Sports fans around the world have long craved a perfect standard for comparing top athletes in different disciplines. Imagine watching LeBron James and Adrian Peterson face off in a match of pure physical ability. Now, as CrossFit gains popularity among elite athletes of the sporting world, that dream is closer than ever to being realized. Competing in this year's CrossFit Games Open is Diego de Ascentis, once a midfielder for the vaunted soccer club AC Milan, now an up-and-coming prospect as a CrossFitter.
De Ascentis first began his CrossFit training during 2009, the final year of his professional soccer career. After 16 years of professional soccer—nearly half his life at the time—you might think he had already experienced the greatest highs and lows sports had to offer.
Not so, says de Ascentis. “I have always been a very ‘physical’ soccer player, passing hours in the gym even after my teammates were done. So when I stopped pro soccer, I was eager to pick up the challenge of competing as an individual and not in a team. I always remember my first CrossFit training, the intensity and fatigue ... and it will be difficult to forget.”
When de Ascentis retired from soccer at 33, he quickly transitioned into workouts with CrossFit Italia, where he found a full plate of physical challenges waiting for him. After so much soccer-specific training, he realizes he has a big gap between his best lifts and his weakest points.
“I obviously have a big advantage on the met-con WODs and all that is related to core strength,” he says. “On the weightlifting aspect I have solid leg and hip strength, so I do well in thrusters, deadlifts, and clean and jerks, while I am learning more the technique on lifts like snatches. I had to concentrate a lot on skill work as a lot of gymnastics movements were totally new to me.”
Last year, in his rookie year competing in the Open, he crushed the competition to advance to Regionals in Manchester. This year, he hopes to advance even further. To date, de Ascentis has developed his lifting technique enough to pull a 200 kg deadlift, along with a 150 kg front squat and a 110 kg thruster.
Apart from the physical aspects of CrossFitting, de Ascentis has found the CrossFit community to be “totally different” from his experiences on soccer squads. Where in soccer he worked toward a common goal of victory with his teammates, he finds that in CrossFit he is able to connect also with his opponents.
“CrossFit is more pure as a sport and I am lucky to have found enthusiasm and friendship, not only at my box, but especially at competitions where every other athlete seems to want to help and share experiences. This is unique to the world of sport as competitors in CrossFit are actually bonding together.”
Even as he enjoys the friendships he builds in the box, de Ascentis still thrives on competing with imposing opponents, and he has found just that in CrossFit Italia newcomer Matteo Piran, an MMA fighter with a full complement of physical ability. “I love competitive environments and just as I thought I was the big fish in my small pond at CrossFit Italia, a new guy walks in the door. He has got more tattoos than me, and most of all, he wants to be the best. That is just what I was waiting for.”
De Ascentis intends to maintain his status as Italy’s premier CrossFitter, but in order to do that, he still has some changes to make in his training regimen. “After 20 years of being a sport professional, I am now in a phase were I am satisfied with my results in CrossFit, but I know that to make that extra jump towards the top I have to start programming more carefully nutrition, supplementation, and rest. That will be my goal in the near future. I am ready to dedicate myself to the sport of fitness. My adventure has just begun!”
De Ascentis’s new competitor, Matteo Piran, has his own plan for building his CrossFit prowess. Read more about Matteo’s journey here as the two prepare for the CrossFit Games Season.