"I want to win, it's as simple as that. I'm tired of being fourth place."
“In every workout, I’m looking to beat him,” Scott Panchik said of three-time CrossFit Games champion Rich Froning.
Before Nasty Girls V2 at the 2014 Central East Regional, commentator Bill Grundler guessed the race would come down to the pistols. But in the end, it came down to an un-prescribed push press.
Through the three rounds, Froning and Panchik were never more than a few reps apart. Froning was faster on the pistols, but Panchik made up for it on the hang power cleans. In the final round, the men met on the mat for the last 10 hang power cleans. Panchik caught up with Froning and they finished their final rep in unison.
While Panchik tossed the barbell to the ground, and paused before jumping over the bouncing bar, Froning popped the barbell over his head to step onto the finish mat a fraction of a second before Panchik.
“That’s why he’s the champ,” Panchik said with a laugh. “Only Rich would think to throw it over his head.”
Froning won the regional, as expected, but he seemed to have a true challenger. Panchik forced Froning to go faster than he wanted, and repeatedly forced the judges to pick a winner based on fractions of a second.
“It’s always a good feeling to look over and see him next to you,” Panchik said. “It tells you that you’re doing something right.”
Panchik has been chasing Froning since his debut in 2012. His rookie year in Carson, California, Panchik came in fourth overall. Last year, he followed it with another fourth-place finish.
Panchik has a record of beating Froning in Games events, including five out of the 15 scored events at the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games, but he has yet to beat Froning on the overall Leaderboard where consistency is rewarded.
Last year, Panchik and Froning both sank to the same low—30th—but while Froning sank to that low only once (The Pool) Panchik plummeted to that point twice (the Burden Run and Naughty Nancy).
“The margin of error is very small, and if you want to make it on that podium you have to have a perfect weekend,” Panchik said.
Or at least you can’t show many weaknesses.With Naughty Nancy and the Burden Run in the back of his mind, Panchik has worked on his running technique with the help of his girlfriend Christin Handley, who is a track and field coach at John Carroll University.
“I just had a few things that needed to change,” he said. “Head positioning, relaxing my arms, lengthening my stride. I wasn’t being as efficient as I could be.”
He has also started training more like Froning. Ever since he opened his own box, CrossFit Mentality, in October of last year, Panchik has been able to consistently get in multiple training sessions per day.
“Now that I have my own gym, it’s very convenient for me to break things up throughout the day,” he said. “It’s nice to have everything I need right there.”
He has been training with one goal in mind: “I want to win, it’s as simple as that,” he said. “I’m tired of being fourth place.”
The season started with a break from fourth. Now, Panchik keeps getting second—second to Froning in the Open in the Central East, and second to Froning at regionals.
At the regional, the two men were never more than three ranks apart on any of the events. Froning and Panchik went first to third on the hang squat snatch, first to second on the handstand walk, first to second on Nasty Girls V2, tied on the strict handstand push-ups, front squat and burpees, second to fourth on the legless rope climb, first to second on the 50s, and third to sixth on the pull-up and overhead squat sprint.
In the end, Froning had 10 points to Panchik’s 20.
After taking third place in Event 1 with a 275-lb. hang squat snatch—a 5-lb. PR—Panchik set the tone for the weekend, taking second to Froning in Event 2 with a 290-foot handstand walk despite resting more than a minute between 120-foot attempts.
“I wanted to make sure I left myself enough time to rest that I felt good,” Panchik said. “There’s more pressure in regionals than at the Games. In the Games, you have nothing to lose … at regionals it’s a little more technical; there’s a lot of things to think about.”
Keeping the champ on his toes was all part of his plan in Nasty Girls V2, though it may have looked like Panchik’s sudden double-time hang power cleans were in reaction to Froning’s pace.
“I knew what I was capable of doing, and I knew it’d be a little bit faster when we got out there,” he said. “My goal was to stay within striking distance throughout the whole (event) and accelerate to the finish.”
At the end of Day 1, Panchik held second overall with 7 points, Froning in the top spot with 3. The pair’s most hotly contested event would come the next day, in Event 4’s descending ladder of strict handstand push-ups, 195-lb. front squats and burpees. After clocking in just 1 second behind Froning in the previous event, Panchik craved a victory now more than ever.
Initially, Panchik held back while Froning and Nick Urankar pulled ahead. Breaking up the strict handstand push-ups and holding a moderate pace on the burpees, Panchik said, preserved the energy he needed to pull out the stops in the end.
“I knew my weakest movement was going to be the handstand push-ups,” he said. “Once those are gone, they’re gone for good. I could have moved a little faster on the burpees, but my plan was to move through them quickly enough that it wasn’t going to exhaust my shoulders.”
Panchik came alive in the round of 6. Though Froning was first off the wall, Panchik sprinted to the bar while Froning jogged to his.
“I wanted to beat him,” Panchik said. “I felt like I had a little left in the tank, so why not sprint to the bar and try and beat Rich?”
Accelerating on his front squats, Panchik brought himself level with Froning for the final round. Going rep-for-rep, the pair brought the fans in Fifth Third Arena to their feet as they jumped to the mat together at 9:41.
“I knew when I jumped on the pad, I could feel it,” he said. “I knew (the tie score) wasn’t really going to make a difference whether I took first or second (overall) so that wasn’t a huge deal … that’s why I compete, for moments like that. It’s the best feeling in the world to come through the finish and fight for first place.”
After taking fourth in Event 5, Panchik would enter the final day of competition with 12 points, double the total Froning held. Still, he never stopped believing he could win.
“In my mind, first place is always within anyone’s grasp,” he said. “At no moment do I ever count myself out.”
Though his second- and sixth-place finishes in the final two events earned him a final rank of second place, he said he left the regional determined, not discouraged.
“It drives me every day,” he said. “You can take a lot from that moment and use it in your workouts when you’re not competing.” To replicate the competitive atmosphere he’ll face at the Games, Panchik pits himself against his 18-year-old twin brothers daily.
“Having those young training partners has really brought the energy level up,” Panchik said. “They’re great training partners because we can scale the weights depending on what the workout is, but we’ll scale it to the point where I’m chasing them … no one wants to lose to their brother.”
With his siblings teaching most of the classes at CrossFit Mentality, Panchik is free to train up to three times per day, five days per week. His specialty, as CrossFit prescribes, is not specializing, and he programs endurance, strength and skill work each day.
“It’s no big secret; it’s just CrossFit,” he said. “Constantly varied.”
Still, Panchik is making more time for endurance, doing 500-m row and mile-run repeats or hitting the trails for longer runs. He’ll even tow his Airdyne to the beach to practice swim and bike intervals.
Now, less than a month remains before Panchik will meet Froning again. And while some may think the battle is for second, Panchik’s eye is on the podium’s top spot.
“My goal is to come in first and take home what I worked my butt off for,” he said. “I’ve never really lost sight of that. It will continue to be my goal until I reach it.”