May 7, 2014
Three of Africa's Top Men, One Box
By Jolene Raison
“I believe that Jason (Smith) is in the right position to challenge Dave (Levey) for the title this year,” Neil Scholtz said.
“I believe that Jason (Smith) is in the right position to challenge Dave (Levey) for the title this year,” Neil Scholtz said.

"I believe that Jason (Smith) is in the right position to challenge Dave (Levey) for the title this year," Neil Scholtz said.

Photos courtesy of Stuart Alexander

Three of the top five men in Africa train at CrossFit Kyalami in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Brothers Jason and Richard Smith finished the 2014 Open in Africa in first and fourth, respectively, and Johann Werth finished in third. Although the Smith brothers opened the box just over a year ago, they aren’t new to CrossFit.

“I first got into CrossFit around five or so years ago,” Richard said. “I’m kind of competitive so I entered small competitions, which were a lot of fun, but then Jay and myself entered the Africa Sectional in 2009. We were hooked! CrossFit became our focus and (we) haven't looked back since.”

The brothers are now seasoned regional competitors. Aside from 2011, Richard has competed in every regional competition. Jason has competed in every Africa Regional, earning fourth- and third-place finishes in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

In late 2012, the brothers decided to open an affiliate together.

“It was never something I thought of doing,” Jason said, “but I was very passionate about CrossFit and really wanted to spread our passion and knowledge for the sport.”  

For Richard it was a natural progression from coaching.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to own a box, and then my brother came to me and said, ‘Let’s do it,’” Richard recalled. “It is by far the best move I have made.”  

Together they’ve created a culture that’s open, friendly and welcoming.  

“I love how our small community has grown close, and attracted not just elite athletes but like-minded, good people. We are proud to be a part of something so special. The vibe is pretty epic!”

Werth is a newcomer to the sport. He joined CrossFit Kyalami last April.

“I knew Richard and Jason would push me to the limit and make me the best possible athlete that I can be,” Werth said.

The former rugby player first heard about the CrossFit Games in 2012 and took on the challenge of the Open for the first time. But because he was training at a globo gym, he was unfamiliar with movement standards.

“I got no-repped on each workout, and a few of my videos got rejected, as well,” he remembered of his first Open.

He did not enter the 2013 Open because the schedule conflicted with his wedding. This year, he said, Jason and Richard motivated him to sign up.

“They said that I had the potential to make it to regionals in 2014,” Werth said.

Their overall performances in the Open were notable. The brothers each only placed outside the top 10 in one workout, while Werth placed in the top 10 for three of the five.

“I think the main reason for our success in the Open is the atmosphere in our sessions,” Richard said. “We are all motivated, competitive and feed off each other’s energy, which naturally pushes the level of our training up every day.”

Jason said the dynamic in the box is “competitive, but in a more supportive way.”

Richard believes being pitted against a sibling provides an unparalleled level of motivation.

“Competing with Jay is different from anyone else for me,” he said. “I think he has an advantage mentally, and he is my big brother so he’s supposed to beat me. So I have that constant motivation (to beat him) in my face every day.”

Jason said each individual contributes to the environment.

“Every athlete has their weaknesses and strengths, so when we train, there is always competition,” he said.

To foster the competitive environment in preparation for regionals, the athletes go head-to-head in regional-style workouts every Saturday.  

Since their success in the Open, the three competitors have been focused on performing well at regionals. During Open preparation, training went on as usual.

“Our training continued as normal (during the Open),” Richard said. “The Open workouts were just bonus workouts for us during the week.”

Richard and Jason typically plan their workouts daily and often incorporate movements historically likely to appear in the regional events, such as pistols and handstand push-ups, which will help them out this year, as both have appeared in the regional events.

In addition, Richard has been working on strength and Olympic lifting.

“Having been injured for most of last year, I feel like I have fallen behind in those areas,” he said. “I am a bit smaller than some of the athletes, which helps me pick up my conditioning reasonably quickly.”

Jason likes to add a regional event, Games event or benchmark workout to his training at least once a day.

“This helps me push myself and allows me to see where I am against the top in the world,” he said.

Underpinning all Jason’s training is a focus on efficiency of movement.

“Efficiency is essential to CrossFit, and that has been my goal for all movements: to be more efficient,” he said.

Former regional competitor, Neil Scholtz from Ballistix CrossFit, believes Jason has what it takes to be the fittest man in Africa.

“I believe that Jason is in the right position to challenge Dave (Levey) for the title this year,” Scholtz said. “If he is able to remain injury free and stay consistent throughout the weekend, he has a great shot at it.”

Initially, Werth followed Kyalami’s regular programming, but he now follows the MisFit Athletics program, which is competition specific.

“I like the variable style and it’s the only one of its kind,” Werth said.  

He supplements this with a specified strength program, and works a lot on weaknesses, including overhead squats and snatches.

Werth is confident in his abilities heading into regionals.

“I am blessed with my strength when it comes to the heavier workouts,” he said.

Although he follows a different program, Werth trains alongside the Smith brothers.

“On a daily basis, Richard and Jason will give me advice, tell me where they think I’m going wrong or where I need to improve,” he said.  

For Richard, the ongoing competition develops mental fortitude.

“Most athletes have the same physical capabilities in the finals, so it comes down to mental strength and who wants it more,” he said.   

Their weightlifting coach, Andrew Anthony of CrossFit 5E, believes this competitive drive forms a unique mix of mental attributes that contributes to their success.

“A strong competitive spirit, a positive attitude and strong mental focus—they all have it and that’s what really makes the difference,” Anthony said.