The 2017 Regionals are behind us, and now we look ahead to the Games. But first, let's take a glance back at the Week 3's competitions and home in on a few highlights.
Jason Smith Finally Qualifies
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try (try) again; there may be no better embodiment of this age-old adage than Jason Smith from the Meridian Regional. Smith, in his eighth year competing at Regionals, finally qualified for the CrossFit Games after seven years of close calls.
What’s also important is that Smith, who hails from Johannesburg, is actually native to the Africa Region! Most of the top athletes coming out of Africa now are transplants from Europe, Australia or New Zealand, so it’s refreshing to see an athlete raised in the region break through.
Phil Hesketh, the first individual Games qualifier from Africa under the current Regional format, was a transplant. That makes Smith the first native qualifier from the Africa Region. It’s a title fit for an athlete who’s been a fixture in the Africa competition scene since 2010. For brevity’s sake, here are his listed finishes at Regionals the last seven years:
2010 - 2nd, 1 spot out
2011 - DNF
2012 - 4th, 3 spots out
2013- 3rd, 2 spots out
2014 - 6th, 5 spots out
2015 - 10th, 5 spots out*
2016 - 8th, 3 spots out*
*Current Regional format
This year, Smith has earned the spot at the CrossFIt Games that has eluded him for so long—and he did so in convincing fashion. He had only one finish outside the top 10, and in every other event he finished in sixth or better.
Frederik Aegidius, another success story, will return to the Games after narrowly missing out for three consecutive years. Aegidius qualified out of Europe in 2012 and 2013, but missed qualifying by one spot in 2014, three spots in 2015 and two spots last year.
This year, Aegidius finished both events on the final day in seventh place to unseat Elliot Simmonds in fifth and edge out Lukas Hogberg by 2 points in the final standings. A combination of relief and happiness burst from Aegidius after the announcement as he embraced his girlfriend, Annie Thorisdottir.
Smith and Aegidius have both tried and failed to qualify for the CrossFit Games 11 times. Both remained resolute in their pursuit of qualification, and now the reward for their efforts is awaiting them in Madison, Wisconsin.
THE REAL DEAL: KRISTIN HOLTE AND JAMIE GREENE
For the most part, things in the Meridian women’s competition went as expected. Sam Briggs and Annie Thorisdottir are still as fit as ever. Thuridur Erla Helgadottir had a fight on her hands but qualified in the fifth position for the third time. All four of the remaining qualifiers from last year made it back in 2017.
But there were two performances that struck me. The first was Kristin Holte, who led the way all weekend, and second was Jamie Greene, who was a picture of consistency and poise.
You’d be in a rather small camp if you didn’t think Kristin Holte was going to qualify for her fourth consecutive CrossFit Games. You’d also be in a fairly small camp if you thought it would he Holte who would lead all three days of competition and walk away as the Meridian Regional champ ahead of both Briggs and Thorisdottir.
Nevertheless, Holte had arguably the best performance of her career this weekend. She never finished lower than fifth, and she closed out Day 2 with a record-setting performance on Event 4.
In the past year of CrossFit competition, Holte has had her best finish at the Games, her best finish worldwide in the Open and now her best finish at Regionals. Holte has shown marked improvement across every stage of CrossFIt competition in the past three years, and all signs are pointing to that trend continuing in Madison.
Greene came into the weekend with plenty of hype, as well as a few questions as to whether the success she’s had in the Open would carry over when she joined the individual competition at Regionals. Any questions were swiftly answered in the very first event.
Greene came out hot and outlasted everyone in the field for her very first individual event win in her very first individual event at the Meridian Regional. From there, she’d finish the remaining events in sixth or better, and she'd never spend a single moment outside of the top five.
Anticipation now builds for both athletes as we turn our eyes to the big stage of the CrossFit Games in August. Holte’s challenge will be to move her way into the top 10 and continue her ascent as one of the women's elites.
