February 26, 2014
North East's Veteran Masters Prepare for the Open
By David Tao

“We are a growing group and we happen to be very well-respected as aging athletes ...” ~Amy Mandelbaum on masters athletes

The North East’s top masters are ready to prove once again that fitness can turn back the clock.

For two-time Masters 45-49 champion Lisa Mikkelsen, that means tackling the season’s challenges—and defending her title—right alongside competitors half her age.

“Individual Games competitors have an amazing capacity to do work,” said the 48-year-old. “Masters competitors are really amazing, too. While I don’t like to say things like, ‘good for your age,’ it really is inspiring to see what masters competitors can do. I hope that others at all ages are motivated seeing what can be accomplished after 40.”

Amy Mandelbaum represents the North East in the same age division as Mikkelsen and finished fourth at the Games the past two years. This year, she believes many masters veterans are fitter than they’ve ever been.

“We are a growing group and we happen to be very well-respected as aging athletes,” she said. “Many of us are stronger and faster than we were two years ago.”

The 2014 season brings a new qualifier in which the top-200 masters athletes in each division are invited to complete four additional workouts. Masters will need to complete and submit four workouts between April 17 and April 21 for a shot at 20 Games spots in each division.

In previous years, the top-20 in each age division were directly invited to compete in the Games.

In continuing with CrossFit’s tradition of encouraging friendly competition, Mikkelsen is already brainstorming ways to give the web-based qualifier a more personal feel.

“Having a regionals sort of weekend is cool, but potentially doing it solo in front of a camera doesn’t sound as fun as having an event,” she said. “Luckily, there are a lot of masters athletes in the North East, so if I end up competing that weekend, I hope to call on some of my buddies to do the workouts with.”

Masters athletes will need to video each of the qualifier workouts. Mandelbaum said video submissions will hold competitors to strict standards.

“I believe it will give all athletes a better idea of what the masters athletes can do, as well as hold us more accountable for higher levels of proficiency,” she said.

Even with an additional round of qualification, veteran athletes will still need to test their fitness against the world with the Open. And a two-time champion like Mikkelsen isn’t immune to preseason nerves.

“Frankly, the Open is so fun and also so stressful because of the fact that it takes over your life for five weeks,” Mikkelssen said. “Crazy highs and lows and spending time strategizing.”

“It's great entertainment value for the $20, but I am always so very relieved when they are over,” she added.

John Dunlap, who finished first in the North East among the 45-50-year-old men for the 2013 Open, said he thinks an additional qualifier actually means less stress as the season begins.

“My approach to Open (workouts) will not change, except for the fact that there may be less urgency to repeat workouts,” he said, “as I will have a bit more margin for error with not having to be in the worldwide top 20 to make the first cut.”

Brian Curley finished the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games in ninth in the 50-55 division, but a shoulder injury has him sidelined for the 2014 season. Even though he won’t be able to compete this year, Curley plans to follow closely as each week’s Open workout is revealed. For him, the announcements have become spectator events in their own right.

“As far as the Open workouts, I am looking forward to what CrossFit is going to come up with … ,” he said. “I think as time goes on, (their imagination) is being tested—it must be tough to program (workouts) that are all inclusive … I don't envy them.”

While she’s been attacking her weaknesses in the offseason, Mandelbaum says she’s ready for whatever gets thrown her way.

“I think CrossFit holds the bar just high enough in terms of challenging athletes without making it overly difficult,” she said.