July 4, 2014
Recoleta Goes Big, Fast
By Brittney Saline
Less than a year after opening their doors, BIGG CrossFit Recoleta qualified for the CrossFit Games.
Less than a year after opening their doors, BIGG CrossFit Recoleta qualified for the CrossFit Games.

"I can say if it wasn't for those 70 people we wouldn't have made it. They were like the seventh athlete for this team," Ficcadenti said. 

Photos courtesy of Loli Mallea.

A peculiar sight stood out among the stray dogs and unmarked vans surrounding the grounds of the Chimkowe Event Center: a bright green double-decker filled most of the Peñalolén street.

The bus’s exterior read BIGG on the Road to Regionals, and inside were 70 members of BIGG CrossFit Recoleta holding drums and flags in their laps as they finished their 26-hour journey from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to support their regional team BIGG Friends.

“Every achievement we make is important, but the most important thing is to prove we’re a big family,” said affiliate owner Ignacio Alsogaray.

Dancing and singing in the stands, the family celebrated all weekend long as though the three-day regional competition was the CrossFit Games.

“We came to Chile to be in the top three … but we never thought we were gonna make it (to the Games),” Alsogaray said.

But the 9-month-old affiliate exceeded its own expectations. When the weekend ended, their team stood at the top of the podium as Latin America’s sole representative at the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games.

BIGG Friends placed in the top five in the majority of the events, including three first-place finishes. But two low finishes nearly let another team pass them in the overall standings. On the final day of the regional, BIGG Friends and CrossFit SP Hulks had to fight for the top spot, and BIGG Friends came out ahead by just 1 point.

“When (the results) were official … it was like pure joy,” said team captain Titus Thut. “It’s like a dream coming true.”

It’s impressive to qualify a team for the CrossFit Games. It’s even more impressive when that team has trained together for less than a year.

Alsogoray and his wife Barbara Mazzoni opened BIGG CrossFit Recoleta in August of 2013 after spending a little more than a year at CrossFit Tuluka.

“After being there one month we were completely in love with CrossFit, and we really wanted to have our own box,” Mazzoni explained.

Less than a year after opening, BIGG CrossFit Recoleta has lived up to its name with a whopping 650 members. One hundred and fifty of them competed in the Open, and the eight top scorers made the regional roster.

Of the six teammates who competed at the regional, four had two to three years of CrossFit experience prior to joining BIGG CrossFit Recoleta. The remaining two, rugby player Santiago Ficcadenti and gymnast Delfina Ortuño, began CrossFit last August when the affiliate opened.

“Everybody was a great athlete when they entered the gym,” Thut said. “The only thing we had to do was explain more about CrossFit and adapt them to be CrossFit athletes.”

After placing third in the Open, the team had just more than two months to prepare for its regional debut. The first priority was learning to work together, doing team workouts every morning for two hours, five days per week.

When the regional events were announced, the team practiced each one, testing which pairs were the fastest and dividing reps. By the time they arrived in Santiago, Chile, one week before the regional weekend, they had a plan for each event.

But the day before the regional kicked off, teammate Max Rodman injured his arm while practicing muscle-ups. He bowed out of the competition, sending in Ficcadenti to replace him and shaking up the plans the team had so carefully crafted.

“It was crazy, but in the end we (practiced) the workouts with empty bars so we didn’t train one day before competition,” Thut said. “It’s important to be able to adapt if something goes wrong.”

Despite the roster change, BIGG Friends showed its dominance from Day 1, taking fifth place in the first event, followed by two first-place finishes in Events 2 and 3.

The team’s total of 430 feet in the handstand walk of Event 3 was 100 feet more than second-place team, CrossFit 506, had managed. Before that, Team BIGG Friends hang squat snatched a total of 920 lb. in Event 2, taking first over team TTC Panama by 35 lb.