Greene will be out to show that her previous team experience and her fitness this season have set her up to become the top female rookie at the Games in 2017.
STEVEN FAWCETT IS A SMART MAN
When 2015 individual Games qualifier Steven Fawcett declared he would forgo the 2017 individual competition to compete with his team, CrossFit JST, we chatted on social media and I confessed that I was hoping to see him return as an individual after he missed the 2016 season due to injury.
Truth be told, I just was happy to see him compete again. He told me that he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to compete with such a fit and talented group of people. He certainly wasn’t kidding.
CrossFit JST was the top-ranked team in Europe coming out of the Open, and worldwide it finished third behind only CrossFit Mayhem and OC3 Black. The team was also looking to become the first team from the U.K. to qualify for the CrossFit Games.
After the way things played out in the team competition in Madrid, Fawcett must be feeling pretty good about his decision. CrossFit JST was clearly the class act of the Meridian team competition. The team ended every day in first place overall and became the first U.K. team to win Regionals.
After starting with a fifth-place finish in Event 1, JST pulled off four straight finishes of second or better, as well as a win in Event 4 to close out Day 2. The team cruised to a sixth-place finish in the final event after having built up a comfortable lead over the rest of the field.
It’s been a season of firsts for JST already. Let’s see if another first awaits the team in Madison.
SMITH BROS FINISH STRONG
Coming into the Atlantic Regional, one of the storylines to watch was supposed to be the battle for the top spot between 2015 Atlantic Regional champion Noah Ohlsen and 2016 winner Ben Smith. Ohlsen and Smith are the two biggest names in the Atlantic men’s competition, and 2017 was supposed to be their rubber match at Regionals.
Unfortunately, the matchup everyone was hoping to see never came to fruition. Unexpected finishes put a new twist on the weekend for Smith.
Smith earned 18th place in Event 1. His finish raised a few eyebrows but ultimately wasn’t cause for concern for the 2015 Fittest Man on Earth as there was still plenty of competition left.
But then he followed up Event 1 with an even worse finish in Event 2, taking 19th and leaving him in a three-way tie for 19th overall after a lackluster Day 1.
The point spread between Smith and fifth place was a manageable 41 points, but it meant that there was little room for error for the remainder of the weekend.
Day 2 brought out the Smith of old as he immediately caught fire by winning Event 3 and moving himself up 10 spots into ninth place overall. Another strong finish in Event 4 to close out Day 2 and he was back in the hunt. After 4 events, he had moved up 12 spots into seventh place and was just 11 points back from fifth.
Ben wasn’t the only Smith who had a fantastic Day 2.
His younger brother Alec Smith also made moves up the Leaderboard with two strong performances. Alec finished third in Event 3, and fourth in Event 4, which moved him up to second overall after two days of competition. Alec was now one of the people his older brother would be chasing on the final day.
On Day 3, both Smith brothers picked up where they left off the day prior. Ben finished Event 5 in second, and Alec finished in sixth. Heading into the final event of the weekend, Ben and Alec were in qualifying positions and separated by just 5 points overall.
For as much drama as the comeback provided over the previous three events, Event 6 was relatively tame for Ben and Alec. Ben finished in seventh, and Alec in sixth, which effectively clinched both brothers' spots inside the top five.
The best part of the final results and announcement was the fact that little brother Alec beat Ben in the overall standings—something I’m sure he’ll remind Ben of in the coming months.
CASSIDY LANCE-MCWHERTER TAKES NO PRISONERS
Sometimes a little adversity is all it takes to kick-start a new period of growth. This certainly was the case for Cassidy Lance-McWherter after she failed to qualify for the 2016 Reebok CrossFit Games.
Lance-McWherter notoriously sported a tank top with choice words on it during the thruster/rope climb finale last year at Regionals, only to finish the event in seventh and see herself fall outside of the top five after an event win by Meg Reardon.
