Three rounds for time of:
155-pound Front squat, 7 reps
Bike 700 meters
100 foot Monkey bar traverse
To some people, these words mean absolutely nothing. To anyone who followed the 2011 Crossfit Games, these words mean the final Individual event of Day 2: the infamous “Killer Kage.” Elisabeth Akinwale took 1st place overall in this event, beating 2011 Games champion, Annie Thorisdottir, by more than one minute. Impressive? Absolutely. Unexpected? Possibly.
Unexpected because, 5 months prior to placing 2nd overall in the North Central Region, Akinwale had never even heard of CrossFit. “My sister heard about CrossFit from some friends on the rugby scene,” she says. “She emailed me the link to main site and, from there, I ended up seeking out an affiliate.”
Akinwale describes herself as a naturally competitive person, and it was this attribute that spurred her to compete in the 2011 Open, despite being a newcomer to the sport. She describes the Open as a learning process. “The Open was a mixed bag for me. The WODs that were essentially just doing work I was more successful with,” she explains. “The workouts that included skill movements like double-unders and muscle-ups I did poorly on. I spent a lot of time working on those skills as they came up in the Open; I actually got my very first muscle up the week after the Open WOD with muscle ups in it. Participating in the Open really pushed me to learn those skills at a faster pace than I otherwise would have.”
As a former gymnast, Akinwale credits her extensive gymnastics background for providing her with the, “body awareness, strength, and work ethic” necessary to be successful in the realm of CrossFit. Lacking the typical “gymnast” build, Akinwale had to be, “relatively strong” to continue advancing.
And advance, she did. A veteran when it comes to the competitive environment of an athletic competition, winning a team USA Gymnastics Level 10 National Championship, Akinwale used this experience to her advantage both at the Regional and Games level. “The competitive environment of a CrossFit event and a gymnastics meet feel very similar to me. When I walked into the 2011 North Central Regional, I had never even seen a CrossFit competition before, but it all felt very familiar.”
The confidence Akinwale carried in competition went with her to the Games, where she finished 13th overall. “The single most memorable event for me at this year’s Games was the ‘Killer Kage.’ Everything went so smoothly for me on that workout,” she says. “There are a number of details that jump out in my mind: Lindsey Smith telling me before the workout that she thought I was going to win it; watching the men go first and seeing some fly through and some come out bloodied and frustrated; hearing the crowd cheer every turn-around; having my sister in the stands right behind my barbell and high-fiving her after I finished. The experience of winning a workout in front of a crowd and under the lights at the Home Depot Center is one I’ll always remember.”
When Akinwale is not competing, a typical day for the 33-year-old mother includes a lot of juggling in order to balance her 5-year-old son’s schedule, her requirements as an employee of the federal government, and a new training regimen. “New focus, new coach, completely new training regimen, new training home,” she says. With a goal to make it back to the Games, she quickly realized that numerous Games athletes receive private coaching, a trend she thinks will continue to grow along with the sport of CrossFit.
Her new coach is Outlaw CrossFit owner, Rudy Nielsen. “I was familiar with Rudy Nielsen form following Games media last year,” she explains. “I read an article he wrote that really spoke to me, and Rudy has a proven track record, having coached multiple Games athletes. We’ve been working together for one month and it’s been pretty amazing getting acclimated to his training and fixing a lot of deficiencies in my movements.”
While Akinwale describes this change in training as a “drastic” one, it is one that has already produced results that directly align with her primary goal: to earn a spot at the 2012 Games, and to “make my presence felt.”
Like any athlete, Akinwale is working on her weaknesses, as well as utilizing her strengths to become a better athlete. “My greatest strength in training is my ability to hear and apply corrections to my movements. I would generally say my mental toughness in competition is also a strength, but one that the Games experience proved I need to hone further” she says. “My greatest weakness is that I’m still learning to work at truly high intensity.”
Those who have had the pleasure of watching Akinwale destroy a workout might find that last statement hard to believe, but it is this self-examination and the desire to learn and improve that just might turn this CrossFit rookie into a veteran.