June 3, 2014
The Field Narrows: A Regional Recap
By Hilary Achauer

"Regional competitions spanned from Australia to Latin America and across the United States and Canada. We now know who will be competing in the 2014 Reebok CrossFit 

It started with 209,585 people in the Open.

After five weeks, about 1,600 qualified for the individual regional competitions.

Over the last four weeks, that field narrowed to 86, and on July 27 there will be two: one man, one woman. The Fittest on Earth.

Regional competitions spanned from Australia to Latin America and across the United States and Canada. We now know who will be competing in the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games.

It’s a diverse group. Qualifiers include many newcomers and three competitors returning to the Games for the seventh time.

All these athletes now have a new date circled on their calendars: July 25, the start of the 2014 Games.

Jason Khalipa, who won the NorCal Regional, said his work has just begun.

“I’m going to keep training hard, working hard, trying to be in the gym every day,” Khalipa said. “I do everything in my power to try to win the CrossFit Games every day.”

The regional competitions began on May 9, starting with North Central, Canada West, South East and Latin America. The first surprise of the 2014 Regional season came early, when five-time Games veteran Stacie Tovar failed to qualify in the North Central.

A difficult first day—she finished 23rd on the handstand walk—and a 10th-place finish on Event 5, the legless rope climb and sprint couplet, meant even a win on Event 6 couldn’t save her. Tovar’s misstep opened the door for newcomers Alexandra LaChance and Kelley Jackson, roommates and training partners, who will compete in their first Games this year. They will be joined by veteran Elisabeth Akinwale, hungry for victory after taking second overall at the regional.

In the South East, Noah Ohlsen finally made good on his promise to CrossFit Games Director Dave Castro while working as a volunteer at the 2011 South East Regional. Ohlsen told Castro that he would one day make it to the CrossFit Games.

Three years later, Ohlsen will be heading to his first-ever Games.

“There’s really no word (for it),” Ohlsen said after winning. “I pictured this moment a hundred times but to actually be here and be able to climb onto not just the podium, but the top of the podium, is amazing.”

The second weekend of regional competitions took place in the Central East, Canada East, North West, Europe and Australia, bringing some expected results and another upset.

In the Central East, two familiar faces finished the weekend on top: three-time CrossFit Games champ Rich Froning and Julie Foucher. Froning sent a clear message for anyone looking to challenge him at the Games by winning five of the seven events. His worst finish was third place.

Even for the champ, winning the regional was not an easy task.

“It’s hard fought,” Froning said. “Gets harder and harder every year.”

Fortunately for Froning, he gets better and better every year.

Just as the returning men’s champ was finishing his weekend in first, the female winner of the 2013 Games—Samantha Briggs—was fighting to make her way into the top three at the Europe Regional. A 26th place on the handstand walk put Briggs so far behind that even winning three subsequent events couldn’t save her. She finished in fourth place, and won’t compete at the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games.

Instead, Annie Thorisdottir will return. Thorisdottir sat out the 2013 Games because of an injury, but the 2011 and 2012 champion is back.

“It means everything to me,” Thorisdottir said of returning to the Games.

The third week of regionals brought another surprise when it was time for the athletes of the Mid Atlantic, SoCal, South Central and Asia Regions to compete.

At the SoCal Regional, Lindsey Valenzuela—who finished second at the 2013 Games—finished the weekend in fourth, nine points behind newcomer Lauren Fisher. Unlike Tovar and Briggs, there wasn’t one event that put Valenzuela out of contention. Instead, it was two eighth-place finishes and a seventh place that pushed her into fourth place.

Valerie Voboril took first in SoCal. She is the only woman from the podium at the 2013 Games to return in 2014. Coming in second was Becca Voigt, making her seventh trip to the Games, the most of any woman to date.

Voigt said she’s going to take advantage of the perspective gained by six trips to the Games.

“I’m going to try to do very well at the Games, but I’m also going to try to just enjoy every single moment and soak it all in,” Voigt said. “I think I’ve missed that the past couple of times due to my nerves.”

Four regional competitions took place on the final weekend: North East, NorCal, South West and Africa. After the upsets in the earlier competitions, all eyes were on Khalipa in NorCal.

Would the second-place finisher at the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games fall victim to the same fate as Briggs and Valenzuela? Rumors swirled that this year’s programming favored the smaller athlete, not good news for the bear-like Khalipa or 6-foot-1 Tommy Hackenbruck, returning to individual competition in the South West.

Both men defied expectations, winning their regions with ease. Khalipa put on a consistent performance, staying in the top five in every event except for a 20th-place finish in Event 5.

In the South West, Hackenbruck astonished the crowd by setting an event record in Event 7—64 pull-ups and eight overhead squats.

“I feel amazing,” Hackenbruck said afterward. “This is just a stepping stone to get to the Games, but I was really nervous after the workouts were announced. I took it as a challenge that if I was going to have a chance at the Games, I needed to get through a tough regional.”

That tough regional included Spealler, who after missing qualification for the Games in 2013, was determined to return for a seventh time. Undeterred by a 28th-place finish on the hang snatch event, Spealler put his head down and got to work, finishing second overall for what he says will be his last Games appearance.

“It feels good to end where I started,” he said.

Spealler was at the first CrossFit Games in 2007, and he’ll be back again this summer, eight years later.

The number of participants in the Open has grown by more than 180,000 people since 2011. Each year, it’s harder to qualify for regionals and then make it to the Games. Kenneth Leverich, who finished first in SoCal, echoed the thoughts of most competitors moving on to the final step in this months-long process.

“I’m just really happy and extremely grateful,” Leverich said.