Team Europe Wins The 2016 Reebok CrossFit Invitational

CrossFit Rogue One
OSHAWA, Canada -- For the second time in the five-year history of the CrossFit Invitational, the title does not reside in the United States. Instead the honor travels to Europe with a team that finally capitalized on the expectations placed on it from a year ago. After surviving a frantic seven-event battle concluding with a winner-take-all final between three teams, Team Europe captured its first championship in what was perhaps the most hard-fought contest in Invitational history.

Deadlifts and Bar-Facing Burpees

The opening event saw a full-team synchronization test with all four athletes attached to an 854-pound axle bar for deadlifts, followed by synchronized bar-facing burpees in a standard 21-15-9 format. It was an opening event that couldn't have gone better for the sleeper group from Team Pacific.

The Australians were shot out of a cannon and held onto a wire-to-wire win, finishing the 90-rep event in just 5:08.12 and a quick six points on the leaderboard. The event shifted to a battle for second place. Team USA held the position for the first 81 reps, but a sluggish finish that relegated the Americans to third as Team Europe held a steady pace throughout the event to sneak into the position by just under six seconds at a time of 5:18.44 to the USA's 5:24.10. The surprise was the non-factor status of Team Canada, which brought up the rear of the field from the beginning and earned zero points in front of its home audience at 5:58.69. Sadly for the Canadians, this was a position they would see for most of the two-hour contest.

Women's Team Max Snatch and Clean and Jerk

The men got to rest in a doubleheader event, as events two and three let the ladies have the spotlight to themselves in a test of weightlifting followed by gymnastics. Event two was a combination of one-rep max snatch plus a one-rep max clean and jerk split between the two teammates. They would work together in a handstand walk relay for event three.

Kara Webb, who hit a new personal best in warmups of 220 pounds, didn't see the same success when it counted. The 2016 "Spirit of the Games" honoree missed both attempts in window one at 200 but connected in round two to put Pacific provisionally in second. That second-place position was two points ahead of Canada, with the retiring Michele Letendre hitting 198 to a massive ovation from the home fans. But the lead belonged to Europe, as two-time "Fittest Woman on Earth," Katrin Davidsdottir, hit a new personal best of 202. Team USA was in the back of the pack, with Kari Pearce hitting 180.

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The two-pound lead for Europe wouldn't be able to hold off the Aussie contingent in the clean-and-jerk portion as 2016 Olympian Tia-Clair Toomey was successful at 247, bringing the Pacific total to 447. Two-time Games bronze medalist Sara Sigmundsdottir had a shot at the win but was unable to hit the jerk at 250 pounds and settled for her first-round success of 240 and a team total of 442. Third place went to Canada, as Carol-Ann Reason-Thibault backed up Letendre's 198 snatch with a 232 clean-and-jerk. Brooke Wells, the strongest woman in the 2016 Games field, matched Toomey's 247 for a total of 427 and a fourth-place finish.

Standings: After two events, Team Pacific had a perfect score of nine points, Europe sat in second with six, USA stunningly held third with just two points, and the home nation of Canada got on the board with a single point.

Women's Team Handstand-Walk Relay

The ladies stayed on the floor for event three -- the handstand walk relay. The Americans entered the event in a surprising third, but this event boded extremely well for them with the second- and third-place finishers in the similar event at the 2016 Reebok CrossFit Games, and it went exactly to plan for the United States. Wells and Davidsdottir opened the relay neck-and-neck, with the U.S. holding a lead of less than a second at the trade-off, but Pearce opened up a 40-foot lead over Sigmundsdottir and wouldn't look back as the U.S. cruised to a victory at 1:03.44, nearly 20 seconds ahead of Europe at 1:22.34.  Canada (1:32.68) would hold off Pacific (1:48.87), keeping the points leaders from adding to their total.

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Standings: As the men came back out to join the women for event four, the point race was nearly as tight as it could be. Through three of seven events: Pacific retained the lead at nine points; Europe was just a point back in second; the U.S. trailed in third with five points and Canada with two.

