Ben Smith ties Rebecca Voigt for most individual CrossFit Games appearances after spending half the weekend out of contention, Alec Smith joins his brother on the podium, and Cassidy Lance-McWherter takes the new title as the Atlantic’s fittest woman.
Like a 195-lb., 5-foot-11 security blanket, Ben Smith has just always been there. The last man still competing from the Aromas days, he’s competed in every CrossFit Games since 2009, finishing on the podium four times and winning it all in 2015. He’s won his Regional six times, and he also holds the record for most Regional event wins by a male individual athlete (19 before the 2017 Atlantic Regional; 20 afterward).
When he finished Day 1 in 19th overall, 42 points out of a qualifying spot, CrossFit fans everywhere were asking if this was real life. What seemed like smart pacing on Event 1—Smith’s air squats were markedly slower than the rest of the field’s—translated to an 18th-place event finish. He did even worse in Event 2, finishing 19th.
“I just wasn’t feeling (like) myself,” Smith said later, noting that even he couldn’t explain what went wrong in the first two events.
Smith found himself in an unfamiliar place on Day 2; while his younger brothers, Dane and Alec Smith, were slated for Heats 3 and 4, Ben lined up in Heat 2. Thankfully, though, he started feeling more like himself.
He won Event 3’s down-and-back chipper of a 100-foot dumbbell overhead walking lunge, 100 double-unders, 50 wall-ball shots and 10 rope climbs with a time of 11:48.13, nodding his approval as he stepped onto the mat.
His fifth-place finish in the next event brought him up to seventh going into the final day of competition, 11 points behind Nathan Bramblett in fifth.
“It felt really good to be able to go out and actually push myself and have my body respond and be able to go,” Smith said after Day 2 had wrapped.
Though Day 2 is traditionally moving day, in the Atlantic, nothing was sure until Sunday. At the start of Day 3, Josh Miller, Travis Mayer and Nathan Bramblett held third through fifth, a measly 7-point spread between them, while Smith and 34-year-old Ryan Elrod, the oldest individual male in the Atlantic, rounded out the bubble in sixth and seventh.
For Event 5, Smith took the floor in Heat 4 for the first time all weekend. Though the event win went to Elrod—the Cirque du Soleil artist of eight years breezed through the event’s 45 total muscle-ups—Smith did what he needed to do.
Smith finished the event in second, three spots ahead of Bramblett, and catapulted himself into fourth overall.
Still, only 15 points separated Elrod, whose event win elevated him to second, and Bramblett in fifth.
Elrod predicted Event 6 would be a bloodbath, and he wasn’t wrong.
The Smith brothers were the first to finish the 30-calorie ride on the Assault AirBike, but while they transfixed the crowd, Miller and Mayer stole a sneaky lead.
Mayer heaved his 150-lb. sandbag with the fury of one who has nothing to lose and a fourth trip to the CrossFit Games to gain. The first to hit the mat at 3:05.23, Mayer’s one and only event win was good enough to earn him fourth overall and a ticket to Madison. He slapped the floor with a scream of victory when his name was called.
Ben and Alec took the bronze and silver, respectively, making 2017 the first time two brothers have ever qualified for the CrossFit Games together out of the same region.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Alec said of qualifying for his first CrossFit Games and besting his older brother.
Noah Ohlsen reclaimed his 2015 Regional gold. Though on Day 1 he said, “We all come into this pretty nervous, whether you've been to the Games three times or this is your first Regional,” the three-time Games veteran led from Event 1 onward, taking two event wins and five top-10 finishes.
Two weeks ago in the South, it was Camille Leblanc-Bazinet and Tennil Reed; in the Atlantic, the race for the throne was squarely between three-time CrossFit Games athletes Emily Bridgers and Cassidy Lance-McWherter.
Like best friends unwilling to leave each other’s sides, the pair finished five out of six events within one place of each other. Three of those races were for first and second place (Events 1, 4 and 5).
Bridgers held the overall lead from her Event 1 win through Event 3. Lance-McWherter’s third-place Event 3 finish to Bridgers’ fourth flip-flopped the pair, but not for long.
Event 4 saw the Atlantic’s first truly hair-raising footrace. Bridgers and Lance-McWherter led the field from start to finish. Bridgers was faster on the toes-to-bars with a tighter, faster kip, and Lance-McWherter was stronger on the kettlebells, able to hang on to the awkward 106-lb. bells for larger sets. In the end, five one-hundredths of a second made the difference between first and second, the win going to Bridgers—her 14th career Regional event win—and putting her back on top going into the final day of competition.
