Two years after the first CrossFit Games on the Ranch in Aromas, California, the regional was born. The regional model has evolved over the years, but with few changes as notable as what happened this season. Now the top athletes from two or more regions combine at the regional level to compete for the five qualifying spots to the CrossFit Games.
“I think it’s really cool,” said spectator Angela Falcone. “Our region is the South Central, and we’re excited to see those people be pushed by people like Camille (Leblanc-Bazinet).”
This weekend, South Central, South West and Latin America athletes gather at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, Texas, to form the South Regional, and the teams were the first to hit the floor. Of 39 teams, six of last year’s qualifiers vie for return trips to Carson, California. Only five will go and each wants the top spot.
Defending first-place South West team CrossFit The Club is out to prove its seventh-place finish at the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games was no fluke, while team OPEX Red, a new force from the South West, made a statement with its eighth-place worldwide Open finish. But if they want gold, both teams will have to get past Ute CrossFit.
The Salt Lake City affiliate has sent a team to the CrossFit Games every year from 2009 to 2013. In 2013, it qualified two teams—Hack’s Pack and the Ute All-Stars—with Hack’s Pack winning the Affiliate Cup for the second consecutive year. The pack split last year and affiliate owner Tommy Hackenbruck took sixth as an individual in his sixth Games appearance. This weekend, the team returns to reclaim the podium. Though only two original teammates remain—Hackenbruck and Taylor Richards-Lindsay—Hack’s Pack “2.0” is stacked with experienced Games athletes as well as top regional-level competitors.
The weekend’s opening event demanded that teammates work not only in pairs, but in total synchronicity in the couplet of partner deadlifts and synchronized chest-to-bar pull-ups.
Uneven loading of the 410-lb. barbell for the male/female pairs made the deadlifts awkward, but for many duos the synchronized chest-to-bar pull-ups proved the most vexing, with teams in all heats struggling to hit their chests to the bar in unison.
As predicted, the top five times came from the final powerhouse heat.
The Imperial March, dubstep-style, screeched overhead as the South’s top teams hit the floor. None of these teams seemed to find the uneven bar unwieldy.
Ute CrossFit, as predicted, took an early lead. It was the first team to send its first pair to the rig at the 1:45-minute mark. But they were overtaken by athletes of CrossFit Cedar Park, who butterflied their pull-ups easily while Ute CrossFit struggled to communicate.
Though CrossFit Cedar Park was the first team to send its second pair to the floor, just before the 4-minute mark, they struggled to peel the 410-lb. bar from the floor. They were overtaken by both JekyllHyde Blue and Ute CrossFit on the set of 18 deadlifts. JekyllHyde Blue settled into a lead the would hold until the final seconds.
At 8:08, JekyllHyde Blue sent out its third pair while Ute CrossFit’s second duo struggled through sets of 2-4 reps on the pull-ups—the female shaking her arms while the male nodded encouragement. But what she lacked on the rig, her successor made up on the barbell. Ute CrossFit’s deadlifts were faster and than JekyllHyde Blue’s, closing the gap in the round of 21-15-9. By the time Ute CrossFit reached the rig for the set of 15 pull-ups, the teams were within 7 reps.
Shaving 3 more reps of the margin, you could see the fury on Hackenbruck’s face when Ute reached the final set of deadlifts. JekyllHyde Blue was already on the rig, but the kips were large and slow. Still, they were on track to take the first event.
The crowd rose to its feet as the two teams went rep-for-rep in the last 5 pull-ups. Then JekyllHyde Blue dropped from the rig with less than 5 reps remaining.
"We were planning on going 9 and 9 on that last set, but we had to break it up (to sets of) 5 and 4 to make sure to get it,” Mark Stewart, JekyllHyde team member, said after the event.
Hackenbruck and his partner held on for the final few reps, sprinting to the mat to take the win at 13:28.5, and the crowd roared its approval.
