Mikko Aronpää walked away from the Ballerup Super Arena in Copenhagen proud, knowing he is the only European man to qualify for the CrossFit Games for three consecutive years.
He had plenty of men who were determined to nudge him off the podium. 2013 saw the return of 2009 CrossFit Games champion Mikko Salo, Lacee Kovacs had a hunger for a Games spot fueled by a narrow miss in 2012, and Frederik Aegidius was as keen as ever to return to his place at the top of the podium.
While those three men got ahead of him, Aronpää earned the extra qualifying spot allotted due to a past champion making the podium.
“My goal was to be top three, but I had such a bad first day I had to be happy to finish in fourth place, and thankful that it was good enough to get to the Games,” he says.
He had a rough start, taking 13th on Jackie (5:42) and 24th on the Burpee Muscle-up Event (6:55). He knew he had to go all out for the rest of the weekend if he wanted to make it to the Games again.
“I told myself to stay calm and managed to draw on all of my experience,” he says. “I gave everything I could in Event 4 and placed third.”
This was the turning point for Aronpää.
“I think that was the toughest event of all. It was all about how much you can push and take pain,” he says.
Aronpää had bad memories of Event 5, the deadlift/box jump couplet, which he faced in 2011. But he was able to show he was a better competitor in 2013.
“The deadlift and box jump combo had not gone well for me in 2011, but this year it was a different story and coming fourth gave me a lot of confidence to take into Day 3,” he says.
Back in the running, Aronpää managed to maintain the momentum with fourth- and fifth-place finishes in the final two events.
In the weeks between the Regionals and the Games, he left his box for the outdoors.
“Although I can’t recreate the Californian sunshine here in Finland, I am doing much more training outdoors, including running, sandbag carries and prowler training. I am including regular swimming in my schedule,” he says.
He has also changed the work.
“I also do more strength training … for the last two years, I probably did too much volume and so by the time I got to the Games, I felt tired. This year, I am trying to train smarter and focus on those little things that might make a huge difference in the final standings.”
He’s hoping for something different to come up in the Games Events.
“I am also hoping for some original skill-based events that no one has really prepared for, but I prefer not to know in advance as it is less stressful for me,” he says. “Everything is bigger at the Games. The Games are the ultimate battlefield in CrossFit, and the atmosphere at the (Stub Hub Center) is unreal. It a great honor to be a part of that.”
Although he’s honored, he’s trying to avoid intimidation.
“In 2011, I was really nervous because it was the first time. This time, I plan to enjoy it as much as possible. Also, I'm realistic with expectations because I know what it’s like to compete with the best in the world.”
This year, he’s shooting for top 20.
“In 2011, I was 34th, and 2012, 32nd so I want to do better this year,” he says.
His family is making the journey from Finland to California to see him compete.
“They've supported me through my athletic career since I was a little kid, and they traveled to L.A. last year and the year before that and I really don’t want to let them down.”