“We practiced (Event 2) a lot to see which weight we were gonna do first,” Thut said. “It needs to be a 100 percent safe weight ... and off of that weight we took off 10 lb. to make it even more safe.”

Team BIGG Friends finished Day 1 in the lead with 7 points, and its seventh- and fourth-place finishes in Events 4 and 5 the next day kept them comfortably in the lead—until Event 6.

No team in Latin America could finish the event within the 21-minute time cap, and for Team BIGG Friends, the event exposed a major weakness: strict handstand push-ups.

“The girls, we suck at body-weight handstand push-ups,” Mazzoni said.

The team’s time of 23:01 meant they left 121 reps on the floor, good enough for 14th place. Though they clung to the overall lead with 32 points, only 1 point separated BIGG Friends from Team Tuluka El Templo going into the final day of competition.  

As the team gathered in their hotel room that night, uneasy with their marginal lead, they watched videos sent from family back home.

“We saw some videos from our families that made us cry and there was one that had a very nice phrase,” Mazzoni said. “She said, ‘All the medals, you earned them while you were training and the competition is only for you to go pick them up.’”

Event 7, a partner relay of double-unders and rowing, deadlifts and partner holds, and toes-to-bars and partner hangs, was supposed to be one of BIGG Friends’ best events. But though they had planned to send out their fastest pair last, the adjusted roster meant they no longer knew who the fastest pair was.

“We had our strategy for the pairs, but these were other pairs, so we didn’t know who should go first and we (made) some mistakes,” Thut said.

Miscommunication in the deadlift and partner static holds delayed the team’s middle pair for several seconds, and the team finished in 19:58, three minutes slower than when they’d practiced it before the regional. Still, their fifth-place finish kept them in the lead by 1 point.

It all came down to the final event. Before BIGG Friends hit the floor, they huddled together to listen to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” to get pumped for the task at hand:

“Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity / To seize everything you ever wanted. One moment / Would you capture it or just let it slip?”

“We knew we had to pick it up; we had this one last event to show everyone what we were capable of,” Mazzoni said.

Before the final heat, several teams made it through the relay of 49 pull-ups only to fail devastatingly on the 7 overhead squats at 185 and 115 lb. But when Team BIGG Friends hit the floor, it broke the status quo with unbroken overhead squats by its first three athletes.

Though BIGG Friends was the first to make an impression, CrossFit SP Hulks Team wasn’t far behind, making up for lost time when BIGG Friends’ final three athletes broke up the overhead squats into two sets.

In a blaze of movement, both teams sent their final athletes to the mat at 16:59 for a tie for first place. At first, BIGG Friends thought they had lost, running to embrace their final athlete.

“We didn’t know what was happening,” Mazzoni said. “All we wanted to do was run and tell him we were really proud of him, that we didn’t care about the result.”

But when the Leaderboard had shifted for the final time that weekend, it was BIGG Friends who stood at the top.

The team credited its fans from home with their victory.

“We all cried and I can say if it wasn’t for those 70 people we wouldn’t have made it,” Ficcadenti said. “They were like the seventh athlete for this team.”

Though Team BIGG Friends never planned on making it farther than Chile, now they are preparing for their California debut. Continuing their ritual of team practice in the morning and individual goat work in the evening, the main priority is building communication skills.

Team training sessions vary from group 10-km runs and synchronized handstand push-up practice, to odd-object group work, like a 10-minute AMRAP of a 20-m tractor tire carry with a 500-lb. tire.

“It’s important to practice things like the Worm (from the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games) because not everybody has the same height,” Thut said. “You need to be prepared for the unknown.”

And for the rookie team from Buenos Aires, training for the Games is about more than earning glory for their team or affiliate. They’re training to prove CrossFit is alive and well in Latin America.

“We don’t expect to finish on the podium … but the only thing we want to do now is to improve what people think,” Thut said. “A lot of people think it is a gift if you’re from Latin America, but we still had to work hard. We want to prove that the difference between Latin America and other regions is not as big as people think.”