June 13, 2012
Back for More: Annie Sakamoto
By Stacy Brown

"It's not what I pictured myself doing at 36 with two kids, but as long as I love it, I'll keep doing it."

Annie Sakamoto won three events at the 2012 Northern California Regional on her way to second place overall. This year proved to be an improvement on her third place finish in 2011.

She says her favorite moment came at the end, after all the weights had been put away. That was when Sakamoto’s son Iz and daughter Dylan walked up to the podium carrying flowers to congratulate their mother. “I felt connected to my family, and I just felt total elation and total exhaustion,” Sakamoto says.

Last year, Sakamoto did not plan to compete and only entered the Open because her gym, CrossFit Santa Cruz Central, was participating. She was surprised by how successful she was, from qualifying for Regionals all the way up to her ninth place finish at the Games. This year was different because she decided early on that her goal would be to return to the Games in Carson, Calif. She felt added pressure, but she was determined to keep the same good attitude and high spirits regardless of success or failure.

The game plan for Sakamoto in the Open was not to put any special focus on the workouts, but complete them like any other that came up in her programming. “I really wanted to finish in the top 10 to 12, so that I could be in the heat with the best athletes in the region,” she says.

At the Regional, her approach was to take each event one by one and try to stay grounded afterwards, no matter the result, she says.

Sakamoto was very happy with her performances at the Regional. She knew the first event, Diane, would be in her wheelhouse with her small stature and short arms, and she knew she could do the handstand push-ups quickly. She was right. Her time was 20 seconds faster than the second place finisher.

She was also very happy with Events 2 and 3, which were much more of a challenge due to the heavy weights for the 5-foot, 120-pound athlete.

“In Event 2, I knew I could do the hang cleans, but I didn’t know how fast I could do them,” she says.

In fact, she did them very fast and finished the event in fifth place.

For Event 3, a couplet of 70-pound dumbbell snatches and sprints, Sakamoto was even more worried. In practice, she had not been able to complete even one rep with the heavy weight.  Her goal was just to complete 10 one-arm snatches. When the event started and she began lifting them, she changed her goal to complete it within the 10-minute time limit, which she did easily with three minutes to spare. Her ability to overcome what had seemed impossible in practice paid off with a ninth place finish in the event.

But Event 4 was a workout that Sakamoto knew she should be able to handle. “It was really a pull-up workout,” she says. “The squats are hard and they get you out of breath, but it was really about how long you could sustain the pull-ups.”

As an original “Nasty Girl,” Sakamoto had to re-learn movements she was never taught when she began doing CrossFit many years ago. She worked with her coach Gary Hirthler to learn the butterfly kip, which was key to her first place finish in this workout.

The only real letdown of the weekend for Sakamoto was the snatch ladder in Event 5. Double- unders, usually an easy movement for her, were anything but easy in the heat of competition. “I had trouble getting rhythm on the first set, and that flustered me,” she recalls. “Then I lost confidence in the snatches.”

Her final score of 125 pounds was 15 pounds less than her snatch PR. She tried to keep it in stride and just move her focus to the next event.

Sakamoto knew she should do well in the final workout. She practiced all of the elements, and she expected to excel. “The 10-foot target wall balls were a challenge, and the turf was so hot,” she says.

In movements like the muscle-ups and the toes-to-bars, her fast pace kept her ahead of the other athletes and allowed her to jump to an early lead, which she did not relinquish.

Sakamoto had a solid overall score for third place going into Event 6, but she came out strong and earned second. “I have more fire and drive than I realized,” she says. “I would have been happy with third place, but I wanted to shoot for something higher.”

Sakamoto’s training leading up to the Games will change very little. She wants to continue to be thoughtful about recovery, rest and nutrition, which she says is very important to performance. She focuses her training on the basic movements of CrossFit with oddball movements thrown in from time to time. “It’s hard to prepare too much for the unexpected.”

As a fan favorite, Sakamoto says she is humbled and loves having the community behind her. “I do this because I love it, whether competing or working with my clients,” she says. “To do what I love and get love from the community is great. It comes down to feeling lucky to do what we do, especially with how big the Games are now.”

At the Games, Sakamoto isn’t giving any predictions. She just wants to stay relaxed, do her best and enjoy herself.

As for the future, Sakamoto looks forward to taking a family vacation after the Games are over, but she plans to continue training. When asked if we’d be watching her in 2013, she replies, “I hope so! It’s not what I pictured myself doing at 36 with two kids, but as long as I love it, I’ll keep doing it.”