June 5, 2018
Ben Opens Up
By Mike Warkentin
Smith on what it takes to make the Games.
Smith on what it takes to make the Games.

We take Ben Smith for granted.

I talked to him just after Event 6 at the Atlantic Regional, when he had qualified for the CrossFit Games for the 10th consecutive year, and he said something that really struck me.

The guy doesn’t give much away. Ever.

He’s level and even and measured at almost all times. In fact, that’s probably why he’s been so good for so long. It’s hard to tell if he’s in first or last because he almost always looks exactly the same.

Ben Smith with a dumbell overhead.
Mike Warkentin/CrossFit Journal

For example, when I asked him about qualifying for 10 CrossFit Games in a row, he said it was cool, but his demeanor was very different from the scene at the West Regional when Rebecca Voigt let loose with unbridled joy and sprinted across the floor to hug her affiliate members after she qualified for the 10th non-consecutive time.

I pushed Smith a bit to put his epic run in perspective. Here’s what he said:

“It’s hard. It hurts every day. There’s not really words to describe how difficult it is every single year.”

We forget that.

We just expect the Smiths and Bridgers and Bridges to show up at the big show, and we’re shocked when they don’t. But we shouldn’t be. It is unbelievably hard to qualify for the Games even once, let alone many times.

We only get to see Games-level athletes a few times a year. They do some local competitions here and there, then they hit the Open and Regionals, and then a very few compete at the Games. In between that, they’re training unbelievably hard. Way harder than the average person needs to train to get fit and healthy.

Smith also mentioned that what he does is the same as what you do, except with more intensity and volume. That’s true, but most people don’t realize the magnitude of the increase in intensity and volume. It’s extreme, and it’s time consuming.

We fans don’t see the hard work. We see six events over Regionals, not six-hour training days. We don’t see all the endless grinding it takes to earn a spot at the tip of the spear. We seldom see the missed reps, the hand tears, the lonely training sessions, the arduous grunt work and the sacrifices. But they’re there.

Ben Smith on AirRunner
flsportsguy photography

Anyone who’s had a Regional- or Games-level athlete at his or her affiliate knows part of the story, and that’s why you see people bawling in the stands when a friend or coach qualifies. Family members know some of the story, too. They’re usually the ones who carry extra loads to allow athletes to follow their dreams, and they definitely get to smell the rank knee sleeves, put ointment on the barbell rash on the collarbones and scrape the unmixed protein powder from the bottom of shaker cups. But even they don’t know the whole story.

Only the athletes do.

And the man who might be the greatest CrossFit athlete of all time knows the story better than anyone else. In his quiet, understated, did-you-file-your-taxes-on-time manner, Smith told you that he would never be able to explain how hard it is to do what he’s done.

But try to appreciate his accomplishment even if Smith doesn’t broadcast it and remind you how monumental it is. Beyond Ben, resist the urge to ever grab a beer during the early heats at Regionals or the Games. Pay attention to everyone and cheer just as loudly for Heat 1 as for Heat 4. These athletes have paid a price to get onto the floor.

Remember what Smith said:

“It’s hard. It hurts every day. There’s not really words to describe how difficult it is every single year.”

True when you qualify once, and truer still when you’ve done it 10 times.

Congrats, Ben—and everyone else who put in the work to make it to Madison.

Smith brothers
The Smith brothers—Ben, Dane and Alec (l-r)—after all three competed in the same heat in Event 6. (flsportsguy photography)

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About the Author: Mike Warkentin is the managing editor of the CrossFit Journal and the founder of CrossFit 204.

Cover photo: Mike Warkentin/CrossFit Journal