Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Just. Do. The Work. Already.

Well, it just wouldn't feel like the kickoff to the CrossFit Games Open season without there being some sort of annoying non-troversy for everyone to get their knickers in a twist over. This year has proven to be no different. The first workouts were announced, and immediately the CrossFitters on the interwebz went nuts trying to figure out how to skin the WoDs most efficiently.

To review, for those of you lucky enough to be living under a rock:
Workout 15.1: 
  • 15 Toes-to-Bar
  • 10 Deadlifts (115/75#)
  • 5 Snatches (115/75#)
Workout 15.1a
1RM Clean & Jerk
  • 6 minute time cap
The first workout is an AMRAP (As Many Rounds/Reps as Possible) for 9 minutes, followed by a 1 rep max (heaviest weight possible) single lift Clean & Jerk. As discussed (at length) in the 6 minute standards video, the two workouts flow from one into the other, for a total combined time of 15 minutes.

If you watch the video (especially in light of what's to come), it rapidly becomes apparent that CrossFit HQ made a good-faith effort to account for every conceivable possibility in terms of how competitors could try to cheat the workouts. Re-watching the video is actually humorous to me now, because they clearly tried to deal with SO MANY ways people have tried to cheat in the past (or, to be charitable, "hack/bend the rules" in the name of competition.) Among those who actually wanted to try their best, the results were remarkable.

This year saw a slew of very strong athletes discover the tiniest loophole, and seek to exploit it for maximal gain. Why bother wasting time and energy on the AMRAP when you can just do a single rep of Toes-2-Bar
and then, fully rested, put up an amazing C&J. And so began the gaming of 15.1/15.1A. To be clear, some of the athletes involved are people I have the *utmost* respect for, and what follows is not me just ragging on people I look down on. Far from it. This is more disappointment than rage on my part.

To take a tangent, in college, I played Ultimate Frisbee. I was far from the best player on a team that was far from the best team... but we had fun. One of the BEST rules in ultimate, at least at that point, was "Spirit of the Game." What that entailed was everyone taking responsibility for their own actions, and their team's actions. You called your own fouls. If someone fouled you, you could call that, but it would be incumbent on the other player to really review what happened, and generally such fouls were upheld. There was never a need for a ref, and the idea of needing one was foreign. We were all out there to have fun, both teams, and that meant working to have a level playing field, without cheating or skinning the rules. Very sweet for a mediocre college team.

However, at the higher levels, where the stakes were higher, cheating and shitty calls abounded, fouls were made and then denied, or (a la the Italian National soccer team) fouls were claimed by players just looking to get that little bit ahead. But ALL the while, the values of "Spirit of the Game" were loudly professed to anyone naive enough to listen. It sounded good, but it was just another loophole being exploited by athletes more desperate to win than to win fairly and on the merits of their performance. (For the record, my love of Spirit of the Game makes me incredibly naive, too, as to hear any professional athletes talk about competition, its ALL about finding those loopholes and tweaks... but that doesn't make them right.)

Eventually, when Ultimate really wanted to go pro, they realized that, what with all the rampant cheating and poor sportsmanship on the field, they should probably get refs on the field and remove the ability to cheat from those most desperate to do so. At least as much as possible.

The CrossFit Open is struggling through the same transition right now. The Open has always been a grassroots effort to allow every CrossFitter, of every skill level, to participate, to test their fitness, to see where they compare against a global  collection of their gym-rat colleagues. Much like CrossFit has espoused from the very earliest days, athletes are expected to both know their own capabilities, but to also take ownership of their workouts. Sure, there are coaches to guide, but hopefully every CrossFitter has read
What Is CrossFit?, What is Fitness?, and Foundations. Nevermind that every article in the CrossFit Journal is now free for everyone to read, including all of the early articles that really broke down the basic movements. CrossFitters who've managed to avoid learning all of this foundational literature are really not so far removed from globo-gym members just rotely doing whatever their underpaid, undereducated trainer tells them to.

At the same time, CrossFitters, and especially those who aspire to the top of the Games Leaderboard, are expected to know what the workouts are really asking for, and what the workouts mean. In the case of 15.1 and 15.1A (to finally come all the way back around), HQs intent is *painfully* clear: Do grueling work for 9 minutes, blowing up your grip and back in the process. THEN, in a fatigued state, work up to the heaviest C&J possible. This is so elementary, it pisses me off to have to say it. AMRAP. As Many Rounds As Possible. Note the difference between that, and say... AMRAIFL. As Many Reps As I Feel Like.

The arguments put forward by those who only did a single rep, then hit a nice rested C&J, are of only the saddest, most pedantic variety. "HQ never said we had to do more than one!" "They should have changed to scoring, to combine the reps and weights. They should have seen this coming!" This is, of course, the most pathetic excuse for sandbagging one workout and then effectively cheating on the next. No, HQ didn't set a minimum, because then all of the sandbaggers would have just done that minimum, still completely missing the point of the competition.

Best part? The guy who did 3 full rounds and outlifted everyone else. Oh, and Andrew Rape completing 6+ rounds and still outlifting almost everyone. Cheating didn't even really pay off, except to be an also-ran anyways... oops!

Most delectable, as an observer, was watching the inevitable outcry from the peanut gallery when those scores were invalidated. "There goes HQ, changing the rules!" Um, go back and read the workout definition, watch the description, and tell me where HQ EVER implied it would be ok or encouraged anyone to not actually TRY on 15.1 before heading onto 15.1A. HQ didn't. Like watching Matt Murski bounce his squat clean & jerks off the ground in the 2008 games, this is a CLEAR case of people knowingly circumventing the intention of the workout, then getting butt-hurt when they got called on it. Even worse was HQ having to officially point out than an AMRAP should probably be treated like an AMRAP. Its so confusing...

So, where do we go from here? Clearly, Dave Castro has to spell everything out in purple crayon, and the standards videos will clearly need to be 10 times as long as the actual workouts, dealing with literally EVERY POSSIBLE WAY people might try to game the system. Every single workout will have to be done in front of Dave Castro himself to ensure that intentions are met.

After all, if we're going to cheat like 4-year-olds, we should probably be treated like 4-year-olds. Thanks guys. Another nail in the coffin of the Spirit of the Game. It's clearly too much to expect that everyone could be told the workout, and then go and DO the workout to the best of their ability. This is NOT the day and age of people just bucking up and doing the work. Actually, that's unfair. Probably 99.9% of Open competitors just did the work. That just leaves the whinging pedants to be told:

Just. Do. The. Work. Already.

NB. Big thanks to Matt Vincent for a fairly long conversation over Instagram on both his reasoning going into 15.1A after only a single rep in 15.1, as well as his acceptance of HQ's decision. His opinion that both scores should have been added together to really punish the sandbaggers makes a lot of sense. Given his upcoming strongman/highland games seasons, his desire to NOT epically eff up his hands on Toes-2-Bars, especially  in a competition he has no real incentive to kill himself for, makes a ton of sense. Its funny how the athletes who tried to skin the WoDs are the most accepting of HQs decision, but the peanut gallery is in absolute hysterics...