March 28, 2014
Patience Pays Off
By Alex Brown

“Of course I want to go to the Games. It is going to be very hard because there are only three spots, but it is going to be hard for Sam and Annie, as well … It will be very close.”


Photos courtesy of Mikael Svärdh

Bjork Odinsdottir qualified for the 2013 Europe Regional but opted not to compete. It was a tough decision, but a wise one for someone who was six months removed from invasive back surgery.

That fact she qualified at all is notable given she had to be careful and struggled through the Open workouts. Odinsdottir knew regional competition would push her beyond where she was ready to go.

But this year, as the Icelandic native heads into the final workout of the Open in sixth place on Europe’s Leaderboard, she’s ready to fight for one of the region’s three coveted spots to the CrossFit Games.

In a fiercely competitive field featuring the last two Games champions—Sam Briggs and Annie Thorisdottir—Odinsdottir isn’t hiding her ambition for 2014.

“Of course I want to go to the Games,” she said. “It is going to be very hard because there are only three spots, but it is going to be hard for Sam and Annie, as well … It will be very close.”

Born and raised in Iceland and now living and training in Stockholm, Sweden, the former gymnast battled to continue competing after developing a serious back injury at age 12.

“I was born with a poor plate between the last vertebrae and when a heavy load is imposed on the lower back, it reduces the water in the disc and the vertebrae begin to slide forward,” she said.

The pressure led to severe pain in her lower back that extended down into her legs. Odinsdottir chose to continue with gymnastics, albeit in severe pain.

In some ways, the decision paid off.

She was part of the Iceland team that took gold at the 2010 European Championships. It wasn’t until she moved to Sweden at age 22 that she traded gymnastics for CrossFit. She decided to try it after meeting Games athlete Númi Snær Katrínarson.

Overall, Odinsdottir’s health has improved.

“They always told me, ‘If you can bear the pain, you can keep going,’ but I got tired of feeling the pain all the time,” she said. “All the traveling was exhausting. I couldn’t sit for 20 minutes. It was bad when I slept, as well.”

“I tried to quit and not do anything, but that didn’t help at all,” she added. “I found CrossFit and I had to be really careful, but it helped. I grew stronger.”

Odinsdottir then met Svante Berg, “a wonderful doctor,” she said. He introduced her to the idea of a new surgery he believed could help her.

“He came with a solution that I had not heard before,” Odinsdottir said. “He would cut me from the front and take out the bad disc and create a new and better one. Than he would move back the vertebrae (L5) and screw it to the vertebrae above (L4) and also to my hips. He then said that if all would go well, I would be able to train CrossFit full-on after I have recovered.”

The success of the invasive procedure was immediate.

“When I woke up from the surgery, I felt the pain was gone,” she said. “Now I don’t feel anything.”

The 2013 Open was just six months after Odinsdottir’s operation, and although she said she “took it easy,” she still managed to qualify for regionals. But she decided to give up her spot, fearing the pressure of competing against the best in Europe could lead her to push too hard.

“It was a really hard decision to make,” she said, “but I spoke to my doctor and decided to rest. I was confident I had it in me to qualify again.”

Now, 26-year-old Odinsdottir is a full-time coach at CrossFit Nordic while also working on CrossFit’s gymnastics seminar staff. She has her mind firmly set on challenging for a podium spot at the Europe Regional.

“(Open Workout) 14.1 wasn’t my best,” she said. “Double-unders and snatch were a lot of mind work. That’s my hard part—to keep on going when I am tired and not give up—that’s my weakness.”

“I can do the movements and I have good technical ability, but it is in my head,” she added.

She said 14.4 is one of her favorites.

Odinsdottir’s coach at CrossFit Nordic, Rickard Walèn, said Odinsdottir has a realistic chance of making it to the Games this year.

“She tends to do a lot more than you can expect from her at competitions,” he said. “My professional guess is that she has a good chance.”

“She has really high expectations to perform. She is down to earth and has a big heart,” he added.

In addition to the advantages that come with a gymnastics background, Odinsdottir can also rely on both her physical strength and her desire.

“She is ridiculously strong,” Walèn said. “And she has a fire in her eyes. She wants to win.”