When the women’s competition kicks off at the 2012 CrossFit Games, all eyes will be on Annie Thorisdottir, the defending champion who won five of six events at the Europe Regional.
But in Denmark, Iceland's Katrin Tanja Davidsdottir finished second in five events and won one, leading many to think Davidsdottir might indeed be Annie 2.0. Davidsdottir has been CrossFitting for less than a year, and perhaps it's another Icelander who has the best chance to unseat Thorisdottir come July.
When Thorisdottir showed up at the 2009 CrossFit Games in Aromas, she had only been doing CrossFit for two months. A former competitive gymnast and pole vaulter, Thorisdottir relied on her raw strength and innate talent to get 11th place.
After those Games, Thorisdottir had to make a decision. Should she keep pole vaulting or switch completely over to CrossFit? Thorisdottir took a leap of faith and committed to CrossFit. The gamble paid off. She placed second in the 2010 Games and won the title of Fittest on Earth in 2011.
This year, instead having to prove herself as a newcomer, Thorisdottir is facing a new set of challenges. She is sponsored by Reebok, which comes with its own responsibilities and a busy travel schedule. At CrossFit competitions, fans often besiege Thorisdottir. Everyone wants to get a picture with “Annie T.”
Typical of her relaxed, positive attitude, Thorisdottir takes the attention in stride. When asked how she’s handling the attention, Thorisdottir says, “I think I’m handling it pretty well. I’m glad if I’m influencing people in a positive way and they give me the motivation and the desire to do even better. Of course you have to stay focused while competing and I don't think that has ever been an issue for me.”
Thorisdottir says the travel schedule can get tiring, but “touring with Reebok has been an amazing experience,” she says. “I’ve learned and seen so many things and gotten the opportunity to train with great athletes, which push me to perform better.”
Thorisdottir bested Foucher’s times on three of the six events and won every event except the Snatch Ladder. However, not everything went according to plan for Thorisdottir. She put up a time of 14:50 on Event 4 in training, but ended up getting 16:04 in the competition. “It’s kind of hard to say exactly what happened,” Thorisdottir said. “I guess I moved slower than I did when I was training. I didn’t do as well as I wanted. Sometimes other things factor into your performance. That’s what competing is. It can’t always go perfectly.”
That doesn’t mean Thorisdottir was disappointed with her performance overall. She says she surprised herself on “Diane,” tying Kristan Clever with a time of 1:54. As for the rest of the events, “Event 6 was surprisingly fun as well because I usually get nervous about muscle-ups but they felt really good and I kind of like the longer workouts. The dumbbell snatch was fun because it was so different and felt pretty heavy. The snatch is one of my favorite lifts so I guess I liked all of the programming.”
Like Thorisdottir, Davidsdottir has made astonishing progress in the short time she’s been doing CrossFit. She has been a gymnast most her life—starting when she was six years old—but Davidsdottir didn’t start training competitively until she was 10. Although she often placed in the top three in her gymnastics career, she never won any of the big meets. Davidsdottir quit gymnastics when she was 16 years old and was searching for a new sport when she discovered CrossFit.
Davidsdottir says her gymnastics background has helped her with form and body position, and the years of competing taught her to push herself to her limits. Despite this, many of the movements in CrossFit were completely new to her. Before CrossFit, Davidsdottir had never done any Olympic weightlifting. She did Olympics lifts in WODs when she started CrossFit, but says, “I didn’t really start lifting seriously until January this year when I decided to compete in an Olympic weightlifting/CrossFit competition. I improved very fast and I really enjoyed it and that definitely has been a huge part of my success in that area.”
For the months leading up to Regionals, Davidsdottir worked closely with an Olympic weightlifting coach. It surprised many spectators to see this newcomer snatch 165 lb., 10 lb. more than Thorisdottir, but it didn’t surprise Davidsdottir. “Before Regionals I had snatched 76 kg. [167.55 lb.], so I lifted just under my PR.”
“She is a great athlete and a really nice girl,” Thorisdottir said about Davidsdottir. “I knew that she would do really well on the snatch ladder and she has an amazing build for Oly lifting, so her doing that well just makes me want to get even more!”
Davidsdottir beat Julie Foucher’s times on both Event 1, a short sprint of just two movements, and Event 2, the longer workout that combined rowing, pistols and heavy hang cleans. Regarding her success, Davidsdottir said, “It takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but I enjoy every single day of training and try to give 110 percent into every practice.”
Thorisdottir spent much of the year working on strength and technique, and now just before the Games she’s working on cardio training. Thorisdottir is training in much the same way as last year, but, “I respected my rest days more, which I think is really important. Also, I learned to listen to my body, when it is really tired maybe it’s not so wrong to take one rest day instead of just pushing through. That's what you do in a competition, but it increases the risk of injury and looking at the big picture I think that it is of utmost importance to stay healthy. If you are injured, you can't train.”
As the sport of CrossFit gets bigger, and more attention is paid to elite athletes like Thorisdottir, a very real challenge many of these athletes face is finding people who will give them honest feedback about their form and performance. Thorisdottir says she has been able to avoid this problem so far.
“I trust my coach because he always has something that I can do better. This is the best thing because otherwise I wouldn’t know how to get better and nothing is perfect,” Thorisdottir said. She has also been working out with her boyfriend, Frederik Aegidius, who came in first place for the men at the European Regionals. “My boyfriend, Frederik, doesn’t try to hide anything either and pretty much gives it to me just as it is. I trust my other training partners as well because they know how I want to do things so there is no reason to hide it from me. I would like to think that I'm usually doing things pretty well, because the more you do CrossFit the more you get to know your body and I think when you do the workouts or the movements you can pretty much feel how you are doing them and how to fix them,” Thorisdottir said.
Preparing for the Games
As the 2012 Games draw near, both Thorisdottir and Davidsdottir are focusing on their goals and competition. Thorisdottir says she wants to “be in even better shape than last year and hopefully that will get me to where I want to be,” she said.
Davidsdottir says that because this is her first time at the Games, she doesn’t know what to expect, but she is going to give it her all. While Thorisdottir is spending the weeks before the Games building up her cardio and refining technique, Davidsdottir has a lot of work to do to catch up. Her plan is to, “Just keep training hard and keep improving. There’s still so much I have to learn and there is always room for improvement in technique. I’ll keep my strength up with all the weights going up in the competition and I need to improve my cardio. At Regionals I didn’t do too well in the longer events,” Davidsdottir said, “so that’s definitely something I’ll focus on improving.”
CrossFit is such a new sport that the field of competition can change dramatically in a year. In addition, the Games workouts are unknown, and usually include some unusual challenges and movements, which means that it's difficult to predict who will come out on top. “You never know what events they’ll put in at the Games and we’ve all got different strengths and weaknesses,” Davidsdottir said, “but I’m looking forward to finding out!”
When asked who she sees is her biggest competition, Thorisdottir said it was hard to say. “Clever has always been there and will always do amazing, we are really different athletes which usually makes her do better in my worst WOD and vice versa,” she said. “Julie Foucher seems to have gotten even better and she was great last year, and then there are always some newcomers who are going to do great. I just think it will be really exciting to see what shows up and how everyone is going to do at the Games.”