“She's going out and showing she really has worked hard all year,” Bridgers said of Lance-McWherter. “But so have I. I enjoy having somebody kind of pushing you harder so you're not just on cruise control, and she's definitely pushing me outside of my comfort zone a little bit.”
The pair flip-flopped once more before the final event, Lance-McWherter’s Event 5 win putting her on top, where she remained after the dust settled on Event 6. But while she and Bridgers raced, Mekenzie Riley and Caroline Dardini wrestled for the last qualifying spot, tied for points before the finale.
Riley may have been an individual Regional rookie, but her experience on 2016 fifth-placed CrossFit Games team, OC3, shone through as she seemed to level up in the Regional’s last moments. She was the first off the Assault AirBike and had consumed several burpee box jump-overs before Dardini joined her. Upsetting even the individual veterans to her side, Riley took her one and only event win with a time of 3:52.66. She not only saved her qualifying position; she also shot up to third overall.
“At this point in the weekend, it’s either you want it or you don’t, and I wanted this more than I’ve wanted anything in a very long time,” Riley said after the event. “I worked very hard, and nothing was going to take that away from me.”
Also of note is Haley Adams, who at the age of 16 is the youngest individual to compete at the Regional level during the Open era. She took second in the 14-15 Division at the Games in 2016 and finished first in the 2017 Teenage Online Qualifier. On Friday, she said her goal was to finish her first Regional competition in the top 10, and she almost did. Adams finished her debut Regional in 14th.
“I look up to people like (Bridgers), so it's kind of crazy to see myself competing on the same stage as them,” Adams said. “Last year, I was asking to take pictures with them, and now … I'm on the same stage as them.”
12 Labours Lions has been to the CrossFit Games every year since 2014 (that year its name was Syndicate), but it has never won a Regional—until now.
“We've always said that winning Regionals was never the goal; it was to do as well as we could at the Games,” said team member Luke Espe.
The team—which returned four members from last year, including Espe, who’s been on the team since its 2014 debut—started the weekend true to that statement, ending Friday in a qualifying position.
At the beginning of Day 2, 12 Labours was 30 points away from CrossFit Dwala in first, but by Saturday afternoon, it had bagged two event wins, catapulting it to first with a 10-point lead over HustleHard CrossFit.
After the team from Columbia, Maryland, took its third consecutive win in Event 5 on Sunday morning, Espe considered what it might be like to win.
“To be able to go out with a bang and come out on top winning the region would be a huge exclamation point onto everything that this team's done so far,” he said.
12 Labours got that exclamation point and more, taking a fourth consecutive event win in the final event and sealing the overall gold with 45 points more than HustleHard CrossFit in second. 12 Labours performed the 50 Worm clean and jerks in 4:35.07, more than 4 minutes faster than it completed the same work in Worm Finale at the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games.
Both the third- and fourth-place qualifiers, CrossFit Balance and CrossFit Revamped, featured past individual Games veterans. CrossFit Revamped’s Alea and Gary Helmick have been to the Games once and twice, respectively, and CrossFit Balance featured seven-time CrossFit Games veteran Christy Adkins.
Adkins said she’s always enjoyed training with others, but competing on a team makes the effort even more worthwhile.
“This makes it even more extra special because we’ve been training together all year since the fall, and then we get to carry that momentum right out to the floor,” she said, describing the experience as “joyful.”
“I still have the competition nerves, but there’s something more settled and calm because I know I’m with a team, and I know that we’ve gone over the plan. We’ve locked in the same mindset, and we’re gonna be able to go out there and work together,” she continued, adding that she’s enjoyed using her individual experience to help her teammates train mentally for the competition floor.
“It's been great to be able to share that with the team and it be a whole group effort,” she said.
1. Noah Ohlsen (498)
2. Alec Smith (455)
3. Ben Smith (448)
4. Travis Mayer (445)
5. Ryan Elrod (443)
1. Cassidy Lance-McWherter (570)
2. Emily Bridgers (527)
3. Mekenzie Riley (479)
4. Whitney Gelin (476)
5. Anna Tobias (452)
1. 12 Labours Lions (555)
2. HustleHard CrossFit (510)
3. CrossFit Balance (491)
4. CrossFit Revamped (474)
5. 336 CrossFit (462)