Bars, Rowers, Bikes, and Pigs

The midway point of the competition brought the longest event of the day, a three-rounder with four movements (bar muscle-ups, rowing, biking, and Pig flips).  While a troubled back for 2015 champion Ben Smith was a concern for the USA heading into the Pig flips, the movement proved to be no kryptonite for the CrossFit Krypton athlete. But while the USA would lead for the first two rounds by more than 20 seconds, Wells started to fail on bar muscle-ups, opening the window for both Pacific and Europe, which pulled within two seconds of the lead moving onto the row/bike portion of the final round. Europe and USA were level going to the final two Pig flips with the Pacific just one second behind, but Europe had a bit more in the tank and stole the event win in the final reps at 8:27.92, with the U.S. in second at 8:29.48 and Pacific in third at 8:36.28. Canada once again failed to record a point, as Reason-Thibault struggled with the Pig flips throughout the event, and the team would fall behind by more than two minutes (11:04.36).

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Standings: The late stumble by the United States was welcomed news for the Europeans, as the event win moved them into the point lead after four events with 14 points and three ahead of Pacific at 11. The U.S. held third at nine, followed by Canada still in the back with two points.

Men's Team Max Snatch and Clean and Jerk

For the first time in an hour, the ladies finally got a chance to rest as the men took the floor for their turns in events four and five, The snatch portion belonged not to USA's Smith but Canada's Brent Fikowski. "The Professor" hit a textbook lift in round two at 285 pounds to take the lead through the snatch portion, eight pounds ahead of Smith (277). Bjorgvin Karl Gudmundsson was 4 for 4, ending at 270 pounds, and Rob Forte pulled a successful 260 in round one but was unable to add to that in round two.

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When the clean-and-jerk half of the event started, all eyes turned to "The Fittest Man in History" Rich Froning and for good reason. The four-time individual champion finished with a competition personal best-tying 365 to give the USA the event win (642 combined), only two pounds clear of Canada's Fikowski and Patrick Vellner. The third-place finisher from July won an epic battle out of the bottom of the clean and stuck the jerk at 355 to combine for 640. Europe received 340 from Lukas Hogberg to combine at 610 for third. Meanwhile, the early point leaders continued to stumble with Forte and James Newbury finishing last at 595 following the 2016 Games rookie's best lift of 335.

The back half of the men's doubleheader saw a reemergence of Team Pacific's success, as Newbury went the length of the floor in just 36 seconds and Forte followed just as quick, giving Pacific its third event win of the day at 1:06.49. Smith put the U.S. in second at the turn and Froning was able to hold off a fast-closing Vellner and Hogberg for second at 1:08.99, with Canada in third at 1:10.45 and the point leaders from Europe earning no points at 1:11.53.

Standings: One event remained and Europe continued to cling onto the lead at 15 points but was only one clear of both the United States and Pacific teams at 14. Canada was already mathematically eliminated from championship contention with just five points. With the final event having an eight-five-one-zero scoring system, the finale became a guaranteed winner-take-all battle for the top three.

Men's Team Handstand-Walk Relay

The finale started in mixed-gender pairs for three climbs each, followed by 30 strict handstand push-ups each (while their partner holds a handstand). The pairs came together for 30 reps each of Slug cleans, Pig jump overs, then finished with a final set of Slug thrusters. In the three-way battle for the title, it was an early race between Europe and Pacific through the rope climbs with the U.S. (and Canada) a few seconds behind to the handstand portion. But Europe made quick work there to open up an eight-rep lead on the cleans. Canada moved into the picture as a spoiler team as it crept ahead of the United States by a couple of reps, placing itself between the U.S. and the event leaders from Europe moving to the Pig jump overs. The Canadian push was exactly what Europe needed, as it received a fight to pull away from its championship foes, opening a 15-rep lead over the U.S. and a 20-rep lead over Team Pacific moving onto the thrusters. It was a lead the Europeans would not surrender.

Europe (9:24.16) took the finale and the Invitational championship just seconds ahead of a solid high-note finish for Canada at 9:27.59. In a fitting battle for two teams that entered tied in the standings, USA edged out Pacific by a 10th of a second (9:38.89 versus 9:38.99) to take third in the event and second in the final standings as neither team would play a factor in event seven.

The Invitational championship for Europe is a crowning achievement for a team that had expectations of being the champions a year ago before crashing to a surprising last-place finish. That was not a result forgotten by the team as it returned with three of the four members (Hogberg being the lone new addition replacing Jonne Koski). The added experience showed as Team Europe looked composed through the entire competition and can now prove that the European expectation is in fact reality.

Final Standings:

1. Team Europe - 23 points
2. Team USA - 16 points
3. Team Pacific - 14 points
4. Team Canada - 10 points

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