event except for Event 1, when it took a lowly second place—and two event records (Events 3 and 4).

“It’s awesome,” said long-time team leader Adam Neiffer of tying Invictus for the record. “We love those guys, so it's cool that we get to share in this accomplishment.”


CrossFit Fort Vancouver

Though the team’s roster has changed slightly over the years, Neiffer said its consistent top performances are the result of a gym culture of camaraderie. 

"We do have a couple different individuals on the team, but the culture hasn't changed in that we're a family on and off the floor,” he said. “We love spending time together, whether or not we're out here competing or at the Games. We love training together and have a good time working out together, so it's just part of the culture within our gym community.”

Proving that culture extends beyond the six teammates headed to Madison, the affiliate also boasts a second top-level Regional team, with CrossFit Fort Vancouver Farm Team finishing in 10th.

Before the final event, it was Team Taranis and Lane 5 Athletics that made up either side of the bubble. Team Taranis—the team that commentator Brandon Domingue described as “Canada’s only hope” to get a team to the 2017 Reebok CrossFit Games—was in fifth, just 5 points ahead of Lane 5, a two-time CrossFit Games team.

However, Team Taranis was set back by an early no rep that seemed to make the athletes lose steam; Taranis' Worm rested on the ground between reps for 2 to 3 seconds longer than most others’ on the field. Its cleans got sloppier as time went on, the Worm flopping to the ground like a stunned fish, and Canada’s last hope remained the last team on the floor. Its 18th-place event finish to Lane 5 Athletic’s seventh caused the two teams to swap leads and punched the latter team's ticket to Madison.

This summer will bring a debut CrossFit Games appearance for fourth-place finisher, Work Hard Live Fit, and second place, Cascade CrossFit.

“This was the most we've ever worked as a team together. We all have kind of crazy jobs, and we have a Google doc with all of our schedules,” said Cascade CrossFit team member Nick Martindale. “It took a lot of organizing but everyone sacrificed a lot of time and energy and it obviously paid off.”

MEN

  1. Brent Fikowski (531)

  2. Samuel Kwant (510)

  3. Cody Anderson (481)

  4. Cole Sager (480)

  5. George Sanchez (449)

 

WOMEN

  1. Carleen Mathews (528)

  2. Regan Huckaby (513)

  3. Emily Abbott (478)

  4. Carly Fuhrer (461)

  5. Casey Campbell (460)

 

TEAMS

  1. CrossFit Fort Vancouver (595)

  2. Cascade CrossFit (530)

  3. CrossFit Marysville (496)

  4. Work Hard Live Fit (493)

  5. Lane 5 Athletics (461)