This turn of events was rough on Lance-McWherter. Afterwards she was open about the fact that missing qualification was a complete shock that left her unsure of what the next step would be. After spending some time doing workouts with classes at her affiliate, coaching and getting married, she set her sights on competing again with the goal of winning Regionals and returning to the Games.
That goal was realized this year.
Lance-McWherter was on fire all weekend, and her battle with Emily Bridgers through five events provided an exciting back-and-forth race for the top spot. Bridgers and Lance-McWherter finished Day 1 and Day 2 in a tie for points. The two athletes were separated by just 5 points going into the final event of the competition.
Bridgers faltered slightly in the final event while Lance-McWherter closed out her weekend with another top finish. Lance-McWherter secured sole possession of first place overall and a piece of redemption after the letdown of 2016.
The consistency of Lance-McWherter’s performance throughout the weekend cannot be overstated. She finished every event in the top three, including an event win and four second-place finishes. It’s a feat only matched by Tennil Reed in the South, and Lance-McWherter's 570 total points was the highest of any woman at Regionals.
Lance-McWherter will return to the Games with her sights set on getting back into the top 10. She finished eighth in 2014 and was part of what I call the “anomaly class” of top 10 women at the Games. For one reason or another, not a single woman who finished in the top 10 overall at the Games in 2014 have been able to make it back into the top 10 since.
12 Labours Lions: Kings of the Jungle
Come August, CrossFit Mayhem is going to have its hands full. This Regional season has seen a handful of extremely talented teams move to the forefront of the conversation when it comes to who can stand in the way of a Mayhem three-peat.
Even before the season began, one of the easy picks to contend for the top was 12 Labours Lions from 12 Labours CrossFit. The 2016 Affiliate Cup runner-up is the only returning team to have finished inside the top 10 at the Games each of the last three seasons. (In 2014, the team was known as CrossFit Syndicate).
This year the team returned with four of the six athletes from last year’s team, and despite its successes at the Games, the team hadn’t quite found the same level of success at Regionals. The Lions had yet to win the Regional competition, and the inclusion of the Worm and other Games-level elements in this year’s Regional programming meant 2017 might be the team’s best opportunity to finally conquer Regionals.
The weekend started off steady for the 12 Labours Lions with sixth- and fifth-place finishes in the first two events. The team finished Day 1 in third place overall.
Maybe the team just needed a day to shake the competition cobwebs off, because for the rest of the competition, no one could touch it. The Lions opened Day 2 with an Event 3 win, beating the second-place team by more than 2 minutes.
The team remained perfect the rest of the way, winning the next three events and finishing the weekend in dominant fashion. The four-straight event wins vaulted the team into first and finally awarded it the Regional win it had missed out on for the last three years.
The 12 Labours Lions can now head to Madison, Wisconsin, knowing it was the best at the Atlantic Regional, and that it beat two-time Affiliate Cup champion team CrossFit Mayhem in four of the six Regional events. While ultimately that stat doesn’t count for much, it’s a nice mental boost knowing you can beat the champ.
THE WILD WEST LIVES UP TO ITS NAME
Over the past few years of Regionals, the individual competition in the West has gotten a reputation for wild finishes and crazy comebacks.
In 2015, after seven events on the men’s side, just 6 points separated second-placed Cole Sager from seventh-placed Brent Fikowski. Less than a second in the final event is what separated both Fikowski and sixth-placed Cody Anderson from ending up in the top five and earning a trip to the Games.
Last year, Cole Sager sat in ninth place heading into the final event, his chances of returning to the Games slim due to a 31-point difference between him and fifth-placed Adam Davidson. Sager famously won the event, and somehow every chip fell into place and he leapfrogged Davidson, Anderson, Tyson Takasaki and Mitch Wagner.
On the women’s side, a similar story played out with eventual Games rookie Carly Fuhrer.
