The CrossFit Games claim to determine the world’s fittest man and woman. Any test of this caliber would need to be a grueling challenge. If they truly intend to crown the world’s fittest people, then this test must be all encompassing, including not simply endurance or strength, but in fact, as CrossFit defines fitness, ten general physical skills: Coordination, Agility, Strength, Muscular Stamina, Cardio-respiratory endurance, Speed, Power, Flexibility, Balance, and Accuracy. They must also be ready for any physical task set before them. For this reason, the actual schedule of events was not released until the week prior to the Games. The actual event specifics were not fully released until the day before the athletes were set to compete. The only warning they were given was the warning of CrossFit founder Greg Glassman, who several months ago announced that this year’s games would be something completely different. Those athletes who had best prepared for the unknown and unknowable would be those who would thrive.
Tomorrow’s competition consists of 5 events, each one a full workout in and of itself. The competitors scores will be determined by adding their placement in each event. So an athlete who finishes 3rd in the first event and 5th in the second will have a total score of 8. Obviously a low score is desired. Following the second event, athletes with the highest scores will begin to be dropped.
The first event is a brutal 7.1 km hill run. Some slopes are so steep that athletes have been told to consider cleats for the run and warned against trying to run the whole course. Following this, they will receive approximately 40-60 minutes rest, depending on how fast they run, then they will move onto the next event.
The second event is simply a line of 20 barbells the lightest of which is 315lbs. The weights then increase 10lbs per bar, for a finishing weight of 505lbs. Athletes have 30 seconds at each bar to perform a single deadlift. At the end of 30 seconds, they move on to the next bar. This continues until the athlete is unable to complete their rep in the 30 second block.
The third event is a simple uphill sprint for about 150 meters. Oh yeah, with 35 pound sandbags. One for the women, two for men.
The fourth event is the manifest ‘unknown and unknowable,’ a 500 meter row on an erg machine following which the contestants have to pound a flat-ended metal rod 4 feet (3 for women) into the ground of a pre-filled gravel trench with a sledgehammer then run back to the rowers for another 500 meters.
The day’s final event is three rounds for time of 30 wall ball (an athlete holds a medicine ball at chest height before standing and throwing the ball to a prescribed height on the wall) and 25 reps of 75 pound snatches, a complicated Olympic lift.
Saturday – Day 1:
The actual games proved both awe-inspiring and, for me, somewhat disturbing. The hill run saw the loss of three competitors. One which I watched as she stumbled down the hill in front of me with the look of a punch-drunk fighter. I later learned that she had broken her ankle. Either she was stumbling from the shock that had set in or the heat had got to her and she broke it while on that downhill. The second was a woman from CrossFit Culver City, my new gym. I watched as she stumbled only 50 meters from the finish line. Her body had ceased functioning from heat stroke, and despite having no recollection of the event, she managed to fight off medical helpers then stumbled and rolled to the finish. To see such a strong athlete lose the ability to ambulate was horrifying. Luckily after the heat stroke passed, she was left only with a tweaked ankle and a large bruise on her forehead where it had struck the ground. Luckily this event was the last in which any athletes were seriously injured as far as I know.
The deadlift event saw 16 of the men reach the final rep, lifting 505 pounds. The third was somewhat horrific to watch as people picked up their sandbags and began running uphill, few made it to the top without walking and nearly all fell across the finish line. Anyone who has been hiking can appreciate how difficult this task must have been with 70 lbs on one’s back. (That is, anyone who has been hiking after deadlifting 505 pounds.)
The pole hammering/rowing event seemed to me somewhat ill contrived. Despite good attempts by the coordinators to even the ground consistency, it appeared to me that some competitors had it easier than others with the spikes. Having done some fence setting myself, I find it easy to believe that some stakes are simply easier than others to drive into the ground, for whatever reason. Such is the unfair nature of life though. I do think, however, that on the average strength and coordination did pay off for this event, despite a few outliers.
The Saturday’s final event began to show the day’s toll on athletes. What would normally have been an easy (easier I suppose) challenge for these men and women proved slow and agonizing. Many of the men grabbing their backs and grimacing in pain as they proceeded. They nonetheless finished, and those whose scores where low enough turned in for the night to prepare and rest for tomorrow.
