"Every man out there is tough to beat. I know what my strengths and weaknesses are, and I can only give a 100% effort."
Mikko Aronpää, 28, is heading back to the Home Depot Center this July after securing a 2nd place finish in the Europe Regional. For this athlete from Finland, who competed in the 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games, it is the culmination of another training year. Training in a local globo gym most of the year, or outside when the weather allows, Aronpää is an old school CrossFit athlete.
History with CrossFit
Aronpää first came on the radar in Europe with a sixth place finish in the 2010 Northern Europe Sectionals. He then went onto to take fourth place in the 2010 Europe Regional, a position that would leave him one agonizing spot away from a CrossFit Games debut.
Interestingly, the fifth place finisher at that Regional was none other than Fredrik Aegidius, who was the first place finisher in this year’s Regional competition. A 12th place finish on the third event marred Aronpää’s otherwise consistent performance in four of the five events. The event which included the bodyweight movements of chest-to-bar pull-ups, box jumps and toes-to-bars, and the unusual addition of an overhead barbell carry, was enough to blow Aronpää’s chances of a spot at the Games.
“Back in 2010, I was still new to CrossFit, so it was natural that my best years as a CrossFit athlete were yet to come,” he says. “In my first contests, I had no game plans. It's easy to do good scores in training, but much harder in competition when pressure is on. I've grown much since 2010.”
With that disappointment spurring his training, Aronpää hit back with a strong performance in the worldwide 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games Open competition. Athletes had the option of submitting video footage of the workouts to validate their scores. Aronpää, training and living far away from any CrossFit affiliate, was one of the few top competitors submitted videos, with each rep closely scrutinized by his peers
Beyond just passing, Aronpää produced some amazing scores to place third in Europe behind a couple of hardy Finns named Mikko Salo (2009 Games champion) and Tuomas Vainio (who went on to finish 19th in the 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games). He placed third in the region in the third workout, a 5-minute AMRAP of squat cleans and jerks, and his lowest place was 14th in the second workout, which featured box jumps, deadlifts and hand-release push-ups.
At Regionals, Aronpää was able to avenge his close call in 2010 with second place in the 2011 Europe Regional. This was easily good enough to qualify him for the big show in California. He was the second best athlete on display behind Vainio, with two first places, a second place and a third place throughout the weekend. His only finish outside the top four was in Event 3. Despite a 17th place finish in that event, Aronpää’s other strong performances left no doubt that he was ready to put his fitness to the test on the big stage at the Home Depot Center.
CrossFit Games Debut
Excited to prove himself, Aronpää performed very strongly in the opening workout of the weekend – an open-water swim, followed by a barrage of sand running, pull-ups, push-ups and squats. Given Aronpää’s larger frame and previous success in strength-biased workouts, it was a positive surprise to see him stop the clock in eighth place.
As the weekend progressed, it became clear Aronpää was in a battle to avoid the cuts. Struggling with the more technical bodyweight movements in Event 3 (rope climb/clean and jerk) and Event 4 (Triplet Sprint), Aronpää slipped down the rankings. Despite a better finish in the Killer Kage event, Aronpää was unable to qualify for the final workout.
Looking back on the weekend, Aronpää confirms what the results suggest. “The beach workout was the most memorable moment of the weekend and I was happy with my performance on that event,” he recalls. “I struggled with some technical movements such as rope climbs and muscle-ups.”
An analysis of the complete 2011 season would indicate that Aronpää possessed the raw materials to compete with world class athletes, but lacked the final polish necessary to challenge the best of the best. He did best on workouts that tested raw work capacity, and fell short on the workouts that demanded efficiency in high skill movements.
A New Season
Prior to the 2012 competition season, the rumors in Europe were that Aronpää was retiring from CrossFit competition. These rumors were quickly dispelled when Aronpää claimed first place in a local competition held at Salo’s affiliate, CrossFit Pori. Amongst the cheers of an enthusiastic crowd, Aronpää displayed typical grit to come from behind and crush the final three events of the six-event, single day, competition and claim the top spot.
This set the stage for another attempt at qualifying for the CrossFit Games.
From the onset of the Open, Aronpää’s eyes were on Regionals. Viewing the Open as a mere stepping-stone on the journey, he gave the competition minimal thought aside from ensuring he was in the top 60. “Just one go, and that’s it,” he says. “There’s no pressure on the Open, only top 60.”
After a slightly worrying 87th place in the burpee-fest that was Open Workout 12.1, Aronpää stormed back to claim equal first in 12.2 with a 90-rep performance. Frequently training alone, and often resorting to videoing his workouts for feedback, he was surprised and pleased by his success on the snatch event.
A ninth place in the next workout, which contained a high volume of box jumps, seemed to indicate that Aronpää overcame many of the holes in his fitness. Box jumps had previously slowed him down, and back in 2010 potentially cost him his first Games experience.
Aronpää’s strong showing in the Open was again slightly dinted by a 256-rep performance in 12.4. Good enough for only 78th place in Europe, Aronpää showed he still had some holes in his armor, despite improvements. The burpees of 12.1 and then the wall balls, double- unders and muscle-ups of 12.4 were the only workouts where Aronpää finished outside the top 60, his other performances were all inside the top 10.
2012 Europe Regional
Entering the Regional, Aronpää had the right to feel confident. Improved, experienced and facing an open field without countrymen Salo and Vainio in the competition, the prospect of a second Games spot was palpable.
“My training focuses on the most important competitions. I don't need to be 100 percent [in] shape all year round,” he explains. “I need to be in top shape when it counts. When I started CrossFit, my training was somewhat [the] same all year round but now I periodize my training more.”
The heavier loading of the Regional workouts was also in his favor. At 178 cm and 88 kg, Aronpää is as strong as a bull. One hundred-pound dumbbell snatches were not something for him to fear.
A 15th place finish in Diane, a workout that generally favors smaller athletes, left Aronpää with five events to climb his way into a top-three position. With an even performance over the remaining events, including a diving victory in the dumbbell snatch/sprint event, Aronpää secured his spot to the CrossFit Games.
“I prepared carefully for this year’s Regionals,” he says. “I'm a numbers guy and I knew exactly where I needed to be in order to qualify. I knew Events 1 and 6 wouldn't be my strengths so I focused to avoid the damages in those events. I was thinking that 15th to 20th place in Diane would be good enough if I performed well in Events 2, 3, 4 and 5. That strategy worked perfectly and I was able to qualify.”
Looking forward to the Games, Aronpää is certainly in with an opportunity to shake things up. With three years of CrossFit experience, he has assembled an impressive competition resume. Combined with his raw strength, work capacity and mental resilience, it is an impressive package.
“The 2012 Games are going to be intense. All competitors have earned their spot at the Games and the scores at Regionals were impressive all around,” he says. “Every man out there is tough to beat. I know what my strengths and weaknesses are, and I can only give a 100 percent effort. I'm going there confident and very excited. I'm a competitor by nature and this is the moment I've been training for.”