While the win seemed a close call to those in the stands, Hackenbruck was never nervous.
“We stuck to the plan, this wasn't new,” Hackenbruck said. “We made the sets (of chest-to-bar pull-ups) smaller, we wanted to be in sync. We only practiced it once and we knew it was a mess. We realized that we had to have it break up it up in smaller sets."
Ute CrossFit’s time was good enough to take the event record from 12 Labours CrossFit Columbia, which finished in 15:45.3 earlier today at the Atlantic Regional. JekyllHyde Blue followed close behind at 13:31.4 while CrossFit Lubbock took third in 14:45.9.
Team Event 1 Results
1. Ute CrossFit (13:28.5)
2. JekyllHyde Blue (13:31.4)
3. CrossFit Lubbock (14:45.9)
4. OPEX Red (15:08.9)
5. Backcountry Black (16:04.7)
With the freedom to allocate 175 snatches, 25 rope climbs and 115 thrusters for men and women each however they pleased, Event 2 favored teams with a tried-and-true transition plan.
For most teams that meant getting their men through fast so to give the women as much time as possible on the rope.
“The motto was simple, we wanted the guys to get fuck out of the way so the girls didn't fuck up,” said Jeff Vanlandingham of CrossFit Jääkarhu.
And indeed, it all came down to two women from teams Backcountry Black and Ute CrossFit.
Backcountry Black and CrossFit Katy’s men were the first to finish the 175 snatches and advance to the ropes in unison, at 4:17. Behind them, the women took to the barbell, trading work in sets of 10 reps for each team. CrossFit Katy’s females had faster turnovers, but Backcountry Black had smoother transitions. Meanwhile, the men kept working. Though they knew it wouldn’t their final reps that mattered most, their speed bought more time for the women to race.
Within the first few rope climbs, Backcountry Black’s women pulled ahead of CrossFit Katy, bringing their knees higher with each pull than their competitors eight lanes over.
While the females raced on the ropes, Ute CrossFit’s men pulled forward on the thrusters, knocking out sets of 15 and more to buy time for their females, one of whom struggled with her footing on the rope.
Though Brennan Fjord brought Ute CrossFit’s men to the finish mat first, Backcountry Black’s females were the first off the rope at 15:04. Becky Conzelman seemed to yank the barbell from the sky faster than gravity as she moved between reps of thrusters like a piston in sets of 10. Ute CrossFit’s women were next to reach the barbell 35 seconds later and 17 reps behind Backcountry Black.
The gap between the teams shrunk as they approached the finish mats, with Ute CrossFit’s women taking longer to transition while Backcountry Black seemed to feed off the pain and maintained their pace, earning the win with a time of 19:09.9.
“We called it the pain cave,” said Chris Dozois of Backcountry Black. “We knew it was going to be painful. We didn't even practice the workout, we knew it was going to be all mental. The best team was going to be the one who going to be able to endure the most.”
CrossFit Ute followed 37 seconds later, while CrossFit Jääkarhu scored a third-place finish in 19:58.
Team Event 2 Results
1. Backcountry Black (19:09.9)
2. Ute CrossFit (19:46.1)
3. CrossFit Jääkarhu (19:58.0)
4. CrossFit Eado (20:01.6)
5. CrossFit The Club (20:13.5)
1. Ute CrossFit (195 points)
2. Backcountry Black (180 points)
3. CrossFit Lubbock (161 points)
4. Jekyll Hyde Blue (154 points)
5. OPEX Red (146 points)
6. Backcountry Blue (146 points)
7. CrossFit The Club (137 points)
8. Pillar CrossFit (134 points)
9. Salt Lake City CrossFit (134 points)
10. CrossFit Jääkarhu (133 points)
After Day 1, Ute CrossFit holds first overall with 195 points, a 15-point lead over second-place team Backcountry Black. In third place, CrossFit Lubbock brings the South Central into a podium position with 161 points.