February 28, 2014
This Is Fitness
By Chris Cooper
A recap of the live 14.1 Open Announcement.
A recap of the live 14.1 Open Announcement.

“The workout served its purpose. We compared Rich Froning in 2011 to some of the top athletes in 2014. And his score still stands.”
~Dave Castro


Open Workout 14.1 is a workout that’s been ripening for three years.

Froning’s 2011 performance of the first-ever Open workout sunk to the depths of Dave Castro’s memory and stuck. There it sat until tonight.

Athletes and crew arrived days before, swinging into action immediately to build the pull-up and lighting rigs. Rehearsal lasted all day Thursday.

But the stark reality of the announcement required only seconds to set in: the Rogue rig was for show. The rowers, the boxes, the heavy plates—all were just a tease. There would be no novelty. There would be a lot of truth.

Travis Bagent wrestled the crowd back and forth, stacking screams and whistles atop applause until the rafters rattled. Fans waved signs: “We’re Hooked On Fisher!” and “14.1: May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor.”

Numbing bass put ripples in cups of beer. The athletes were introduced: pounding rap for Fisher, fast country for Hendren, bright lights and nervous smiles all the way around.

And then Dave Castro took center stage.

In a moment, the heart rate of every CrossFit athlete in the world came to synchronicity: a collective breath held ‘round the world. A cone of silence spread outward from Castro, a vacuum of noise that would pull in every gym, every garage exerciser and every red-blooded thruster lover on Earth. There was no sound in Georgia until the first hard consonant dropped: double-unders.

The anxiety felt by tens of thousands watching at home wasn’t obvious on the faces of Hendren or Fisher. Hard-as-nails farm boy, cold-as-steel NorCal kid: both smiled and shifted from foot to foot. They were ready.

Enthusiasm had peaked at the announcement of the workout; the “3-2-1 ... go!” command to start the workout seemed anticlimactic by comparison. The die was cast, and fans settled in to count.

Fisher and Hendren moved through the first two rounds almost in unison. Facing one another, ropes whipping inches apart, their performances mirror images of one another. Hendren would finish the double-unders first, and lead with the first snatch in each round. But Fisher caught up each time.

Hendren had never done this workout before, but had discussed 11.1 with Graham Holmberg, who won the CrossFit Games the year before.

“He told me to go unbroken as long as you can,” Hendren said. “When you have a lot of reps at such a light weight, it’s a lot quicker to do muscle snatches, so that was my strategy. It turns the snatch into more of a kettlebell swing.”

He snatched easily, tossing the bar up smoothly through three rounds. But his plan wouldn’t survive the fourth.

Fisher also had a plan.

“I looked at the clock after the first round,” he said afterward. “I wanted to keep every minute the same. That was my pacing strategy.” His plan would also change in the fourth round.

Several reps into the fourth, Hendren paused at the top of his snatch. He held the bar, locked out, and took a breath. Then he did it again, the pause unforgivably and implausibly human: the fall of the Ohio demigod had begun. He dropped the bar. With six minutes left on a 10-minute clock, Hendren had lost the workout.

“I saw him drop the bar,” Fisher said. “I said, ‘I’m not dropping it this round.’”

Fisher modified his strategy to merely stay one rep ahead of Hendren. But when you drop a bar on a workout like 14.1, you don’t stop dropping it. Stretches of unbroken reps began to shorten, and a preciously held pace bled away. But as sweat and blood poured from Hendren, it seemed to fill Fisher’s cup: he dug in.

By the eighth minute, the race had gone from Fisher vs. Hendren to Fisher vs. History. Rich Froning’s winning 11.1 score was broadcast for the fans, and Fisher glanced at the clock. Could he make it?

Hendren struggled boldly on, holding the bar for several reps, pushing back to it, but all eyes were on Fisher as he tried to catch the Rich Froning of 2011. In the end, his pace—hard enough to crack the sixth-fittest man on the planet and win by 13 reps—couldn’t catch Froning’s speed from three years ago. Hendren: 358 reps. Fisher: 373 reps. Froning: 448.

The clock buzzed. The athletes collapsed. Every spectator in the room, newbie and veteran, knew that feeling, and applauded. As soon as they could stand, Hendren and Fisher were rushed: 6-year-olds wanted autographs, 60y-year-old women wanted advice on their pre-workout supplement.

“The workout served its purpose,” Castro said. “We compared Rich Froning in 2011 to some of the top athletes in 2014. And his score still stands.”

While Castro admitted to being a little surprised, he conceded there isn’t much room to make up ground in the workout. He advised CrossFit athletes to expect more repeated events in the future.

“I can guarantee we’ll always repeat a workout,” he said. “It’s our way. We like to see the data and compare results. We can judge whether the whole community is improving. Of the 27,000 people who did it in 2011, we can compare their scores to now. We can mine that data.”

“I’m not happy, but I’m not going to redo the workout,” Hendren added. “I don’t train for the Open. The Open is always the stage I do the worst at. I train for regionals. I train for the Games. Stopping in a workout in the Open doesn’t matter too much. Stopping at regionals or the Games—that’s when it costs you.”

Neither Hendren nor Fisher had done this workout before. It will also be new for more than 100,000 first-time Open competitors. CrossFit Games General Manager Justin Bergh said he believes the novelty may actually help.

“In a lot of ways, this is going to be harder for people who did this workout in 2011,” Bergh said. “Sometimes it’s harder to push when you know what a workout’s going to feel like.”

“I think the other thing that’s important is to commit to a strategy early on,” Bergh continued. “Also how much discomfort you’re willing to take. Some people won’t have the skill to maintain the double-unders, but for everyone else this is just a mental workout.”

The best-laid plans, it’s said, may not survive first contact with the enemy. The best athlete—the person who’s ready for the unknowable—will eventually triumph.

You might call this fitness. We do.