Early in the 2011 CrossFit Games pre-season, the buzz was strong. Box owners, Games athletes, and hardcore fans kept mentioning one name. Dan Bailey. His first full-length Games site article ran January 19, six days before the Open was announced. Like other athletes, Bailey missed qualifying for the Games from his Regional in 2010. Clearly, he was a talented athlete, as a former D1 sprinter with a 47-second PR in the 400 m sprint. Regardless, neither his Regional performance nor his collegiate athletic background distinguished him in the hyper-competitive sport of fitness.
The comments on his article, however, suggested Bailey's true potential. Graham Holmberg, 2010 champ, commented first. He went so far as hoping to compete with Bailey "on the big stage at the HDC." The next comment came from a legend, none other than Chris Spealler. Speal identified with Bailey's perspective on faith and self-worth. Ben Smith, the 8th place finisher in 2010, also commented. Next came Caity Matter Henniger, 2008 Games champ. It was a shocking amount of high profile CrossFit celebrities to be commenting on an article published in the pre-season about an athlete who had never made it to the Games.
The hype was right. It took Bailey three attempts on workout 11.6, but he won the worldwide Open. He sailed through Regionals, winning by 18 points. After these performances, he was a serious contender to win the Games as a first-time competitor. In his words, he "knew going in that I had an opportunity to win."
Despite his victory, it was clear at the Regional competition that inefficient movement was Bailey's Achilles heal. By his own admission he tends to "muscle my way through technical workouts." He won four of six workouts at the Central East Regional. One workout he didn't win, however, was “Amanda,” a couplet of ring muscle-ups and 135-pound squat snatches. His 5:21 time was unusually middle-of-the-road. In a post-Regionals interview, Bailey ascribed his slower time to using a false grip on his muscle-ups, which caused him to kip less and tax his arm muscles more. He ended up failing on a few muscle-ups, a costly mistake in such a short workout.
The other event Bailey didn't win was the 100s workout (100 pull-ups, 100 kettlebell swings at 55 pounds, 100 double unders, 100 overhead squats at 95 pounds). Reviewing the tape, he realized he did around 14 extra swings and 10 extra overhead squats after struggling to meet the range of motion requirements. At Regionals, some athletes can get away with technical inefficiencies, but at the Games, one mistake can knock an athlete out of contention.
That's exactly what happened to Bailey at the Games. After a fourth-place finish on the beach event, and a 13th on the first skills event, Bailey came into the third event in first place. Then, in one moment, his fortune changed.
Bailey used his arms a bit too much on the Rope/Clean event. Muscular fatigue caused him to fail a rope climb. Dan estimates that the failed rep added "about a minute" to his time.
Bailey finished the Rope/Clean event in 27th place – his worst event by far. Hypothetically, if Bailey had finished that event one minute faster, he would have landed in 14th on the Rope/Clean event and picked up an additional 26 points. In such a tight race, those 26 points would have pushed him into 4th place, ahead of Blair Morrison and Graham Holmberg in the overall standings.
It's hard to call a 6th place CrossFit Games finish a disappointment. In one year, Bailey went from 5th at the Central East Regional to 6th in the world. He had taken his raw talent and power and added a higher degree of skill, efficiency, and learned to pace. Furthermore, Bailey proved he didn't just excel in the gym; he could perform on the big stage when it counted.
Bailey admits he "definitely made some 'rookie mistakes' in a few workouts," but he and his coach Brian Yoak have gone back to the drawing board to prepare for 2012. First, Bailey took some time to "allow (his) body to rest somewhat after the Games." He didn't stop training, but cut down on his training volume and focused on training one workout a day at high intensity combined with a "few days of strength throughout the week," according to Yoak. Despite his lower volume of training, Bailey believes that "strength and technique can be consistently improved throughout the year."
The most obvious movement to address is the rope climb. Watching the athletes compete side by side, Yoak noticed that Rich Froning Jr.'s "ability to get his legs higher before standing up" was what "allowed him to have fewer pulls up the rope, increasing his speed and shortening his overall time." In contrast, as Bailey fatigued, he brought his legs lower and lower, forcing him to take more pulls to climb the rope and fatiguing his arms. Yoak admits this was an oversight, and he vows to "step up" his game to get Bailey ready for 2012.
Basing his preparation on the 2011 Games is tricky, however. Most of the loads used in 2011 were relatively light for Bailey, but according to Yoak that "doesn't mean they will be that way next year." Therefore, Yoak is aiming to get Bailey stronger, not only in his max lifts but in his ability to handle heavier loads during timed workouts.
Many of the 2011 events were in the six- to 15-minute time domain, so Bailey plans to spend a bit more time training in that time domain. Nonetheless, he recognizes that "the Games change every year" so "continuing to throw a large variety of movements in many different combinations and time domains is really the key." Bailey breaks his training philosophy down simply: "To sum it up, do CrossFit."
As for Yoak, he has returned home motivated to do his job as a coach better. At this level of competition, Yoak has learned that "it can come down to one workout." One workout pushed Rich out of first in 2010, and in 2011, "the rope climb WOD pushed Dan far enough back in the pack that he had to fight his way back into content." This means that "as a coach, I will really have to look at every aspect of training … from every angle to make sure the athlete is best prepared to compete and excel."
Bailey has shown that he has the talent and work ethic to excel in this sport, but 2012 will show if he can become efficient and well-rounded enough to win the CrossFit Games.