Celebrating Gladiators

April 3, 2014

Andréa Maria Cecil

This year’s Open is over but the accomplishments live on in logbooks and in CrossFit’s elite.

This year’s Open is over but the accomplishments live on in logbooks and in CrossFit’s elite.






Landscape photo: Members of CrossFit Hoka Hay in Hemet, Calif., who traveled to San Francisco for the live announcement of Open Workout 14.5.

Nine people, a 4-week-old child and more than seven hours in a 12-passenger van.

The destination: Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco, Calif.

The purpose: To watch the live announcement of the final Open workout starring five CrossFit Games champions.

It was 5 a.m. when the group arrived.

“It would have been 4 had we not had so many potty breaks,” Ida Cortes joked.

The group from CrossFit Hoka Hey in Hemet, Calif., stood in line for two hours before anyone else showed up.

Then there was Narayanan Krishnan, who came from Australia.

“I see a lot of CrossFit videos and I’m inspired by how strong they are and how fit they are,” said Krishnan, who started CrossFit roughly four months ago at CrossFit South Yarra.

He arrived at the pavilion at noon.

“When I got here I thought I was early, but there were 100 people in line,” Krishnan said, smiling.

Marc Toh, meanwhile, traveled from Guam. He took a five-hour flight to Hong Kong, followed by an 11-hour one to San Francisco.

He did Open Workout 14.4 at CrossFit Oakland.

“We’ve never been to any of the events before,” said Toh, who stood in line with his wife and two young sons. “It’s great. It’s gonna be a big party.”

A party of 4,000, to be exact—the largest Open event since that phase of competition began in 2011. All arrived to watch Dave Castro announce a workout minutes before the champions completed it in front of the crowd.

The travelers from far and wide demonstrated the fitness methodology’s universal appeal, noted Castro, Director of Training and of the CrossFit Games.

“We don’t have a demographic and what I mean by that is we’re for everyone. The stories always surprise me.”

The Hardest Open?

Depending on whom you ask, this year’s Open was either the most difficult or no different than years past.

It saw two firsts: a rower in 14.4 and a task-priority workout in 14.5.

Castro called the five workouts “traditional” and “classical,” and “mostly true to CrossFit.”

They were “accessible to everyone but very true in letting the top athletes express that they’re the top athletes,” he said.

Still, Castro implied, the Open is a qualifier for the next level of Games competition.

“You need to be able to do basic movements,” he explained. “We’re not gonna water down the Open.”

Like always, there were complaints about everything from 14.1 repeating 11.1 and movements being too difficult, to not owning a rower and movements being too simple.

The Open’s goal is to cast the widest net possible to ensure CrossFit crowns the fittest, said CrossFit Inc. Founder and CEO Greg Glassman. Although equipment and loads might make this year’s competition appear as if it wasn’t universally accessible, it was, he simply stated.

“If you don’t have (a rower), it’s exceedingly unlikely that you have an increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains.”

Throughout the Open, the Leaderboard saw familiar names at the top: 2013 Games champion Samantha Briggs in the No. 1 spot among the women and three-time Games champion Rich Froning ahead in the men’s competition.

“The Open is a wonderful predicator of things to come,” Glassman said.

“If an Open workout gives a radically different structure … then that’s a bad workout.”

The Experience

For five weeks, more than 209,000 people shared a Leaderboard with CrossFit’s elite. Some had dreams of qualifying for regionals, others came away beaming from their first chest-to-bar pull-up. All of them proved their fitness.

From middle-school students and perennial Games athletes to grandmothers and the overweight, they were in the same competition seeking the simplest of achievements: Be better.

“This isn’t a celebration of the (elite) athletes,” Glassman explained. Rather, it’s a celebration of “the guy who lost 100 lb., the gal who climbed a rope for the first time.”

It’s about Natalie Bieule, who did every Open workout as prescribed with a prosthetic right leg at CrossFit Siege in Florida. And it’s about Frances Ehrmin, who finished 14.5 at 42:05, doing her one-rep-max thruster 84 times at Always Forward CrossFit in Ohio. And 55-year-old Hugh Atkin, who recorded 76 reps on 14.1 hours after managing his first double-under in Toronto, Canada. And it’s about Brendan Ferreira, a retired Army staff sergeant who lost his left arm below the elbow, is blind in his right eye and deaf in his left ear because of a suicide bomber. He nearly lost his legs during his recovery process; doctors told him he’d be lucky to walk again. Ferreira did every Open workout—except 14.2—as prescribed at CrossFit SeeKonk in Massachusetts.

Elite CrossFit athletes are “gladiators, symbolic of the greater community and all of its achievements,” Glassman said.

They’re representative of each drop of sweat that falls and each PR that’s made at more than 9,000 affiliates worldwide, he continued.

“They’ve climbed Everest and we’re all mountain climbers.”

For CrossFit Hoka Hey, that gladiator mountain climber is affiliate owner Philip Craig, who sat in 39th place in the Southern California Region as of April 2.

Being at the Open’s final live announcement was a way to celebrate him, Cortes said.

“Our man, right here, is doing great,” she said, visibly excited, as she pointed to Craig. “It’s the last one. Let’s do it.”

Craig opened CrossFit Hoka Hey in January and is the father of three. Looking back he said traversing the state was worth it. He even got two-time Games champion Annie Thorisdottir to take a picture with his newborn, Genesis.

“Only in (CrossFit) does that kinda stuff happen, where athletes actually act like regular people and not all stuck up,” he wrote via email after the event.

“We had so much fun and met so many cool people, not to mention the most elite CrossFitters in the world.”

So if 2015’s Open announcements include a West Coast stop, expect to see the CrossFit Hoka Hey group again.

“(We) plan on taking another road trip—if it’s in Cali—next year, too.”

Also read Lacing Up and Showing Up by Lisbeth Darsh.

View the 2014 Open in Photos