Sunday – Day 2:
By the start of day two, the field was narrowed to the top 16 men and 16 women. I hate to imagine what waking up was like for these athletes. Those first few steps couldn’t have felt good. Yet they rose to compete in the final day’s three events.
Beginning at 9:30am, the first event was simply to complete one snatch (an Olympic lift) at maximum weight within a ten minute time limit (I think, I can’t find this in writing to confirm it though). The snatch is a very technical lift, and was very frustrating for those athletes who had not trained sufficiently to complete the lift at high weights. In the end, the big guys won, with first place snatching 240lbs, followed by two others at 225lbs. For the women, the top lifter threw up 145lbs.
The next event was another which pushed the borders of athlete’s training. It was: “as many rounds as possible in eight minutes of four handstand push-ups on paralletes, eight kettlebell swings (1.5/2 pood) and 12 GHD sit-ups. Every rep would be counted to determine a final score.” (One pood is 16kg or about 34lbs by the way.) As it turned out, many of the female athletes could not do strict handstand push-ups and the scoring had to be modified to accommodate this. Yet those who could not complete a single HSPU where disqualified. 6 women were listed as DNF for this event and disqualified.
This workout left the women’s race close between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places, and the men’s 1st and 2nd. The final workout was announced only a few hours before it began. It was a ‘chipper’ workout, meaning that it consists of many different types of movements/lifts to be completed in succession. The workout was as follows:
|15 barbells cleans (155 lb.)
30 toes to bar
30 box jumps (24 inches)
30 push presses (40)
15 thrusters (135)
Overhead walking lunges (45)
|15 barbells cleans (100 lb.)
30 toes to bar
30 box jumps (20 inches)
30 push presses (25)
15 thrusters (95)
Overhead walking lunges (25)
Again this workout posed an issue for many of the women. The second place contender was able to complete only one muscle-up, having only learned how to do them hours before. Many slowed considerably on this section. The men powered through, with the top place going to 19:46 by Miko Salo, claiming first place in both the workout and the Games, despite having learned how to complete double-unders only that afternoon. The women’s heat was won in 18:24 by the Games’ second place woman Charity Vale. The women’s overall winner, Tanya Wagner placed 7th in this event, coming in at 29:34.
(WOD means workout of the day - only in this case they did multiple in one day)
|Tanya Wagner||Miko Salo|
|WOD 1: 11th
WOD 2: 6th
WOD 3: 8th
WOD 4: 9th
WOD 5: 5th
WOD 6: 2nd
WOD 7: 6th
WOD 8: 7th
|WOD 1: 2nd
WOD 2: 17th
WOD 3: 9th
WOD 4: 32nd
WOD 5: 4th
WOD 6: 11th
WOD 7: 2nd
WOD 8: 1st
So where does all that get us? Clearly these competitions were strange and taxing. Anyone who’s run 7km on steep slopes knows how hard that is, and anyone who’s tried to snatch 240lbs know what that feels like (I know I can’t, I’d be happy with 150). What makes these athletes special is their ability to do both of these things, and to do them well. Tanya Wagner didn’t win first place in any one event, yet she placed in the top 11 in all of them. Salo got 2nd in the run and first in the ‘chipper,’ and in addition placed well enough around the board to win first place. They are good at everything and masters of nothing, which is what CrossFit defines fitness to be. What good is running a marathon if you can’t do a push-up? Or what good is bench pressing 600lbs if you can walk to your car without getting winded?
For CrossFit, the fittest people in the world are those that are all-around tough and in possession of all 10 basic physical skills listed earlier. And thus they have crowned a physical ed teacher from Pennsylvania (Wagner) and a Finnish firefighter (Salo) as the worlds fittest athletes. Anyone who disagrees is encouraged to speak up, not with words, but rather with actions. The game’s banner reads: “Our workouts are competitive events. The strength and dominance of CrossFit lies entirely in our dominance of other athletes. This is a truth divined through competition, not debate.
To learn more about CrossFit, visit crossfit.com or check out this free article called “What is Fitness?” at http://journal.crossfit.com/2002/10/what-is-fitness-by-greg-glassm.tpl