2011 CrossFit Games Kicked Ass…Even The Softball Throw

I got sick with the flu early last year and was laid out for a couple of days. Up until that point I was doing crossfit only casually, just enough to supplement my other athletic endeavors. When I got sick, I had nothing else to do but surf the net, so I fired up the 2009 CrossFit Games vids and watched every event straight through, and even watched Sevan’s behind-the-scenes video. I loved how tough and interesting the events were and I especially liked the personality of the athletes.  There was also an uncommon amount of sportsmanship and camaderie on display and that really drew me in. Watching those vids was a turning point for me in the sport.

For the 2010 Games, I got even more invested in the athletes and I could tell you who won each event and reel off some highlight moments. Spealler winning Amanda under the lights. Graham winning the double Helen. Froning falling apart at the ropes. Annie and Kristen going head-to-head in the final WOD. I’ve watched some of those videos 5-6 times because they inspire and they’re high drama. I couldn’t get enough. It was a truly compelling event.

Fast forward to 2011…I think the latest Games kicked ass, even with the dicey-ness of the swim, the ridiculous softball toss, and the crappy video streaming. There were bigger personalities, bigger storylines, and epic competition. Here are a few reasons why I thought 2011 was great, in no particular order:

Polarizing characters. I loved rooting against Rich Froning and secretly hoped a weird movement would pop up to derail his cyborg-like performance. He’s a great anti-hero in the making. I want Rich so badly to turn into a “heel” WWE-style and start pontificating on YouTube and Twitter about why he’s such a badass. A tweet from heel Rich Froning would go something like this:

Ate a baby this morning pre-WOD. Delicious. God is great. #cfcyborg

I want him to push faith and religion even further and really go nuts, kind of like CM Punk doing his Straight Edge thing. CrossFit should let the athletes grab the mic at the Games and go on crazy rants in between events:

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Who wouldn’t watch that? Also, we need entrance music for the athletes as they come onto the stadium floor and maybe some explosions.

If Froning is the top heel in CrossFit, Graham is clearly a good guy, or “face” in WWE parlance. Here’s my short list of heel and face candidates:

Heels: Froning, Mikko, Khalipa, Tyminski, Maddox, Barber, Hendel

Faces: Graham, Bridges, Bailey, Spealler, Everett, Chan, Ben Smith

I have no substantial reason for putting them in either category except for the “that guy gives me a heel vibe, so he must be a heel,” which probably makes no sense in real life because they’re all good guys. But, since we’re fantasizing about a WWE-CrossFit bastard child, let’s just throw it out there. Hendel and Smith are obvious foils since they’re the youngest guys in the field…I envision a lot of epic WODs where they go after each other, until Ben Smith turns heel on his 25th birthday and they form a tag team. Pat Barber? Obviously a heel due to epic body hair. Tyminski wore pink girl shorts, so nuff said there.

Can you find two athletes who are more different than Annie Thorisdottir and Kristin Clever in both personality and physique, and yet they’re perfect foils for each other? Clever is 28 and Annie is 21, so we could be getting 1-2 finishes out of them for years to come. Also, if Clever had finished a few spots higher in Beach WOD and Dog Sled, we could be having a completely different conversation.

Let’s talk performance. If Rich Froning is a cyborg, Josh Bridges is an space alien. Weighing 160, the guy won THREE events and took second overall. He was also a clear crowd favorite. He’s like a Chris Spealler, only stronger and faster and deadlier. If I had to choose one athlete to win a WOD where there were 2 or more movements and multiple rounds, I’d take Bridges over anyone else. I cheered out loud every time he took the lead and did something amazing, which was a lot.

It’s worth pointing out, Bridges has a day job: Navy Seal. He makes other crossfitters who only train and coach look bad. Imagine if Bridges decided to stop hunting terrorists and instead did 7 WODs a day for 6 months leading up to the Games. Does anyone think he wouldn’t win by a mile? It’s scary to think that a guy who’s doing CrossFit part-time is the second best CrossFitter on the planet.

