"Fourging" Elite Fitness

July 28, 2014

Mike Warkentin and Andréa Maria Cecil

Rich Froning overcomes poor start to win CrossFit Games for the fourth time.

Rich Froning overcomes poor start to win CrossFit Games for the fourth time.

Carson, California—Rich Froning is the CrossFit Games champion for the fourth time in a row—but it wasn’t easy.

The 2014 competition saw Froning look shockingly human on the second day of competition, but he returned to form late in the day and built momentum as the events piled up. When others faltered, he grew stronger, turning a 5-point lead at the beginning of the day into 50-point lead at the end.

Froning has stated he will not compete as an individual next year and leaves behind an unprecedented run of victories. No doubt he’s set the standard by which all other CrossFit Games champions will be measured.

The women’s event was won by five-time Games competitor Camille Leblanc-Bazinet. She succeeds Sam Briggs and is the first Canadian woman to stand on the podium.

Hail to the King

Froning has been the dominant CrossFit athlete since 2011, and he’s been on the podium since 2010. Over five years of competition, he’s won 16 events—more than any other competitor—and he’s finished top 10 in an event 45 times.

His previous worst event finish at the Games came last year, when he was 30th in The Pool. It was the only blip on the radar that year—an anomaly—and Froning won the final three events to take the competition by 72 points. Froning’s path to the podium in 2014 appeared smooth to some when he finished eighth in The Beach and first in the Overhead Squat. Clearly, swimming is not an issue anymore.

But everything changed on Day 2. After rowing 3,000 m and doing 300 double-unders, Froning appeared to be struggling badly on the run that followed.

And then he stopped running completely.

He started again, gingerly, but resorted to walking several times before crossing the line near the back of the pack, leaving jaws on the concrete at the StubHub center.

Froning said he felt dizzy, hadn’t been running enough, had “turned into a wuss.”

When he finished 15th and 27th pushing a sled, many were ready to start looking for a new king in 2014.

And Rodney Dangerfield thought he couldn’t get any respect.

Froning turned things around in Heat 3 on Friday night by setting the top time in Heat 3. Then he sat down in the warm-up area and watched his rivals run at his mark. Not one could match it.

A long Day 3 brought 13th and 15th in two events, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Froning was gaining momentum and looking more focused, more like the fittest man on the planet, while his competitors were faltering, if only just enough to leave the door open for a guy from Tennessee to saunter in an eat their lunch.

The 2013 script started to play out in Saturday’s final two events as Froning finished ninth and first, leaving the stadium with a 5-point lead over Mathew Fraser. Froning opened Sunday with another win. Before the Midline March, the camera zoomed in on the champ, whose face looked determined, almost angry.

Rookie and one-time overall leader Noah Ohlsen went out early, looking as if he'd win the event. But in quintessential fashion, Froning pulled ahead on the second set of overhead lunges to the cheers of the crowd. Spectators rose to their feet to scream as Froning finished in 5:25 flat—more than 35 seconds ahead of Fraser.

Taking second, Fraser only fell 10 points back overall, setting up a showdown in the tennis stadium to end the day. CrossFit Games Director Dave Castro announced the 12th workout at 2:30 p.m. before sending the top 30 athletes into isolation. Event 13, Grace twice, would be announced to the athletes hot on the heels of the rope climbs and overhead squats that preceded it, leaving athletes less than a minute to prepare.

If Froning had started the competition with drama, he ended it certainty. The champ rose to the occasion and won the final two events of the day to sweep the day’s challenges. He was just more than 18 seconds ahead of Fraser in Event 12, and he nipped Jason Khalipa to take the win on Event 13. Fraser had to settle for second, while Khalipa returned to the podium in third.

In the end, Froning finished 50 points ahead of second place to claim his fourth title.

After the event, and without making excuses, Froning revealed he had been sick earlier in the week. He said a headache and stomach pains might have caused dehydration in the Triple 3, the event that had him walking and looking a wreck. Froning, who had also been sick at the Central East Regional, stayed positive despite the adversity.

"I never really got discouraged," he said.

He told himself, "If it's not meant to be, then it's not meant to be, and it's someone else's time.”

For the fourth year in a row, it wasn’t.

Queen in the North

Leblanc-Bazinet became a CrossFit star in the first event of her first CrossFit Games. She was one of the first athletes to complete Amanda at the 2010 Games, and her unbroken muscle-ups under the lights became the stuff of fitness legend. She finished ninth that year and rose to eighth in 2011 and sixth in 2012. She slipped to 16th in 2013 but returned to form in 2014 by finishing second in the Open and winning the Canada East Regional.

At the Games, she had three top-10 finishes in the first five events, taking second in the Overhead Squat. Like Froning, she made a strong bid for the title when she won the 21-15-9 Complex on Day 2, using unbelievable gymnastics ability to link pull-ups, chest-to-bar pull-ups and bar muscle-ups.

In what might be called her signature event, she finished second on the Muscle-up Biathlon, and a small stumble on the Sprint Carry was washed away with three top-six finishes after that. She carried a 92-point lead into the final two events.

Leblanc-Bazinet finished 12th in Event 12 and gave away 32 points to Thorisdottir, but she could spare them and held an insurmountable 60-point advantage in Double Grace. She took fifth and gave another 20 points back to Thorisdottir, but she walked away with a 40-point victory.

Thorisdottir was second, and Julie Foucher returned to the podium in third.

The new champion, still crying, was greeted in the tunnel under the stadium by seven-time CrossFit Games athlete Becca Voigt, who invited her to come have a beer after the awards presentation.

Leblanc-Bazinet knew she was in control going into Thick ‘n Quick, and she had a simple strategy: "Cam, just don't fuck up."

And she didn’t.

She said the difference between this year and last came down to smart training and elbow grease.

"I attacked more of my weaknesses. I worked my ass off. Every year, you get better at finding your weaknesses," she said.

The CrossFit Games champions are as follows:

Men: Rich Froning (U.S.A.)
Women: Camille Leblanc-Bazinet (Canada)
Team: CrossFit Invictus (U.S.A.)

Masters Men 40-44: Shawn Ramirez (U.S.A.)
Masters Women 40-44: Amanda Allen (Australia)
Masters Men 45-49: Jerry Hill (U.S.A.)
Masters Women 45-49: Kim Holway (U.S.A.)
Masters Men 50-54: Will Powell (U.S.A.)
Masters Women 50-54: Mary Beth Litsheim (U.S.A.)
Masters Men 55-59: Steve Hamming (U.S.A.)
Masters Women 55-59: Susan Clarke (Canada)
Masters Men 60-plus: Scott Olson (U.S.A.)
Masters Women 60-plus: Karen Wattier (U.S.A.)

Spirit of the Games Award: Becca Voigt
Rookie of the Year: Mathew Fraser
Most Improved: Cassidy Lance

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