January 6, 2012
Masterminding the Games
By Chris Cooper

Experiencing the CrossFit Games season was like sitting inside a clock – events started on time, signage was ample, scoreboards were updated quickly, equipment was set up early, and judges and volunteers were ready. It was obvious that things were organized.

What were not obvious were the weeks and months of work behind the scenes to get the Regional and Final competitions ready. The sheer volume of hours, the late nights, the phone calls and flights the planning teams endured to make the season a success. 

All of the Regional events around the world were coordinated by a very small group of people. The CrossFit Games, where the real agility wasn't just found on the floor, while the clock was running, but also late at night by the Rogue crews and the Games team. 

The Pros

2011 Canada East Regional Director Paul McIntyre said he has been involved behind the scenes since 2009. McIntyre’s military background is obvious at every event he runs … they run on time. He said he has the right people in the right spot, when it counts. “Well, you can't plan for everything, and I realize that,” he humbly admits. “At the end of the day, something is going to happen that you couldn't have anticipated.” Yet, he always appears calm when faced with unforeseen challenges. He credits this to his armed forces background and it gives him some perspective to staying calm in high stress situations. “Nobody’s shooting at me, so it’s not that important.” 

Johnny McLaughlin, or Johnny Mac to his friends, was the Director of the 2011South East Regional and half of the duo behind the Masters competition at this year’s CrossFit Games – along with Jeff Tincher. He said he’s able to keep his cool by relying on volunteers to help run the event. “I have a few directors that I rely on and I wouldn’t do this without them,” he said. In return for their hard work, McLaughlin said he makes sure the volunteers are having fun. “We want to make sure the volunteers have a great time, too.” 

“No rep!”

Judges are also a vital part of any successful CrossFit event. They carry a large responsibility where they simply cannot make mistakes and are scrutinized if they do. Some of the criteria for Regional and Games judges include: completing a Level 1 Seminar, being familiar with CrossFit movements, as well as being sharp, strict, and consistent. “As the weekend gets tighter, these guys are fighting for one or two spots,” McLaughlin said. “That’s when we put the most consistent judges in.”

Judging is a big responsibility, and the pressure is much higher now than ever before, according to McIntyre. “It's changed 180 degrees from2009. Back then, we had lots of judges, [but] we had limits on equipment, and athletes were willing to accept mistakes. Now it's the opposite." 

McIntyre said he encourages judges to let him know if they don't feel comfortable with certain movements or standards. And each year, he gives them a little pep talk to get them going. “It's easier now that the standards are set from HQ. The standards are there; you just have to maintain them. Grey areas don't exist. It’s black or white … rep or no rep. Make sure the athlete can see you and hear you. Your call is the call. There are no replays."

The Venue

As the Games grow larger each year, new standards are set from CrossFit HQ to make sure the Fittest on Earth are found. McLaughlin said the process for the Regional in 2010 was much different in 2011. “In 2010, each Regional Director developed their own events and had them approved by HQ to make sure they found the fittest in the region,” he explained. “In 2011, we were ready to have a swim event at our Regional." He already chose a location, complete with swimming facility, but in the end, HQ chose to maintain consistency throughout all 17 regions and test thousands of athletes with the same workouts.

In 2011, the South East Regional Qualifier was during the first of five weeks of competition. Reebok reps met McLaughlin and his team for the first time at the venue. "It was like a first date,” he said. “I'm representing CrossFit, they're representing Reebok. We'd been in planning sessions, but we'd never actually come together before. By the end of the weekend, I was already personal friends with some of the guys.” 

Directors from other regions events were flying to Regional competitions to watch, take note of things that went well or could be improved. As the Regional events went on, it became easier to anticipate problems and solve them.

Reebok also took the weight of supplying the athletes with merchandise off the shoulders of the organizers. "You wouldn't believe how much time it takes to make the T-shirts and get them set up," McLaughlin said.  

McIntyre agreed. “They bring a much more professional look and feel.” The title sponsor tied everything together – signage, logos, sponsorship, and gear.

The Big Show

It all comes down to the final events in Carson, Calif., at the Home Depot Center. It’s the CrossFit Games. The few who make it have big expectations. The question on everyone's mind: "When do you know the events?" The truth is, they don't know until anywhere from 24 hours to just a few minutes before the event. 

Even Rogue Fitness, the company that supplies all the equipment for Regionals and the Games, doesn't know the events in advance, with the possible exception of the monkey bar pull-up rigs. HQ tells them what they need, and they load it in the truck. 

“It was an 18-wheeler packed by Rogue Canada,” McIntyre said. “They went to Canada West Regionals first, and then drove straight to Toronto and unpacked on Thursday night. As soon as the event was over, equipment was stripped, repacked, and the truck moved on to another Regional in the States somewhere.” 

A well-oiled machine, Rogue's crew did the same feat at the Games, where they rolled in nine semi-trucks and could be seen working on rigs all night and day. While events were chosen to minimize changes, some of the equipment setup took hours, and couldn't be started until the previous day's events had finished.

The Motivation

Weekends, all-nighters, sleep deprivation. Why do these guys Do it? “There's some compensation, but that's not why guys are there," McLaughlin said. "It's a passion for the community, for the event. Travel is covered. If you figured out the hours spent, though, you'd have a tough time averaging minimum wage," he laughs. “This goes for everyone, from Dave (Castro) and Tony (Budding) on down. They're not there for the money." 

McLaughlin said he wants to be a part of this process for a long time. "I'll be there five years from now, if they'll have me, I enjoy it a lot. We have a teenage daughter who's doing it now, and all of our friends do it. It's our social outlet." 

McIntyre agreed that he's in this for the long haul; his girlfriend knows he's committed, too. 

What the Future Holds

Neither was sure what the future would hold, except that the CrossFit Games will be bigger. “The 2012 Games won't look a lot different than 2011,” McLaughlin said. “It will be back at the Home Depot Center. But by 2013, it may not be able to hold the capacity required.” 

McLaughlin said other parts of the Games weekend will grow as well. “The potential for the kids events is huge. The team events are growing." 

It's a lot to ask a person to dedicate so much time preparing for these events. “Just thank the judges and volunteers,” McLaughlin suggested. “It goes a long way.”