July 26, 2015
Weight of the World’s Fittest
By Hilary Achauer
Athletes talk about staying focused amid the chaos of the CrossFit Games.
Athletes talk about staying focused amid the chaos of the CrossFit Games.

Athletes talk about staying focused amid the chaos of the CrossFit Games.


 

The average CrossFit athlete equipped with a rig, barbells and weights can recreate the physical stimulus of some CrossFit Games events. 

What those playing along at home can’t duplicate is the outside pressure these athletes experience. 

Imagine sprinting to the end of the last mile of Murph, and as soon as you flop on the floor, a videographer sticks a camera in your face, followed by a still photographer. Then a writer with a notebook and pen is on you. Then there are fans seeking autographs and selfies.

Every athlete deals with the pressure differently. Rich Froning was accustomed to the attention and handled it easily. 

“I don’t give a shit,” Mathew Fraser said of media attention at the Games. Fraser, who finished the day in second place, said his mind is elsewhere. 

“I just focus on what I can control,” he said. 

Ben Smith, competing in his seventh consecutive CrossFit Games, finished the day in first after winning Soccer Chipper, tying for second in Clean and Jerk, and taking sixth in Triangle Couplet.

Despite his long history of success at the Games, Smith doesn’t attract as much media attention as athletes such as Dan Bailey and Noah Ohlsen. 

“He’s so unassuming,” one volunteer said about Smith after watching him get 347 lb. overhead in Clean and Jerk.

Smith said he doesn’t know why he flies under the radar. 

“I like it that way,” he said. His relative anonymity may end, of course, if he wins the CrossFit Games. 

Smith said the interviews and cameras used to bother him, but not this year. 

“You get more comfortable with it,” Smith said. 

Smith’s new aura of confidence was obvious on the competition floor. While Fraser failed repeatedly and with frustration on a legless rope climb in Soccer Chipper, Smith moved calmly and smoothly, finishing in 4:30. Fraser failed to complete the event under the 12-minute time cap.  

Bailey, always on short lists of potential top finishers, ended Saturday in seventh place, taking first on Sprint Course 1 and Sprint Course 2. 

“You have to be kind, and patient. It’s part of the deal, it’s being part of the community,” Bailey said about being asked for interviews throughout the competition.

“It’s stressful because we have very minimal time in between events. So when you guys walk with us, it’s good,” Bailey said, walking quickly to the athletes’ tent after his Sprint Course wins.

Björgvin Karl Guðmundsson is making his second appearance at the Games this year, and he finished Saturday in fifth place.

“I don’t want to let anybody down,” he said of the pressure to perform. He said the cameras don’t distract him, even in a high-pressure event like a 1-rep-max clean and jerk. 

“I used to do weightlifting competitions,” Guðmundsson said. “I can keep that consistency; it doesn’t bother me.”

Guðmundsson placed seventh in Triangle Couplet. Before the event, he said he expected to perform well. 

I love bar muscle-ups,” he said. 

Guðmundsson’s fellow Icelander, Katrin Tanja Davidsdottir, has no qualms about the attention she’s receiving this year—and she’s getting a lot as she sits in third overall.

“I love it,” Davidsdottir said, grinning, when asked how she felt about the constant photos and interview requests. 

Davidsdottir, making her third appearance at the Games, briefly wore the white leader’s jersey before she took on Soccer Chipper. She took 15th in the event, which dropped her to second. Davidsdottir was happy with her finish; legless rope climbs had knocked her out of the hunt for the Games spots at the Europe Regional in 2014. She went into the event hoping to get one legless rope climb; her coach told her to get three. 

“I got one and rested,” Davidsdottir said. Then she got another.

“And I made the third!” she said. “It felt great.” 

Davidsdottir said she tried not to put too much significance on the symbolism of briefly wearing the white leader’s shirt.

“Nobody is going to remember who was first on Saturday at the end of the day Sunday,” Davidsdottir said. 

“This is just a stepping stone,” she said of today’s events.

Kara Webb finished the day in second place one day after collapsing at the finish line from heatstroke on Friday. Webb, who was carted off the field on a stretcher following Murph, said she welcomed the distraction of the interviews and questions yesterday when she was at her lowest.

“Anything helps when you’re crook,” she said, using Australian slang for “sick.”

“It distracted me,” she said of the media attention. Webb says she’s feeling better today, and the leaderboard reflected it: She finished eighth, ninth and fourth to close out Saturday.

“I didn’t sleep so well,” she said. “I was quite nauseous yesterday, so I didn’t eat much. I woke up at 3:30 a.m. starving and in pain.”

Webb says she’s aware of media chatter about her this year leading up to the Games. She was in first place at times during the 2014 Games but withdrew due to injury.

“People expected me pick up where I left off from last year. It doesn’t work like that,” Webb said.

When asked how she’s handling Saturday after such a difficult Friday, she said she’s taking it “one day, one event at a time.” 

Brooke Ence won Clean and Jerk, lifting 242 lb. When Ence finishes an event, fans shout her name, ask for selfies, and clamor for her to sign their shirts and hats. She obliges, happily.

“I’ve been on the other side,” Ence said. “I’ve watched the videos (of athletes), and you feel like you know them. It’s nice to hear your name, to get support from people.” 

Ence said she grew up performing, so she’s used to being in front of a crowd. She said she tries not to be hard on herself when events don’t go as planned.

“It’s OK when things don’t go perfectly,” Ence said. She had to remember that when struggles with bar muscle-ups dropped her to 22nd on Triangle Couplet. Still, she ended the day in sixth place.

“I see them,” Camille Leblanc-Bazinet said of the photographers who surround her, “but I do my thing.”

The 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games champ said she started off this year’s Games feeling pressure, but “not anymore, because I have rough stuff happening,” she said, referring to disappointing finishes that put her in 22nd place going into the last event on Saturday.

Leblanc-Bazinet won Triangle Couplet, finishing almost a minute ahead of second-place Samantha Briggs. The defending champ now sits in 12th overall going into the last day of competition. Briggs is eighth.

The winner of the Meridian Regional, Sara Sigmundsdottir, finished Saturday in first place—right where she was on Friday night. This is Sigmundsdottir’s first Games experience, and she said what’s been most surprising is the pace of the day.

“It goes so quickly!” Sigmundsdottir said. “We’re always going off to warm up and compete.”

She added: “I thought there would be more time to chill.”

The pressure of being in the lead and having cameras in her face doesn’t bother the 22-year-old.

“I love it,” she said she said of her Games experience so far. “It’s so much more fun than I thought.” 

For complete standings and scores from all divisions, visit the Leaderboard