With a new format in place (combining two regions into one “super regional,” in this case the Mid-Atlantic and the South East), there were bound to be some surprises and twists during week one.
In Atlanta, there definitely were.
I don’t know for sure (having never traveled to either of these Regionals in the past five years of competitions) whether the crowd was bursting at the seams because of the new setup or whether this is typical for the southeast part of the United States. But either way, these athletes and spectators put on one hell of a show.
The women’s side of things featured Sam Briggs, the 2013 Fittest Woman on Earth, who was making a comeback after failing to qualify for the 2014 Games because of a terrible score on the handstand walk event. Anna Tunnicliffe, from the former Mid-Atlantic, and Emily Bridgers, from the former South East, were both Games’ qualifiers last year and were both poised to make back-to-back trips to the CrossFit Games. Also Lauren Brooks, seventh as a rookie at the Games, was also battling for one of the coveted five qualifying spots.
Right off the bat, I noticed that Briggs was favoring her right leg/foot, and with three days and seven grueling events to complete, that was going to be an issue. The rumors around the venue had her suffering from anything from a hip-flexor issue to a broken foot to nagging long-term issues with her back. Likewise, Brooks did not seem to be herself from the initial “3,2,1 . . . go” on Friday. Brooks would later withdraw because of a hamstring issue, which she had been trying to remedy for some time. But bumps and bruises aside (turns out that Briggs did have a broken foot the whole time), Bridgers stayed true to form and took the top spot. Briggs and Tunnicliffe tucked neatly into order behind her, and Games’ vet Cassidy Lance grabbed the fourth spot. Rounding out the group was former team competitor and relative unknown Whitney Gelin.
The men’s side was anything but typical. These guys would have given a Vegas bookie a panic attack. While the safe money going in was on Noah Ohlsen and Ben Smith, that was basically all in terms of “locks” to advance to the Games this summer in Carson, California. Crowd-favorite Elijah Muhammad (aka EZ) clawed his way into a shaky fifth-place spot heading into the seventh and final event on Sunday. My “dark horse” pick coming in, Aaron Hanna, was Mr. Consistency all weekend long and actually leapfrogged Smith into the second spot behind eventual champion Noah Ohlsen. And while EZ put on the finish of the year (so far) with an emphatic Event 7 win to clinch his first trip to the Games, I think that quiet and unassuming Nathan Bramblett was probably the most impressive athlete over the weekend for me (and not just because of his long “Thor-like” flowing blond locks).
There was nothing overly dramatic on the team side. Terminus won it and will return to the Games after missing last year. Rising Orange are going back. CrossFit Bound, with former Games’ athlete Brandon Phillips, qualified. But the coolest part was watching 12 Labours of CrossFIt Columbia (formerly CrossFit Syndicate). One female team member got injured early in the weekend, and despite her injured back/shoulder, she finished competing for her team. They even qualified. It was inspiring to watch their effort unfold.
With week one down and some big-time names popping up this coming weekend as I head to the East, I can only imagine what new storylines and twists will come my way as we take over the XL Center, the home of the 2015 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball champion UConn Huskies, for week two in Hartford, Connecticut.
What did you think were some of the coolest moments of week one of the new Regionals?
Stay on the Grind.