The best Games athlete that you've probably never heard of is still in college. In fact, he only reached legal drinking age a few months ago.
Ben Smith took 3rd at the 2011 Games, a solid improvement from his 8th place finish in 2010. He's one of the most consistent Games athletes, and yet his name comes up less frequently than other athletes. Soon, that will change. At 21, Smith still has yet to reach his prime, and he's already world class.
In a recent interview with the mechanical engineering major, he discusses his 2011 Games performance and his outlook going forward.
As a three-time Games athlete, how did 2011 compare with the previous two years? Do the Games still surprise you?
Every single year the Games find some new way to surprise me. That's I why I love competing in them. To me, the Games this year was very well-rounded and also had a few "fun" events like the first beach one, and the "Killer Cage.” I was still hoping for some heavier events, but having a max snatch and pull-up sort of satisfied that part of me.
To what do you attribute your steady improvement (from 64th, to 8th, to 3rd) each year?
Consistent training (every day), consistency in diet, and, for me, just getting a bit older and more mature, should all lead to steady improvement. CrossFit, to me, is more about a long-term change in the way I live. To constantly improve, you have to remain focused and disciplined.
How has your approach to Games preparation (training, mental outlook, nutrition) changed over time?
The biggest thing that has changed for me is my mental outlook on competing. I have learned to remain more focused on my workout and not as much on what everyone else is doing. The only person I can control is myself, and I can only do my best.
What lessons did you take away from this year? Are you changing your preparation?
The main thing I take away from the Games every year is that I need to get better. I always have things to improve.
There is not one aspect of fitness that I wouldn't like to improve. I try to be as well rounded as possible, and that can be achieved through programming. Honestly, I don't see myself being deficient in any one area. I just want to improve in every aspect. If you look at the top competitors, they don't really have a glaring weakness. They are good across the board, and that's what makes them great. I need to work to be just a bit better at everything.
Do you take an off-season? Is your training planned on a yearly basis? Week to week? Day by day?
My training is all done day-to-day. I don't program ahead, follow any plans, or have any off-season. But, I do rest much more immediately following the Games just to catch up with any nagging injuries or pains. I really enjoy training and only take time off when my body needs it.
Looking back at the 2011 season, what do you think about this year's qualification format (the Open and Regionals)? What's it like having such a longer competitive season
Three competitions in four months is a lot of stress on your body. For me personally, I was training all year for Regionals because if you don't make Regionals, you don't even get a shot at the Games. After Regionals, I had injuries that forced me to modify my training for the Games because I couldn't take time off to heal. I save that for after the Games.
Can you give more detail on your injury?
I had a pulled muscle in my lower back during the Open and took things very easy on my back leading up to the Regional. Regionals gave me bad tendonitis in my knee from all the squatting. I still have it right now and cannot squat or run. I hadn't done a squat since Regionals because I physically couldn't, so I altered my programming for the Games a lot because of that. It would randomly flare up really bad and for two or three days, I could hardly walk. I'm giving it plenty of time now to bounce back.
Have you ever thought about or experimented with more structured programming? Why or why not?
I don't think I can stick to a structured plan for workouts. Every day is totally different; therefore my programming must adapt and change as often as I do. To be totally honest, I really can't tell you how my programming works or why it works. All I know is that I feel like I'm doing something right. I started doing CrossFit for fun, and I still am doing it for fun. I like to see how hard I can push myself and I try to make workouts that accomplish that goal.