November 5, 2013
Valenzuela: USA 'Outplayed'
By Andréa Maria Cecil
Team USA members talk about an unexpected loss at the CrossFit Invitational on Oct. 26.
Team USA members talk about an unexpected loss at the CrossFit Invitational on Oct. 26.

Team USA members talk about an unexpected loss at the CrossFit Invitational on Oct. 26.

After losing the CrossFit Invitational, Team USA member and three-time CrossFit Games champion Rich Froning Jr. sent a simple tweet: “Sorry America...”

At last year’s Invitational in London, Froning and Team USA ran away with the competition, winning 20-6. This year, Team USA got “outplayed by the game,” said team member Lindsey Valenzuela, who placed second at this year’s Games. Team USA fell to Team World 24-19 on Oct. 26 in Berlin.

“The other team knew how to set up their athletes and in a way that (maximized) the point system,” she said of Team World.

Fellow team member Ben Smith also complimented the opposition.

Team World was faster, fluid and “didn’t stop,” he said. “The other team was really good.”

Team World—comprising two Australians, two Canadians and two Europeans—took the first two events: a team Jackie reminiscent of the Regionals and a women’s chipper involving synchronized dumbbell burpee box jumps, partner deadlifts, overhead squats and muscle-ups.

The USA answered by winning the next event, the men’s chipper, and then taking two of three brackets in the clean ladder, making the score USA 19, World 17. With such a narrow point spread, however, the fifth and final event would be a winner-take-all scenario. Event 5 was worth 7 points.

Going into the Invitational, Team USA was the favorite with five individuals who stood on the podium at this year’s Games: Froning, Jason Khalipa, Smith, Valenzuela and Valerie Voboril. Talayna Fortunato, who finished fifth at this year’s Games, also was on the team; Fortunato finished third at the 2012 Games. Team World included Games champion Sam Briggs, as well as Frederick Aegidius, Albert-Dominic Larouche, Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, Chad Mackay and Kara Webb.

Individuals as a Team

On a team, talking and transitions are key.

“Being a team event makes it, more importantly, about communication—not just focusing on yourself as an individual,” said Valenzuela, a former all-American volleyball player. “With team, it becomes more mental and (about) staying grounded and not getting frustrated with yourself and other people.”

She added: “It was a team event. Everybody on the team did something well and everybody on the team could have done something better.”

Khalipa, a two-time Team USA member, expressed similar sentiments.

“You compete and win or lose as a team,” he said via email. “Team World was very good. We couldn't slip up or have any weak links.”

By the time all six members arrived in Berlin, Team USA only had Thursday to practice as a complete group.

“We really practiced in teams of two,” Fortunato said.

More practice would have been ideal, Smith said.

“It definitely would have helped to have more time,” he said. “Especially working through transitions.”

While Valenzuela also said more time together would have been better, she noted that it’s important to keep things in perspective.

“Not being able to work with each other kind of didn’t help but everyone has lives outside of CrossFit,” she explained. “Not to say that we didn’t want to win. I went into this wanting to win, but this was for fun and to show the world CrossFit.”

For her part, Voboril indicated uncertainty at competing on a team again unless she had more time with the other members.

“I don't know if I would participate in a team event again unless I had the opportunity to train and work with the team prior,” she said via email.

Team USA members said the quick pace of the event also took a surprising toll.

“Usually you go do your one event and you get a few hours. … This was not like that,” Fortunato explained.

The time between events was surprisingly short, Smith noted.

“It was faster than I thought it was going to be. I thought we’d have five, 10 minutes between events, and it ended up being three minutes,” he said. “That was not a lot of time, especially after Jackie.”

At that point, Smith said his heart rate was “jacked up” and his legs were shaking. More than anything, he said, the Invitational was mentally taxing.

The event’s pace also led to other unplanned circumstances.

“It was surprising to me how movements earlier that day and the previous day had felt so easy felt darned impossible,” Voboril said, specifically referencing the dumbbell burpee box jumps.

Fortunato said she made efforts to pace herself: “I knew other things were coming, so I didn’t go so hard that I was laying on the ground after the first event.”

Still, Event 2’s partner deadlifts, while not overly heavy, became increasingly difficult because of the preceding work, she said.

“It was the most high-intensity workouts that I’ve done in that amount of time before,” Fortunato added.

Voboril, who placed third at this year’s Games, described the Invitational as more intense than competing at the Games as an individual.

“(There’s) so much more pressure competing on a team because you don't want to let anyone down,” she said. “This is technically my off season, so my training is different now than it is prior to the Games. Also, the amount of rest time between events is substantially different. I enjoyed naps between events at the Games and literally got more sleep that week than I had in any week over the last two years.”

Before the Invitational, Team USA Coach Matt Chan said the posse wanted to make a statement on Event 1. The plan was to beat the best times set by any team at Regionals. The event record was 12:06 set by CrossFit Fort Vancouver.

“And in a blaze of glory, throw it down. It’s gonna be fuckin’ awesome,” Chan told CrossFit Media. “We wanna be the best at everything we do. … It goes beyond just the team that we’re competing against.”

While all six pairs were at least 27 seconds under the previous record, Team World took second, third and fifth in the event to move out to an 11-10 lead. Team USA managed to pull two points ahead after Event 4 but couldn’t close out victory in the final challenge, in which Team World was faster on log thrusters that had all six members coordinating their movements.

“We were taking it seriously. We were really looking forward to it. We really wanted to win,” Smith said. “We were upset that we lost. But it did kind of feel like the Games: you’re pretty upset when you lose and you’re happy when you win.”