No Room for Error
The beginning seemed easy — a little too easy. Single-unders and single-leg squats? No problem. They were Games athletes, and these were CrossFit basics.
But that was the hardest part.
Individual Event 2, Speed Skill Medley, was an elimination-style test of increasing difficulty. The athletes trained all year for the most challenging tests that could be thrown at them, but it was easy to trip when faced with some of the simplest movements. Just one mistake in the unbroken sets was a somber presage of the 100 points quickly slipping away.
There was no room for error.
The mere five athletes who did make it through to the final round were met with a demanding new movement, the double-under crossover. The unbroken rule was taken away, but stringing only a few together seemed near impossible. Not a single woman got past the roadblock.
Then came the men. One man, in particular, repped a jersey cut short so the fabric lay just below his rib cage, the name “Mathew” printed across the gray fabric.
Nick Mathew wasn’t the first off the pegboard, but as soon as his hands grasped the handles, the rope was twirling and gliding seamlessly beneath his feet as if in a dance. He strung together 11 double-under crossovers in his first attempt. And the crowd went wild.
“Somewhere in the crowd is a happy, smiling Adrian Bozman,” Chase Ingraham said on the live broadcast.
Reaching 25 double-under crossovers, Mathew stepped into the blue square and performed 20 unbroken single-leg squats, then flipped onto his hands on the parallel bars and walked his way to victory without a single mistake.
This was a test meant to highlight the handful of athletes who could really do it all, who could adapt to the programming and run with it.
Mathew had it all.
The New Standard
“I’ve been waiting to do this for years,” Competition Director Adrian Bozman said.
A former gymnast, Boz wanted something different for this year’s Games. Intermixing the fundamentals of CrossFit within the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games programming brought athletes back to the basics.
One goal was to bring the handstand push-up back to its roots and intended stimulus. So this year, athletes were required to complete strict, chest-to-wall, deficit handstand push-ups. Calling for immense strength and stability, this new standard eliminated loopholes.
“Block handstand push-ups came out because I don’t like the way people have been training handstand push-ups exclusively for competition,” Boz said. “The handstand push-up is a really difficult movement, and to reduce it to a movement that you can bang out 50 reps because you have a way to maximize your own leverage within the confines of the rule set that’s given to you, and that’s the only way you train that skill, I think is antithetical to what you’re trying to do with CrossFit.”
This was a true test to the training athletes did outside of the competition floor.
CrossFit Games individual rookie and former teen athlete Alexis Raptis proved her training was effective, and it was clear that she had practiced strict handstand push-ups frequently. Outdueling Tia-Clair Toomey in the final set of handstand push-ups, the 23-year-old crossed the finish line in 6:41.18, taking the first Games event win of her individual career.
What Is Strength?
On July 23, 2022, CrossFit released an announcement that read, “Big lifts return to the CrossFit Games on Saturday, Aug. 6.”
It was implied that the event would involve a barbell like so many years before this. But as athletes gathered into the stands for the briefing of Individual Event 10, a black sandbag was wheeled out onto the floor, followed by strongman competitor Jerry Pritchett.
This would be no barbell event.
The athletes were unsure of how to feel about the event. This was unknown territory for many, and they were hastily learning the best techniques just moments before they stepped onto the competition floor.
Even the audience was unsure. The beginning weights were swiftly thrust to shoulders, dropped, and re-lifted by another set of three competitors. No gleaming silver bars overhead. No snatches or clean and jerks. Just a bag of sand.
But then it got heavy.
Unlike the barbell, the sandbag was a fight. As the bag increased in weight, the athletes began to squat deeper, finding any hold they could to grasp onto the dead weight. Using momentum to thrust it to their shoulders, the bag would fall again to their hips. But the fight wasn’t over. As long as the bag did not touch the floor, the rep was still valid.
The line of athletes shrank fast as the bag got heavier.
In the final round for the women, the field dwindled down to two, Dani Speegle and Jacqueline Dahlstrøm. Dahlstrøm approached the 240-lb bag first — it weighed more than 1.6 times her body weight. She began to fight. Thrusting the bag to her chest and catching it in a low squat, she stood tall, holding the bag as if a child. She raised the bag to her shoulder, inch by inch, until it lay on her left shoulder with her arm stretched out to signify the completion of the rep. The crowd began to rise to their feet to mimic the ascent. She would finish in second place in the women’s division.
As soon as the men began to line up on the Coliseum floor, not a single fan was in their seats.
The men were fast approaching the last bag, unexpecting of programmer Bozman. With 16 athletes to go and only a few bags left, Boz received a call.
“We have a 350.”
Two men from athlete control wheeled out a large red bag on a dolly to the floor. It seemed to symbolize the sword in the stone. Only the proven would attempt to lift it.
But it stayed firmly planted.
“What Boz has said over and over again, which I totally agree with is, ‘It’s not the test. It’s the athletes,’” Bergh said. “We program something that is difficult and broad so that when the athletes knock it out of the park, they’re really the heroes.”
“I think, unfortunately, there’s a lot of people who don’t really know him … and don’t give him a chance,” coach Justin Cotler said. “At the end of the day, we are all flawed as human beings, and we make mistakes. It’s about what you do after that and how you redeem yourself.”
On Aug. 6, 2017, 23-year-old Ricky Garard stood on the third-place platform on the podium. But it was a different Garard than we know today. Testing positive for PEDs after the 2017 CrossFit Games, Garard’s title was stripped away and he was banned from CrossFit competitions for four years. He spent every year of his ban making up for the mistake he had made.
“Your decisions and any mistakes you make in life are not what define you,” Garard said. “Your identity is not decided at that time.”
As Oct. 6, 2021, grew closer, the date his suspension would end, Garard worked even harder to redeem himself. Most athletes who were sanctioned for failed drug tests did not return. But Garard did not want to hide behind his mistake. He owned up to it and continued to train, dreaming of the day he could step back onto the Games floor.
After returning to the CrossFit Games in his first year post-sanction, now 28-year-old Garard finished on the third platform on the podium once again at the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games.
But this time, he got there the right way.
“Time doesn’t matter,” Garard said. “Time is going to pass anyways, and if you want it bad enough, you’ll do whatever it takes to achieve it.”
Catch up on all episodes of Miles to Madison Season 2 on the CrossFit Games YouTube Channel.
Featured Image by Adam Bow