Snail Is Sluggish
That was Sam Briggs’ strategy when asked how she’d prepare to deal with the Snail, a new piece of gear the athletes had never used.
In the warm-up area before the event, athletes pushed plyo boxes loaded with plates, sprinted with bands and partners as resistance, and pushed against coaches, all in attempts to simulate what the Snail might feel like.
A giant drum lying on its side and full of sandbags, the Snail must be rolled, with the sandbags always sliding back to the bottom of the drum. The implement brilliantly ensures field conditions don’t affect the intent of the event.
“Yes” turned out to be exactly the strategy needed for pushing the Snail. Or perhaps impressive fitness was the key. Either way, Sam Briggs dominated the event, finishing almost 40 seconds ahead of anyone else.
Tennil Reed was the early leader, but Sam Briggs used her impressive running ability to lope by her on the stairs in the second round, and the event was essentially over at that point. Briggs used driving Princess Bride legs on the rope climbs and was very steady on the Snail before legging out the final run. She disappeared briefly behind a wall under the Jumobtron at the top of the berm before her first rival reached the stairs well below her.
That athlete was Sara Sigmundsdottir, who lost a lot of time on the run and came down the stairs surrounded by the pack. The Icelander dropped a few spots and then found herself in a Snail race of sorts with Katrin Tanja Davidsdottir, who turned on the gas to blow past her countrywoman with impressive power.
She credited her speed at the end to Mat Fraser, an occasional training partner.
“‘To generate the most force, push into the middle,’” she said Fraser told her. Fraser, more noted for physical feats than physics, recently graduated with an engineering degree.
“Mat Fraser the newly graduated engineer: He’s not only fit; he’s smart,” Davidsdottir smiled.
Davidsdottir famously missed the Games in 2014 when rope climbs cost her dearly, and in the last two years she’s had to face her nemesis, just like Rich Froning did after the rope cost him the overall win in the 2010 Games. Last year she set small goals in the climbing event, and though she could not complete the rope climbs in the Soccer Chipper, she got more than she expected and considered it a big win. In 2016, the defending champ finished sixth in her “rope-climb event,” a term she used to describe her greatest challenge every year.
“This was my rope-climb event. … I couldn’t be happier,” she said
Briggs is now first overall, with Sigmundsdottir 26 points behind. Davidsdottir is only 2 points back in third.
Fraser was the focus of the men’s final heat: He, too, had performed poorly on the Soccer Chipper last year, taking 32nd and giving up 84 points to event winner Ben Smith. Smith later took the overall crown by 36 points.
Fraser wasn’t smooth on the rope, but he was competent, and he managed fifth overall.
Fraser’s improvement wasn’t by chance. He and his rope become good friends over the last year.
“I did ’em a lot every day,” he said
Still, he wasn’t totally satisfied. “Those felt very clumsy.”
The Snail, he noted, was suitably “sluggish.”
In the final heat, Cole Sager paced the field early on, and he was still ahead in the second round though Brent Fikowski got off the stairs first. Sager had the inside lane and was at his rope first, using a large jump off the ground to use the crash mat as a trampoline and scale the rope quickly.
Round 3 was his undoing, as Fikowski made up a great deal of ground to take his second event win. Patrick Vellner, a former gymnast who is looking forward to the ring handstand push-ups later today, also passed Sager in the run and took third.
The fifth-place score gave Fraser 666 points in first overall, setting up more than a few sly references to Iron Maiden songs. Ben Smith is back 138 points in second, and Vellner has 38 fewer points in third.