Mat Fraser hates second place.
“Fuck second place,” he said in “Fittest On Earth,” a CrossFit documentary about the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games, directed by Heber Cannon, Marston Sawyers and Ian Wittenber. “You’re the fucking winner of losers.”
Though he had been in the lead going into Event 8 (the Soccer Chipper) at the Games last year, failure on the legless rope climbs after fatiguing from the 100-foot, 560-lb. Pig flip resulted in a devastating tie for 32nd in the event—which Ben Smith won— and proved to be more lost ground than Fraser could make up. For the second year, Fraser earned silver at the Games.
“I just remember going back to the athlete area to an empty room and it just being like a devastating feeling,” he said in the documentary. “I wanted the Games to finish surrounded by friends and family; hugs, everyone happy, but it was the exact opposite. I finished it by myself in an empty room with nothing but disappointment.”
Ten months later, at the East Regional in Albany, New York, first place was still on his mind.
“(After) training all year round to be the best, anything less than that is a disappointment,” he said.
Still, the truth is that many compete and only one can win, and an all-or-nothing mindset can wreak havoc on even the best athletes if something goes awry. After watching footage from the Games and documentaries like “Fittest On Earth” and Sevan Matossian’s “Behind the Scenes” series, Fraser noticed a habit he needed to kick.
“I always thought I was good at moving on to the next event, but then I’d watch the footage and three events later I’m still talking about the event that I did poorly in,” he said.
He still wanted to win, but he knew that in order to do that, he needed to learn to move on from sub-par performances.
“That was one thing that I've kind of been working on over the last year,” he said. “When something doesn't go according to plan or doesn't go as well as I was hoping, to still keep my composure. As soon as an event is done, it's done ... there's no sense an hour after an event went poorly to still be upset about it; it's done, nothing can change, and harping on it is gonna do nothing but affect you negatively.”
Like a poker player studying the mirror for tics and tells, he spent the season training himself to pay attention to his thoughts and words after a workout goes sour.
“Just being conscious that I was doing it was a big thing,” he said. “I’d do another workout 10 minutes later and just be aware of saying, ‘Well, it didn’t go the way I planned, but who cares, it’s done. I won’t let it happen again.’”
Fraser may have been more Zen when he arrived at Times Union Center last weekend, but he never got the chance to prove it, dominating the competition with five event wins, one second- and one sixth-place finish. He secured the overall lead from Event 1 and finished the weekend with an astounding 158-point lead over second-place finisher Albert-Dominic Larouche, the largest winning point margin of any individual across all eight regionals.
He started the weekend with an event record, winning Event 1’s ascending snatch ladder (10, 8, 6, 4 and 2 reps at 185, 205, 225, 245 and 265 lb.) with a time of 6:05.29. It surprised no one that Fraser, a former hopeful for the U.S. Olympic Weightlifting team, won that event. But his victory in Event 2, a gymnasty triplet of strict muscle-ups, strict handstand push-ups and 70-lb. kettlebell snatches, surprised everyone, including Fraser himself.
“I’m as surprised as anyone else; I couldn’t believe it,” he said after the event, which he won by sticking to his plan to break up the muscle-ups and hit the gas on the handstand push-ups. “I was trying not to look at anyone else; trying to stick to my game plan and pace, pace, pace. I saw a couple of guys that were ahead of me in the first half-dozen rounds and I said, ‘Nope, if I speed up and try to do big sets of muscle-ups, I’ll start failing.’”
Four event wins deep, a shut-out was on the horizon until Event 5 (3 rounds of a 400-m run, 40 GHD sit-ups and 7 deadlifts at 405 lb.), the only event he hadn’t practiced in full.
“That workout in particular is very taxing with that many GHDs and that many heavy deadlifts; I just didn’t want to take away too much from that week of training,” he said.
But to have sixth be your worst regional finish isn’t too shabby, and Fraser still had a 99-point buffer between him and second overall, which he beefed up to 142 points after another win in Event 6. In the final event’s couplet of thrusters and legless rope climbs, Fraser proved that what happened in the Soccer Chipper last July was the fluke, taking second in the event and eating up the 15-foot rope with 4 to 5 speedy pulls each ascent.
While bubble athletes like Alex Vigneault screamed in celebration and pumped the air when the emcee announced the qualifiers, Fraser flashed the crowd a small smile and a quick wave as he kept on walking. He had more work to do, and a first-place itch that still hadn’t been scratched.
“It's obviously nice to win at regionals; it’s a confidence booster, letting myself know I'm doing the right things in training,” he said. “But beyond that, there's not really much else to it … I'm up against a whole new crowd at the Games. So it's not really comparable to regionals.”
He said it best almost one year ago, as the sun set on the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games.
“I think about getting that title everyday.”