"If (Julie) shows up the way she should, it's a race for second," Doug Chapman said.
After coming in second at the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games behind two-time champion Annie Thorisdottir, Julie Foucher took a year off.
She was about to begin one of the most rigorous years of medical school, and decided she couldn’t balance the pressure of school and training. But she compromised by promising to herself she would come back in 2014.
Many were eager to see whether she would be able to excel in the sport after the hiatus, and like the A-student and top-level athlete she has proven to be, she didn’t disappoint. She returned to the Central East Regional and claimed event wins in four of the seven events.
It’s clear she’s determined to win the Games. She has given herself two more years in the sport before she turns her focus to medicine, and it’s clear she’s not wasting her limited time. She keeps only the best coaches in her corner, including long-time coach Doug Chapman, as well as 1996 Olympic gold medalist Dominique Moceanu.
At the regional, we saw an athlete who could snatch heavier weights than in 2012, kick up into a handstand and walk far across the floor, move through strict handstand push-ups without a hitch, and still endure through the painful events in a way few athletes can.
When she addressed the barbell and the blinding arena spotlights turned the crowd into a haze of silhouettes and her competitors into shimmering pieces of steel, she repeated her mission to herself: “To use the talents God gave me to inspire and enable others to live healthier, more fulfilling lives,” she said.
A moment later, she snatched 170 lb., besting her personal record by 5 lb., and taking a tie for second place along with Jennifer Osborn.
After walking 210 feet upside down, Foucher ended the first half of day one in second place with 8 points, newcomer Nicole Holcomb in the lead with 4.
“It didn't have any affect on me,” Foucher said about Holcomb’s lead. “I don't pay attention to the scoreboard.”
Soon after, Foucher won Nasty Girls V2 in 7:25.
"I did a lot better job at focusing my mind on why I'm doing this and that helped,” she said. "I really try to focus on the workouts.”
The next day she faced strict handstand push-ups in Event 4 and legless rope climbs in Event 5. She won the first event of the day and took second on the next, which was impressive even to new fans, and exceptionally impressive to anyone who watched her suffering on the Medball-HSPU Event at the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games.
When her shoulders fatigued on the 9-inch deficit handstand push-ups two years ago, she was left to struggle, fail and wait. In the end, she took 27th place, which was devastating to her overall standings.
This time, in the Fifth Third Arena, Foucher put down the strict handstand push-ups the way frat boys drink cheap beer. Quickly.
"I wasn't really worried about it. We've covered a lot more bases and done a lot more handstand push-ups,” she said, referring to her training with Chapman and Moceanu.
Chapman agreed, and pointed out that he programmed deficit handstand push-ups before the 2012 Games but learned while watching Foucher struggle that he hadn’t programmed them frequently enough.
On the legless rope-climb event we got to see Foucher’s poise. Danielle Sidell entered the event upset about the turn of events so far that regional weekend, and was determined to make up for it with an event win. Sidell had the height and the fire to make that happen, and Foucher had the good sense not to let Sidell throw her off her pace.
"I knew that Danielle Sidell was ahead of me,” she said. “I purposely let that roll off my shoulder and I stuck with my plan."
Sidell sprinted to the finish in 4:20, while Foucher followed in 5:06 for second.
As fans had seen with Katrin Tanja Davidsdottir, coming out too fast on Event 5 and fatiguing on the rope climbs was a season killer.
"You're walking on the tightrope,” Chapman said. “As long as you're walking smooth and you get across, you’re good. Go too fast, you fall.”
Foucher had put in too much work to lose her chance to compete at the Games while chasing the golden shine of an event win.
"(Julie) didn't push herself in the rope climb,” Chapman said. “She decided to coast in the rope climb … and let Sidell win.”
On Sunday, Foucher said a prayer before she started the Event 6—the 50s chipper. Although Foucher is known for excelling in the particularly painful, long events, she didn’t look forward to this down and back chipper. She dreaded it because she knew that if she could perform on the competition floor the way she had in practice, she would be the first woman to complete the event within the 21-minute time cap—in practice, she finished in 20:59.
At the start of the event, she had a moment of clarity. The dread disappeared, and she went into autopilot working through as many of the 450 reps as possible. Her mind wasn’t on the next event or even the next movement; it was on the next rep.
As time wore on, Foucher separated herself from the rest of the women. Near the end of the event, she was alone on the rower.
For the final minute, she pulled hard against the Concept2. At the buzzer, the screen read 43 calories. She was 7 calories short of her goal, but she won nonetheless.
"It was a battle in my head and I really wanted to finish the workout,” she said. “I knew what time I needed to get on the rower and I was just a little behind."
Meanwhile, 2013 Games champ Samantha Briggs who struggled valiantly for a chance to defend her title, fell 6 points and one spot short of the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games. In her absence, Foucher will have the rematch the CrossFit world has waited two years to see: Thorisdottir vs. Foucher.
“She's a tough competitor,” Foucher said of Thorisdottir. “We have both grown a lot as athletes during our year off.”
Training for the Games
Since the regional, Foucher and Chapman have mainly added more running and swimming workouts in various combinations.
Rarely does she test the limits of her strength on the barbell, but frequently she works just below her boundaries, opting for an alternating on-the-minute format for 10 minutes, usually beginning at 70 percent and escalating by 10 percent weekly until climaxing at 90; for instance, deadlifts for the first minute and thrusters for the next. While the weight increases, the reps go from 7 to 5 to 3.Chapman called it “MoFo” and said it isn’t for everyone.
"If you're not in a highly trained state, you don’t need it,” he said.
Foucher called it necessary.
"It's not glamorous; it’s work,” she said.
She said they’ve slightly scaled back the Olympic lifting and train four to six hours a day. Foucher said she enjoys the no-time-to-prepare format of the Games over the constant preparation for regionals.
“You don't have the anticipation (at the Games),” she said. “You’re just going with the flow.”
The flow Foucher talks about is nearly impossible to predict. We’ve seen a 21,097-meter row, running with the burden of a giant log, obstacle courses and much more. But none of that weighs on Foucher. She’s got a plan: “Stay relaxed and have confidence in what I’ve been doing all year.”
Chapman has a prediction: "If she shows up the way she should, it's a race for second."