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Time called: Thoughts on the 2018 Open Competition

After 5 grueling weeks, time has been called on the 2018 Crossfit Open. This year’s competition saw a host of new movements, the first Crossfit ‘girl’ to feature and a choice of conclusion left to the Crossfit community.

The excitement of all this novelty however also brought a few controversies with it: changes to standards and more advancement movements appearing in workouts saw more than a few feathers ruffled this year.

One way or another, the 2018 Open series seemed to indicate a departure from the conventional movements and workout formats of the last 7 years and set a new direction for the Open competition.

With mountains to discuss, we narrowed it down to a few key areas we think are most significant from the 2018 Open for the future of the competition and the sport.  

 

The Dumbell

The 2018 Open saw the infamous dumbbell feature in the first 3 of 5 workouts. It’s the consecutive installment of the competition to feature the piece of equipment heavily, with 2 workouts in 2017 also requiring athletes to pick up one or two of them.

The simple gym stalwart has a habit of exposing weakness when it comes up in workouts in whatever movement form. The increase in its appearance in Open programming seems to suggest a desire of Dave Castro and other Open programmers to increase the range of potential workouts through introducing new movements.

Open workouts had become somewhat predictable with the usual suspects of thrusters, rowing, burpees etc. all expectable; the introduction of more dumbbell work increases the potential diversity of workouts but also adds another tool for differentiating athletes. As the Open grows in popularity and the number of athletes pushing for regional spots increases, programmers need to find ways to separate the field. Introducing novel movements, atypical of day-to-day workouts may be one strategy they are employing to do just that. It could be that we see more Games style novelty in the Open in the next few years. But with only limited universal equipment types to work with, it will be interesting to see what programmers come up with.

 

HSPU Standard

Handstand push-ups (HSPUs) have presented a difficult challenge for the Crossfit Games judging team since they first appeared in the Open. The movement can drastically change form depending on athletes hand placement and locking out at the top can be difficult to judge when athletes are getting through reps at pace. This year’s attempt to outline a universal standard that ensures fairness and consistency seemed to again fall short. The 2018 standard required athletes’ feet to pass above a mark measured at half a forearm’s distance from the top of the athlete’s head. From the outset of 18.4 (where HSPUs made up a significant portion of the workout) athletes were forced to adapt to the new standard. Scott Panchik could be seen drawing his toes down at the top of his reps in order to extend his heels past the required mark. While this may have slowed Panchik, who went on to win the announcement battle versus Björgvin Karl Guðmundsson, for other athletes the new standard brought an end to their open aspirations.

3-time Games veteran Jacob Heppner posted an emotional comment on instagram following 18.4 explaining how he had struggled so much with the standard that his score would leave him out of the running for Regional qualification. Heppner explained that his unusually long forearm length (relative to his entire arm length) made the standard almost impossible for him, and athletes with similar proportions, to hit.  

A standard based on athletes’ anatomical proportions did sound strange from the outset. Crossfit is branded as a sport for all, with the advantages and disadvantages of certain body shapes averaging out over a range of movements in competition. In the case of this year’s HSPU standard however the judging criteria seemed to exclude athletes who had disadvantageous limb proportions relative to the standard from fair competition.

While nothing can be done for those who lost out this year due to the standard, perhaps there will be another revision next year that will address the issues seen in 2018. The trial-and-error with standard setting however inevitably sees some lose out.

 

Accessibility

Double-unders, ring and bar muscle ups, handstand walks and 315-lb deadlifts: this year’s Open was hardly ‘accessible’ in the RX division. The 2018 RX competition demanded both technical gymnastics skills and the ability to shift some heavy weight just to get into the middle portion of some workouts. It seems reasonable that twe should ask:  has the programming gone to far in favour of creating spectacle at the announcements and social media hype at the expense of making participation in the RX division attainable?

Crossfit is a growing sport with increasing attention from media and brands. In the early days of the sport the discipline had a much more rough and ready edge (trust us we know – we were there!). Now however the live broadcasts, sleek branding and celebrity-like athletes have created an image more akin to Roman gladiator combat than the garage-vibe of the early scene.

With the potential of new money entering the sport there is undoubtedly pressure to make Crossfit more watchable and spectator friendly. We’ve already seen it at the Regionals and Games where athletes progress along tracks to notify how many reps they’ve done and thus their position in the pack. In the days of old competitors didn’t have to carry bars forward or move onto new squares, al was done on the spot as it would be in a community gym. Now however even the most entry-level point of the Crossfit Games competition, the Open, seems to have been warped by a need for more spectacle, excitement and gasping moments.

The whole excitement of Castro’s Instagram clues and watching the top athletes shift serious weight or race on their hands however seems to have come at a cost of accessibility in the Open.  Being able to complete an Open at RX standard was once a dream that a large number of ‘Crossfit average-joe’s’ would be able to achieve with a bit of commitment and hard work. It now seems however that just being able to get through one Open workout at RX standard is a lofty goal.

Crossfit.com even commented on the complaints in the community in this article by Mike Warkentin. Warkentin claims the Open should cater for the elite, that the scaled division is for everyone else and that anyone unhappy with that should check their egos. The comment though misses the point. The magic of the Open was being able to see yourself on a leaderboard with the likes of Matt Fraser and Tia-Clair Toomey – knowing you had done the same work as them. What made the Open exciting was that it felt like Games athletes weren’t a tier above and that the average-joe could feel like they were nipping on the heels of the podium finishers, not exiled to a separate class.

Granted we need to find ways to separate the top athletes and decide on regionals spots, and of course new money and exposure in the sport of Crossfit can help the methodology grow but surely the first step of the competition should retain its central motif of entire community participation? Shaking off the unworthy into a separate scaled stream with limited chance of graduation to RX seems contrary to the core inclusive ethos of the sport.   

Perhaps the question that needs to be asked is how ‘open’ really is the Crossfit Open?

 

Regardless of the niggles we discuss, we had a great time in the 2018 Open. Each week provided new challenges and an opportunity to utilise the entire range of our training shoes. One thing we’ve learnt from this year’s Open is getting the little details right. Being aware of standards in your preparation, being prepared for mental obstacles and getting your choice of footwear right all may seem small contributors to OPen performance but they add up!

 

We hope you had a fantastic Open and good luck to those moving onto regionals!

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