2014 Reebok CrossFit® Games: Review

The following piece is merely the opinon of Michael FitzGerald. 

*This is part 1 of many more parts to come. I will post more to this post as I complete it. As I do, I will likely change and edit what has already been posted based on newer isdeas/thinking I have. It takes a lot of time to write a descent review. Bare with me.
 (view from the seats in a Tennis Stadium box on Friday night, thanks to the Studeo 55 CrossFit® and STR/KE MOVEMENT peeps for allowing me to hang with them and not bake in the sun) 

During the opening paragraph from my 2013 Review  I asked how long it would take before the organizers utilize the entire soccer stadium for the events and move the athlete warm-up area somewhere else. Fast forward to 2014, it happened. From my standpoint (spectator standpoint), it made the experience that much better. The field was only being used for fitness testing, no other distractions. Compared to the 2013 Games, I would guess that there were about 3,000-5,000 additional spectators in the stadium at it’s peak. I imagine this trend will continue for the 2015 Games, which we will make for an even better atmosphere. 
For me, the schedule of viewing events was WAY better this year. By placing the Team events into a smaller time frame and generally earlier in the day it allowed me to show-up to the StubHub Center just before the 1st individual event of the day, thereby skipping past the Team events, for which I have ZERO interest in watching. As awesome as viewing events in the Soccer Stadium is, nothing beats watching in the Tennis Stadium. The atmosphere/intimacy is unique. 
Like I say to everyone when I return home from LA when they ask me “how were the Games?”, my reply is always, “awesome, you need to go and see it for yourself”. 

Preliminary Analysis
The top performing region of male Games competitors from 2013 was the Central East Region, as all 5 Games qualifiers were within the top 14 (Froning - 1st, Panchik - 4th, Hendren - 6th, Bailey - 8th, Holmberg - 14th). This year, the top performing region for male Games competitors would have to be the Central East Region again, as all 3 Games qualifiers were again top 14 (Froning - 1st, Panchik - 5th, Morad - 14th). The top performing region of female Games competitors from 2013 was the SoCal Region, as all 3 Games qualifiers were within the top 11 (Valenzuela - 2nd, Voboril - 3rd, Voigt - 11th). This year, the top performing region for female Games competitors was the Canada East Region, with both Games qualifiers within the top 4 (Leblanc-Bazinet - 1st, Letendre - 4th). 

Of the top 3 male Games finishers in 2013, there were 2 returning to the top 3 in 2014, Froning (1st) and Khalipa (3rd). Last years 3rd place male, Ben Smith, finished 2014 in 7th. This seems pretty logical. For the females, things were weird. Of the top 3 female Games finishers in 2014, there were 0 returning to the top 3 in 2014. The closest was Voboril, 3rd in 2013, 5th in 2014. Last years winner of the Games, Briggs, and last years runner-up in the Games, Valenzuela, never even QUALIFIED for the Games in 2014. Hmmm? Shake-ups  in sports are inevitable. But, in a sport that has a definition that should be more stable and less to chance than something like Golf, you have to wonder. For me, I look directly to the Regional competition where the final “selection” process for the Games occurs. Briggs was basically eliminated from her performance during the 2nd event, Handstand Walk. Valenzuela, was eliminated by her competition performing well in the Regional events. Briggs beat the 1st place finisher in her European Region, Annie Thorisdottir, on 4 out of 7 events. Briggs accumulated 18 total points in 6 our of the 7 events, if you exclude the handstand walk where she finished 26h. Annie accumulated 28 points in 6 out of the 7 events, if you exclude the handstand walk where she finished 2nd. To me a handstand walk is a cool trick, but has no use in fitness testing. Prior to the announcement of the Regional events, I had never attempted a handstand walk. Why? Because I assumed it would only be required at the Games level. My fault. Regardless, I managed to walk 39.5ft on my hands 9 days later at the Canada West Regionals, which I was very happy about. Handstand Walking is fun to practice, tough on shoulder endurance, great to see yourself improve it’s proficiency and looks really cool in an event (i.e. the midline march event from the Games). Here are the bullet points for why I think using a handstand walk is not warranted in fitness testing:
* there are only a finite amount of tests you can perform in a 4 day competition (Games) or 3 day competition (Regionals) so you should select modalities that are most predictive of ones overall ability. 
* predictiveness on overall fitness is poor, an 8 year old gymnast could probably beat anyone in the Regionals on the handstand walk.
* there were 3 events in the Games that involved running, and 1 event at the regionals that involved running (although, for the women, the running during event 5 was more likely a fast walk or a slow jog). The event at regionals was probably about 1500ft of total running (i.e. about 400m) combined with legless rope climbs. 
* there was 1 event at Regionals (out of only 7) that involved the handstand walk and it was the entire event. There was 1 event at the Games (out of 13) that involved the handstand walk and it was 1 of 3 modalities involved in the event.
* handstand walking is tested at the Games, but max effort jumping isn’t? Which modality is more like to predict overall fitness, max effort jumping or handstand walking?
* handstand walking is tested at the Games and at the Regionals, but lifting a heavy load off the floor isn’t (i.e. deadlift)? Which person would you say is more “ready for anything”? The 185lb man that can walk 300ft on their hands and can deadlift 2x their bodyweight OR the 185lb man that doesn’t walk on their hands because they don’t see the point but can deadlift close to 3x their bodyweight?

The longest event at the 2014 Games was either “The Beach” or the "Triple Three” events, depending on the competitor. Lasting 45 minutes at the max for “The Beach” and anywhere from 33 minutes to 49 minutes for the “Triple Three”. Each of these events are significantly shorter in duration than the longest event from 2013, “Row 2” which had most competitors working for over 80 minutes. In 2012, the Pendleton 1 and 2 events had nearly all competitors working for over 2 hours, some closer to 3 hours. Believe me when I tell you that 45 minutes of high effort work feels a lot different than 2 hours plus of high effort work. There are differences in fatty acid oxidation in these 2 durations as well, which contributes to the change in “feel” (this is dependent on peri-event supplementation, pre-event glycogen status as well as experience in endurance training). 

The next part of this article will delve into the Wednesday and Friday individual events.