Neal Maddox came into the Northern California Regional trying to win a third ticket to the CrossFit Games and no one in the game seriously doubted his chances. The Regional competitions are the final proving ground before the big show, the CrossFit Games at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. At the NorCal Regional, Maddox traded the No. 1 spot back and forth with the eventual winner, his training partner Jason Khalipa.
Almost as if they were the varsity scrimmaging with the JV, the two were dozens of points ahead of the third place finisher. For Maddox, the Regional was the result of months of preparation. The lesson of Regionals for Maddox was that work delivers, and his dominating performance is giving him a lot of confidence for the Games.
The Looming Battle
“It’s great to be on top,” Maddox says of the Regionals, but he also notes that it “only counts at the Games.”
He, along with Khalipa, greatly stepped up the volume of his training after Regionals, trying to prepare for everything – weighted pistols, muscle-up to ring handstand push-ups and even throwing footballs.
Maddox laments he was not able to work basketball free throws into his training. “How about a javelin throw?” he asks with his eyes lighting up. A few weeks ago, he did a sprint triathlon in order to bolster his swimming confidence and prove to himself that he could finish any run hard.
As athletes, Maddox and Khalipa are very similar, says Maddox. Bigger and stronger than the median Games competitor, their strengths and weaknesses nearly match. They do their own programming daily, working up to a peak and now de-loading to taper for the Games.
Ghosts of Games Past
Maddox has competed in the Games the past two years, but has never made it to the third day. “The ultimate goal is of course to be the champion,” Maddox says, “[But I] want the third day.”
The previous two years he says he felt that he couldn’t take it to the next level. It was not physical strength or ability he was lacking in 2011 and 2010, but mental strength, he says.
For Maddox, CrossFit competition is 70 percent mental. And mental weakness is the most punishing of all weaknesses. This year is different for him. His mental game is sharper than it has ever been. He has honed it with breathing exercises and self-talk techniques learned from a sports psychologist. The differences are dramatic, he says.
There Can Be Only One
Maddox says he’s not indulging in predicting this year’s Games champions. His podium prediction is: “Whoever is best mentally prepared.”
He says too much depends on what comes out of the hopper to make an accurate prediction. He doesn’t feel any pressure. “I just have to go out and perform. And have fun.”
While he respects and admires the previous years’ champions, three of whom will compete against him in Carson, he doesn’t fear them. “It’s not that kind of sport,” Maddox says.
As for the events, Maddox hopes they will be “heavy and have a good modal mix.”
One Jelly Donut With a Side of Ice Cream Please
Maddox says he eats clean throughout the day, but doesn’t shy away from ice cream, donuts and other verboten foods at night. He says he works hard all day and his body enjoys the glucose and fat. “And,” Maddox smiles, “you have to enjoy life too.”