With one event remaining, Fuhrer was in seventh, 22 points back of fifth-placed Christina Seeley, and 29 points back of fourth-placed Tia Wright. Wright and sixth-placed Jenna Gracey bombed the event, and Fuhrer’s fifth-place finish moved her up three spots into fourth place overall, 3 points ahead of Seeley.
Going into the finale this year, it looked like the West was in for another barn burner—this time in all divisions.
Lane 5 Athletics and Team Taranis were in a dead tie for points, and with enough of a cushion ahead of the seventh- and eighth-placed teams, whoever finished the final event first would go to the Games. In the end, Lane 5 outlasted a stumbling Taranis on the Worm, and for the first time, no Canadian teams will be at the CrossFit Games.
The women’s finale was next up, and the circumstances felt eerily similar to last year. Carly Fuhrer was in sixth on the bubble, this time chasing fifth-placed Emily Abbott who was ahead by just 3 points. Casey Campbell and Wright were just ahead of Abbott.
Abbott torched the final event, winning the heat by a country mile and securing for herself a return trip to the CrossFit Games. Fuhrer finished next in the heat and the question was now whether she had done enough to overtake Campbell or Wright for a spot in the top five. Finishes from other heats became a factor as Campbell and Wright began to close in on the finish line.
Campbell finished first, good enough for ninth overall, but Wright was struggling and she finished toward the back of the heat. One by one the announcer revealed who would be going to the CrossFit Games, and as he came to fifth place, it would either be Campbell or Wright. Campbell got the nod, and for the second year in a row, a disastrous final event dashed Wright’s hopes of going to the CrossFit Games.
There wasn’t much time for wallowing as the floor was reset for the men’s finale and the top athletes took the floor. Mitchel Stevenson was in fifth, followed by Kevin Simons and George Sanchez. Sanchez was 37 points back and needed a performance of epic proportions if he wanted a shot of qualifying.
Sanchez came out like a man possessed. He was first off the Assault AirBike, finishing his 30 calories in about 23 seconds. He was in “desperation mode,” as play-by-play announcer Brandon Domingue put it, needing an event win to give himself a shot at making up the points gap.
Sanchez finished just a few seconds shy of an event record, but it would be enough to earn him the win for the event. Now the focus would be on where Simons and Stevenson would finish. As Samuel Kwant, Cole Sager and Brent Fikowski finished, it was clear that it would be close, and once Stevenson finished, the entire Portland Expo Center sat in anticipation of the announcement.
Sanchez would edge out Stevenson by just 4 points, and for the second year in a row, the West men’s race saw a 30+ point gap erased in the final event.
CROSSFIT FORT VANCOUVER CONTINUES ITS HISTORIC RUN
CrossFit Fort Vancouver is one of the most tenured teams when it comes to the CrossFit Games Affiliate Cup. Coming into the weekend, the 2010 championship team and 2011 runner-up had qualified for every single Affiliate Cup competition.
The only other team to do so, CrossFit Invictus, qualified out of California the week prior, and the pressure was on Fort Vancouver to keep pace with Invictus and keep the streak going. The team’s response was quite possibly the best performance of this year’s Regionals.
CrossFit Fort Vancouver finished the weekend with 595 out of a possible 600 points, banking five event wins and two event records. Their lone blemish was a second-place finish in Event 1 behind Regional rival CrossFit Marysville.
The return of 2015 individual Games qualifier Jessica Core was clearly a huge boost for the squad. Core, who sat out the 2016 season due to pregnancy, took charge during a handful of events, including Event 5 when she made quick work of her dumbbell overhead squats.
The team also added former Meridian Regional individual athlete Justin Ahrens to its roster.
The emphasis on teamwork and communication that the Worm demands opens the door for a variety of potential mishaps and slip-ups that could cost precious placements on the Leaderboard. We’ve seen this play out in just about every Regional competition so far as no team—not even CrossFit Mayhem—was impervious to mistakes. CrossFit Fort Vancouver won every Worm event in the West.