Opinions on CrossFit range anywhere from people who think it is a fantastic way to work out to those who see it as seriously sketchy. Others have raised concerns about CrossFit’s ties to the U.S. military. The fitness regimen combines weightlifting, aerobics, and calisthenics for a high-intensity workout that has reached international popularity in the two decades since its founding, even developing into a competitive sport.
The CrossFit Games, which have been held annually since 2007, bring together the world’s best CrossFit athletes to determine who is the “Fittest on Earth.” Thousands of fans have attended the games, and millions have streamed them on services like ESPN and CBS. This year, the Games were streamed on YouTube where they amassed over one million views.
The peculiarity of the event names, like “Nasty Nancy,” “Damn Diane,” and “Swim ‘n’ Stuff,” is one aspect that illustrates the unique nature of the CrossFit competition. These events include challenges like the “2007 Reload,” a 1,500-metre row followed by weightlifting, and the “Ranch Loop,” a five kilometre run through unforgiving terrain. Each activity demands all-around peak performance from athletes. The Games are also set apart by their method of relative scoring, where athletes earn points based on how they rank among their peers.
The leadup to this year’s Games was, as one might expect, different. It was announced in April that spectators would not be allowed at the event due to concerns regarding COVID-19. The Games were then pushed from August to a two-stage competition held from Sept. 18 to 19 and Oct. 23 to 25. The team and age group divisions of the Games were cancelled outright. The top five athletes from the men’s and women’s divisions then traveled to Aromas, California, the site of the first Games. In accordance with the Crossfit Access Protocols, they were required to present a negative COVID-19 test before and after travel.
After all of the buildup, two athletes emerged victorious. Canadian-born American Mat Fraser earned his fifth consecutive title. Fraser placed first in every men’s event except two. His first defeat came in the “CrossFit Total,” where athletes have three chances to lift their one rep max in a strict press, a back squat, and a deadlift. Fraser’s second loss was in the “Swim ‘n’ Stuff,” a four-round gauntlet of air bike, a 50-metre swim, 10 GHD sit-ups, and 10 60-pound ball slams. Australian Tia-Clair Toomey claimed her fourth victory in a row, losing only three events in the women’s competition. American Kari Pearce took first in “Atalanta,” which consisted of a one-mile run followed by 100 handstand push-ups, 200 single-leg squats, 300 pull-ups, and another one-mile run while wearing a 14-pound vest. Jeffrey Adler, the only Canadian to qualify for stage two, finished fifth. Adler did, however, reach an impressive second place in the “Snatch Speed Triple,” timed lifts of 265-, 275-, and 285-pound barbells, and the “Bike Repeater,” 10 rounds of a 440-meter bike sprint and 15-foot legless rope climb. Adler was also one of only two people to beat Fraser in an event, winning the “CrossFit Total” with a combined weight of 1244 lbs across the three lifts.
Fraser and Toomey have never placed below second in any of the Games they have competed in; Fraser placed second in the 2014 and 2015 Games before taking the winner’s podium for the next five years. Toomey, who is also an Olympic athlete, was the runner-up in the 2015 and 2016 Games. The pair have trained together since 2019.
Despite COVID-19 and a change in leadership after the former CEO made offensive comments following the murder of George Floyd, CrossFit continues to thrive, and new CEO and owner Eric Roza hopes to reach out to new communities and continue expanding the sport.
All this raises the question of whether the Games are worth watching. If your favourite thing about sports is teamwork or strategy or a perfectly-executed play at a climactic moment, you may be better off skipping the Games. But if you enjoy watching athletes test their limits with mad dashes and impossibly heavy deadlifts, the Games may be the thing for you.