"Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!" was the cry that opened the 2017 Reebok CrossFit Invitational. The home crowd at the Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne, Australia, was excited to see the international roster of all-star athletes but made it very clear that it was firmly behind the Pacific Team.
This was the sixth CrossFit Invitational, and the first one held in the Southern Hemisphere.
The defending champions from the Europe Team went into this year's competition with arguably the most balanced team. However, there was a question mark over their preparation, with Sara Sigmundsdottir absent from training due to illness. Although Sigmundsdottir seemed to have recovered, the team training was an invaluable opportunity to practice the synchronization and communication that have proved to be deciding factors in team events.
The Pacific Team had never finished better than third at an Invitational before 2017. But with the first- and second-fittest women on Earth on the roster, and a home-soil advantage for the all-Australian team, this looked to be the team's most promising year.
The Canada Team also boasted two podium finishers from the CrossFit Games with Brent Fikowski and Patrick Vellner. Fikowski started his CrossFit journey in Australia and was still a local favorite even though he was back as part of the Canadian bid for the Invitational crown.
For the USA Team, nine-time CrossFit Games Affiliate Cup athlete Adam Neiffer joined a roster of highly experienced CrossFit athletes in their quest to take the championship back home.
The first event of the 2017 Reebok CrossFit Invitational was revealed two days before the competition, with CrossFit Games Director Dave Castro making the announcement alongside Melbourne’s Yarra River on Friday night.
Athletes found out that the Worm would be making a return to the Invitational in the opening event, which also included a team row, bike and rope climbs.
The event was a clear test of team unity, something Europe Team coach Samantha Briggs says was her main focus leading into the competition. “We’ve been focusing on working as a team in the lead up,” she said. “They are all individual athletes so it’s something new to them, lifting and trying to balance (the Worm).”
All teams got to the Worm fairly evenly placed, with the Europe Team the first to build an early lead. But it wasn’t long before the Pacific Team, on its home turf, overtook Europe and surged to take the win.
“Definitely knowing it’s in our own country is humbling. We had to make sure we calmed ourselves down before coming out,” Tia-Clair Toomey said.
The Canada Team hit the finish mat second overall, with Europe edging out USA for third place.
Event 1 Results
1. Pacific - 08:43 (6 points)
2. Canada - 09:01 (4 points)
3. Europe - 09:07 (2 points)
4. USA - 09:22 (0 points)
Event 2 was a clear test of individual gymnastic ability, with athletes put through a handstand-walk course.
Each athlete was given 2 minutes to progress through an agility course that required walking up and down bumper plates, and around obstacles.
“We’ve done set distance, we’ve done a lot of different variances, so this was kind of the natural next step,” said Castro. “Making a course like this made sense and I can guarantee you’ll see more of these in the future. If you’re an athlete, you should probably work on these (courses).”
With a strong gymnastics background, Kari Pearce was expected to blitz through the course, and she didn’t disappoint, easily winning her heat.
After her victory, she admitted some course practice the day before certainly helped. “Yesterday I didn’t know where I was going, so I made sure I was on track today,” Pearce said.
The event ended up being a sweep for the USA Team, with Noah Ohlsen, Scott Panchik and Tennil Reed-Beuerlein also winning their heats.
Ohlsen was happy to bounce back after the opening event didn't go as planned.
“We talked about it in the warm-up and just let it go,” he said. “We all executed each of our unique plans.”
The Pacific Team finished second to extend its lead at top of the standings, and the Canada Team beat Europe for third.
Event 2 Results
1. USA - 03:30 - 6 points
2. Pacific - 04:46 - 4 points
3. Canada - 15/16 - 2 points
4. Europe - 14/16 - 0 points
Overall Standings (2 / 5 Events Completed)
1. Pacific - 10 points
2. Canada - 6 points
3. USA - 6 points
4. Europe - 2 points
Event 3 was all about synchronized movements, with teams completing 6 rounds of synchro bar muscle-ups and hang power snatches.
With an 8-minute time cap, Castro ensured the event was a burner as much as a test of team unity.
After a couple of rounds, it was the Pacific and Canada Teams that started to pull away from the rest of the field. But with the home crowd behind it, the Pacific Team surged ahead to win its second event of the evening and tighten its grip on the Invitational title.
“Non-verbal communication was the key. They just did so well and they knew what they had to do to win,” said commentator Jeremy Austin.
Kara Webb shared Austin's opinion.
“There’s a lot more to communication than words, and that’s something that we’ve worked on," she said. "Getting to understand each other as people and use our body language to communicate with each other, and that was perfectly executed."
The USA Team finished second overall to keep its title hopes alive, while the Europe Team’s hopes for a third-straight crown were all but over after it finished last.
Event 3 Results
1. Pacific - 06:09 (6 points)
2. USA - 06:30 (4 points)
3. Canada - 06:32 (2 points)
4. Europe - 07:26 (0 points)
Overall Standings (3 / 5 Events Completed)
1. Pacific - 16 points
2. USA - 10 points
3. Canada - 8 points
4. Europe - 2 points
Event 4 was announced just minutes before the Invitational got underway. Castro revealed it would be a “test of strength” involving a partner clean—but with a twist.
Instead of using a conventional barbell, athletes would instead have to clean tires. “Yes, Event 4 will use those big fucking tires,” Castro told the crowd at the Margaret Court Arena.
First up were the men, with the Canada Team’s male pair, Fikowski and Vellner, the clear winners, finishing well ahead of the other teams.
The Canadian women backed it up, with Pichelli and Reason-Thibault claiming victory to keep the Canada Team’s hopes of a come-from-behind title win alive.
“This is definitely my specialty, all the strongman stuff, and I wanted to make up for the last event,” Pichelli said.
The Pacific Team finished third overall, reducing its lead over the rest of the field, while a last-place finish saw the USA Team all but drop out of contention.
1. Canada - 40 reps (6 points)
2. Europe - 36 reps (4 points)
3. Pacific - 33 reps (2 points)
4. USA - 29 reps (0 points)
Overall Standings (4 / 5 Events Completed)
1. Pacific - 18 points
2. Canada - 14 points
3. USA - 10 points
4. Europe - 6 points