A Preview of the CrossFit Games

+ Canadians to watch

By TJ Murphy

In July of 2012, 100 of the most cross-trained multisport athletes in the world had gathered in Southern California for the 6th running of the CrossFit Games. It was scheduled to be three days long, with 2-to-3 muscle-grinding competitions a day starting on a Friday and was meant to determine who was the fittest all-around athlete in the world. Per the nature of CrossFit, the athletes were expecting all manner of surprises. The biggest shocker was the addition of a day of competition—on Wednesday before the official opening of the CrossFit Games, the field toed the line at a surprise triathlon. The CrossFit Games, already known for his extreme difficulty, had just become harder.

Victoria, BC’s Lucas Parker, a former rugby player turned elite CrossFitter, would not soon forget the carnage.

“After that triathlon,” Parker told The RX Review, “a lot of the people had horrible blisters on their feet, some were lying around with IVs in the arms, one of the female competitors lost a toenail. People were dehydrated and sunburnt and we hadn’t even got to the CrossFit Games yet. So I think that was a hit for most of us.”

At the CrossFit Games, after confronting one physically exhausting workout after another, the athletes spend hours under the stadium and back at their hotel rooms desperately trying to recover before the next event. Parker talked about how his girlfriend essentially babied him throughout the week. “She literally put food in my mouth and helped me put my clothes on when I could not do it myself,” he said.
Some assume CrossFit is mostly a strength contest for gym rats. But as will again be showcased this July 25 to 27, 100 men and women who have survived a rigorous qualifying schedule will begin the long-weekend onslaught of competition that puts stamina and endurance as a premium. Officially, the Games are designed to identify “The Fittest Man and Fittest Woman” in the world. It would be spot on to also say something about the mental toughness. In an extreme version of multisport, Reebok CrossFit Games participants will be again be tested in 2 to 3 competitions for 3 days at the StubHub Center in Carson, California. An anything-goes brand of thinking is fueled into designing the workouts, with combinations of gymnastics skills, weightlifting, various sports skills and endurance activities like running, rowing and swimming, all hashed together to test the strength, speed, power, endurance, stamina and coordination of the athletes—athletes like Parker and Camille Leblanc-Bazinet from Richelieu, Quebec—the two leading favorites representing Canada.
The big twist is the surprise factor. Unlike more traditional multisport events, like a triathlon, decathlon or pentathlon, athletes going into the CrossFit Games are essentially clueless to what they’ll be doing. The programming of the events is announced hours before the start. The upshot for professional CrossFitters like Leblanc-Bazinet and Parker is this: to prepare for “the unknown and the unknowable.” They spend the entirety of their training year preparing for just about everything an athlete can imagine.
Since the inception of the CrossFit Games in 2007, participants have competed in everything from what’s called the CrossFit total: the combination of best-efforts at the squat, press and deadlift, to a triathlon, to an obstacle course, to a standing broad jump.  But the heart of the CrossFit Games are withering combinations of pull-ups, Olympic lifts, shuttle sprints, rope climbs and box jumps—the movements that are common at the 10,000 CrossFit affiliate gyms that now exist worldwide.
CrossFit started when Greg Glassman, a personal trainer working in a commercial gym in Santa Cruz, California, got booted from his job. It wasn’t the first time Glassman had been kicked out of a gym, both in Santa Cruz and his previous residence in Los Angeles—his unorthodox training method eschewed weight machines in favor of compound-movements using free weights and basic gymnastics gear, like rings. Glassman drew gym members away from the ellipticals and Stairmasters and into his high-intensity circuit sessions, typically throwing the business model of a commercial gym out of whack. In 2001, Glassman was offered some space to use in a martial arts gym, and his clients followed. Word got around Santa Cruz that a renegade trainer was leading clients toward incredible, across-the-board health and fitness improvements. Glassman went on to lease a space of his own. In one year, CrossFit’s popularity grew exponentially. Seminars were created, as well as on online magazine called the CrossFit Journal. In the ensuing years, affiliate gyms started to mushroom around the world. To this day, the rate reflects a speed of 100% growth—in early 2013, according to CrossFit HQ, more than 5,000 gyms—called boxes in CrossFit vernacular—were in existence. Now more than 10,000 boxes are in operation.
It was in early 2007 when Glassman dropped by the family ranch of one of his senior seminar leaders, Dave Castro. The ranch was in Aromas, California, in Monterrey County, not known for much more than a granite quarry and a tunnel that had been built for the railroad in the late 1800s. As Castro gave his visitor a tour, Glassman, inspired by the terrain and secluded surroundings, brought up the idea of putting on “the Woodstock of Fitness.” It turned into a get-together of local CrossFitters, 50 in total. There was beer, there were workouts and cheering, and a Canadian, James Fitzgerald, won the men’s competition.
Word spread and quickly the CrossFit Games, as they were dubbed, outgrew Aromas. Since 2009 it’s been held at the StubHub Center.
In 2013, 138,000 athletes participated in the first phase of qualifying for the CrossFit Games, more than double the number of 2012 entrants. For 2014, in addition to Parker and Leblanc-Bazinet, favorites from Canada include Simon Paquette (Sherbrooke), Michele Letendre (Montreal), Albert-Dominic Larouche (Montreal), Heather Gillespie (Lethbridge) and Erin Light (Whitehorse) and Tyson Takasaki (Winnipeg).
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T.J. Murphy is author of Inside the Box, a book about CrossFit. Follow him on Twitter @burning_runner.



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