Having athletes with big personality is good for the Games and good for the sport. You can’t beat 2011 in that department. It’s part of what made it such a good fan experience.

Some of the events were brilliant and crazy at the same time, like the Beach WOD. I thought the ocean swim was risky and that element of danger made it riveting. In what other sport do we ask competitors to do a dangerous task when they have no prior training for the task? You just don’t get that anywhere else. CrossFit is so edgy that we’re willing to drown our best athletes for the sake of competition.

I loved the softball toss. It was ridiculous and imminently watchable because you knew some of the athletes would suck. Even while they were sucking, they obviously were having fun. Nothing but smiles and fist bumps. It reminded me of when I was a kid and me and my pal John Paul would have spontaneous rock throwing contests, first person to hit the center of the stop sign wins. Neither of us were great at throwing rocks, but we’d been throwing things our whole lives because that’s what kids do and that’s what athletes do. Throwing stays in.

Handstand walks. Totally awesome. Watching the women do handstand walks in spandex is like sports porn. I think ESPN should require the handstand walk at every Games from here on out, like it should be written into a contract, and Reebok should mandate a uniform of sports bras and spandex for the ladies, guys go shirtless. Better than a wet t-shirt contest, although that’s not a bad idea either for 2012.

Killer Kage looked fun and reminded me of an epic session of war at the playground. I desperately want an industrial-sized set of monkey bars to swing around on. Tough Mudder SoCal, which I did in May, had an awesome monkey bar rig over a moat and it was my favorite obstacle. Highlights: Dan Bailey’s swing turn on his first round, crowd goes crazy. Akinwale coming out of nowhere and crushing the field, also with swing turns on the her second and third rounds.

I thought the Dog Sled event was crafty and a true test. You had technical skills, body weight, and heavy loads. I still get amped when I watch it. Highlights: Spealler shoving his face into the weights and beasting it after realizing the load was ridiculous and his Reeboks weren’t gripping the floor (his 145# body weight probably didn’t help much either). Ben Smith driving to the finish and collapsing at the end. Josh Bridges coming from behind to win over Rich. Annie Sakamoto driving it like a champ and sealing up the Spirit of the Games Award.

The final event didn’t have the visual appeal of the 2010 Final WOD, but any experienced crossfitter knows how brutally taxing it was. Three workouts of varying lengths, with barely any rest, and the final a balls hard chipper. Simple, yet effective. Highlights:

  • Holmberg turning on the jets and placing 1st and 2nd in the first two events, solidifying his status as one of the best athletes in the field.
  • Pat Barber gaming event 2, then out-pulling Khalipa on the sled pull and pwning the entire field on 3. BTW, this is a major heel move.
  • Ben Smith swaying like a zombie and overtaking Bridges on the sled.
  • Sam Briggs crushing the sled pull.
  • Becca Voight going into overdrive and going 1st, 2nd, and 2nd in the last three events to get to the podium, and coming from way behind to outpull Annie on the sled. Epic performance.

The only thing that turned me off about this year’s edition of the Games was the Wattbike, one because it’s even more boring to watch than the ergometer, and two because I really don’t want spin bikes to start popping up at my gym. I love biking and I prefer doing it on road and trail.

Travis Bagent brought a lot of energy to the announcing and I thought that was great, despite the miscues…interestingly, we’re just a few steps away from professional wrestling with his style.

What I really love about the Games is how edgy and how willing the organizers are to take risks with it. New qualification process, new equipment, crazy WODs every year, new standards, new partnerships. You just don’t see that in the NBA and NFL, where the trend is to be risk averse and money drives everything. CrossFit is the ultimate anti-pro-sport. Anything can happen, it’s always exciting, there are big personalities, and it’s not even close to perfect. That’s the way I like my sports.

With that being said, here is my favorite moment from the 2011 Games. I nearly shed a tear when I saw this.

Also see these fine blog reviews of the 2011 CrossFit Games: