July 25, 2015
Shared Suffering
By Hilary Achauer with Andréa Maria Cecil
Athletes bond, support each other on the second day of individual competition.
Athletes bond, support each other on the second day of individual competition.

Any day that starts with Murph and ends with DT is a tough one. Throw in a Snatch Speed Ladder in the middle, and the day is tougher still.

At the end of Friday, Mathew Fraser, who finished the day in first place overall, gave short, exhausted answers to questions about the day’s events, but he brightened considerably when asked about the men competing alongside him.

“There’s a lot of camaraderie,” Fraser said, becoming more animated. “We’re like siblings. We share the same bond. We’re going through the same thing. We give each other shit, and it lightens the mood.”

He said sharing the suffering with his fellow Games competitors helps him get through the grueling days.

This is the paradox of the CrossFit Games: The competitors are all determined to win, but they are also partners in suffering, bonded by this exhausting, overwhelming experience.

For the individuals, the suffering began right away with Murph, a workout named in memory of U.S. Navy SEAL Lt. Michael Murphy, who was killed in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005. Kicking off with a mile run in searing, 80-plus-degree weather, the event only got more miserable from there, with 600 reps of gymnastics before another mile run—all while wearing body armor.  

Fraser fought so hard for his second-place finish he was barely able to speak afterward, wedging himself under a nearby platform that was the only source of shade. 

“I kept telling myself there’s no second chance,” Fraser said about his mindset during Murph once he was able to talk.

Noah Ohlsen, who took third on Murph, kept an eye on his competitors as he completed the air squats, trying to stay ahead of nearby Jonne Koski.

“I don’t usually look (at the other competitors), but it was so easy with this layout,” Ohlsen said. All the male and female athletes competed at the same time in long lines stretching across the soccer field.

Ohlsen said he accumulated at least 40 no-reps during the push-ups in Murph.

“I got a little frustrated,” he said. Ohlsen’s solution was to slam his chest into the ground, rapidly cycling through his push-ups. 

The frustration ended as soon as Ohlsen finished the event. 

“Today is just a lot of fun,” Ohlsen said afterward.

Sam Briggs, who easily won Murph, not only showed no frustration, but she also barely showed fatigue during the 39:10 it took her to complete the event.

Her pull-ups were smooth, and she was as steady as a metronome on her squats, moving up and down with her chest up. As she sprinted back into the soccer stadium well ahead of her competitors, she gulped for air, filling her lungs with oxygen, but she seemed to recover almost instantly after the event.

After taking off her vest and drinking some water, Briggs turned her attention to her competitors as they began crossing the finish line. Briggs waved in second-place finisher Alethea Boon, a former gymnast who somersaulted across the finish line. Boon stood up, and the 2013 Games champ helped the rookie take off her weight vest. 

More women started to arrive. Boon shook out Sammy Wood’s legs. Jenn Jones told Brooke Ence to stay standing so she could help Ence take off her weight vest. 

When Kara Webb entered the soccer stadium, finishing her second mile, it was immediately apparent she was in trouble. Webb ran unsteadily, head lolling, and she collapsed at the finish line as first the other women and then the medics came to her aid.

She was carried off in a stretcher and later said she had heat stroke. She recovered enough to compete in the last two events of the day, but she said she wasn’t 100 percent. 

“I don't remember the last run at all. Apparently I was really wobbly during the last run,” Webb said later in the day. “I just didn't feel my body.”

Many thought the Games were over for Webb, who was in first place at the beginning of the day.

“I’m not giving up as long as it’s safe to do,” Webb said before the Snatch Speed Ladder. “I feel weak and shaky. Hopefully I warm up as I go on.”

The Snatch Speed Ladder was the first opportunity the athletes had to put their hands on a barbell at the Games. 

“I love a barbell,” said Jon Pera, who won the event. “I just took the (barbells) one at a time, but every barbell felt great.” 

The bracket system of the Snatch Speed Ladder meant the competitors spent some time in the tunnel under the stadium, watching a screen to find out who would move on to the finals.

As they waited and watched, the women talked.

They watched Alethea Boon, a first-time individual Games competitor struggle with the heavy barbell.

“She dominated the push-ups,” Chyna Cho said of Boon’s second-place finish in Murph. “My push-ups sucked.”

Boon failed another snatch. 

“C’mon, you got one more shot. Let’s go!” Cho said to the TV screen. 

“Just keep snatching, Carleen,” Alex Parker said to fellow West Regional competitor Carleen Mathews as they walked out to the tennis stadium for the quarterfinal.

Letendre said she’s fiercely competitive but recognizes the athletes also support each other.

“In reality, I’m in a competition,” Letendre said after her fifth-place finish in the snatch event. 

“I’m not here to make friends, but the community comes between events,” she said. “Seeing them cheer for me, that’s very motivating. I didn’t think I was going to make the final.”

Letendre struggled with the heaviest bar—180 lb.—but eventually hit the lift, which helped her claw back into contention after finishing 38th in Sandbag 2015 on Wednesday.

“I just thought about jumping, and punching the bar,” she said about finally making the lift. “When you’re small, you have to focus on technique.” 

As Sara Sigmundsdottir watched her competitors snatch during the Snatch Speed Ladder, she reflected on Murph.

“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “I’ve never been so tired in my life.”

Sigmundsdottir paused and looked at the TV, seeing Denae Brown complete a successful snatch after failing. 

“Well done, Denae,” she said. 

Later, Sigmundsdottir won Heavy DT handily to end the day in first place overall.

At the end of night, Webb said the reason the athletes are supportive is a shared goal. 

“We’re all here for the same reason,” Webb said: to win the CrossFit Games.  

The men and women will continue to fight tomorrow, beginning at 1 p.m. with Sprint Course 1.  

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