It was the most dramatic finish in CrossFit Games history.
For a brief moment, Tia-Clair Toomey looked finally to have clinched the title of “Fittest Woman on Earth.”
After finishing runner-up the last two years, the Aussie was just one lunge from glory.
As Toomey staggered towards the line, holding two 35-pound kettle bells above her head while performing lunges, the noise became deafening.
Behind her, fellow Australian Kara Webb (now Saunders) was also grimacing and lunging to the finish.
With a slight points advantage over Webb, the only athlete who could deny her the title in this final event, Toomey knew victory over her compatriot would secure the crown. Defeat by Webb, even by the slightest of margins, meant it could go either way.
“The crowd was cheering so loud, I was like, ‘oh, wow,’” Toomey recalled as she watched it again with CNN ahead of the 2018 Games.
“Am I actually getting further and further away from her or is she just motoring me down?”
Destined for second?
The cheering, it turned out, was for Toomey pulling away and with just one lunge remaining, it seemed as though victory was in the bag.
But then disaster struck.
As Toomey’s foot crossed the finish line, her shoulders gave in under the weight and, as the kettle bells began to drop, the judge called a “no rep,” CrossFit speak for “go back and do it again, but properly this time.”
This opened the door for Webb, who was now making her own late charge. Toomey’s lead evaporated in seconds, and the two were neck and neck as they crossed the line.
Their times flashed up on the big screen. Webb had won by 0.19 seconds.
“Wow! again?” Toomey said as the footage played out in the gym where she was preparing for her title defense.
“Am I just destined for second for the rest of my life?”
An anxiety-riddled few minutes followed as Toomey and Webb waited to find out who would win the coveted title, the “Fittest Woman on Earth.”
Toomey’s coach, and now husband, Shane Orr had done the math ahead of time, was well aware of how close this was and knew that depending on the times in other heats, it could go either way.
“It felt like an eternity,” Orr recalled, as he teared up watching it back.
“Sixty seconds could feel like hours.”
Eventually, Games director Dave Castro brought Toomey and Webb into the center of the arena.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2017 Fittest Woman Alive is from Australia,” Castro announced to the packed-out screaming 10,000 seater Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin.
“Your 2017 Reebok CrossFit Games Champion is…” Castro paused for dramatic effect, “…Tia-Clair Toomey.”
‘It makes you tear up’
Watching it again, neither Toomey nor Orr can hold back their emotions.
“I thought I would be fine watching it again,” Toomey reflects.
“But every time, it makes you tear up because it’s something that’s so important to us and [something] we dedicate our whole lives to.
“We put in so much effort throughout the year and it’s not just me, it’s my family, my friends, Shane. They sacrifice so much. To be able to come out on top against so many fantastic and incredible athletes. It’s something that will stay with you forever.”
Toomey and Orr married soon after the Games, having dated since they were teenagers.
The two met when Orr offered to hold a stopwatch for the then 14-year-old Toomey as she trained after school.
A decade on, and Shane is still holding a stopwatch, as well as myriad other coaching tools.
He’s dedicated his life to helping Toomey become, and now remain, the “Fittest Woman on Earth.”
It’s a responsibility he does not take lightly.
During the Games, Orr barely sleeps, doing everything he possibly can to make sure Toomey is free to focus 100 percent on performing on the competition floor.
From preparing all her meals (CrossFit Games athletes eat untold amount of food throughout the five-day competition), to making sure she knows exactly which door to enter and exit and even making sure he doesn’t affect her sleep by rolling over too much.
The 2018 title could go either way, but one thing is certain, Orr will be right by her side.