Patrick Burke competes at the 2009 Games.

2010 CrossFit Games Finals

Skill vs. Will

Russell Berger examines the "suck factor" and what it means to CrossFitters.

The following comes from Russell Berger on the development of the CrossFit Games.

Describing the CrossFit Games as “growing rapidly” just doesn’t cut it anymore. We are witnessing the birth of a new sport.

Increasing popularity aside, the CrossFit Games are continuing to push the boundaries of human performance. In 2010, the CrossFit community witnessed the exclusion of more than one of its legendary competitors from the finals in L.A. Many athletes who had competed in the 2009 Games noted that the level of competition and difficulty at their regional qualifier was equal to what they had seen in Aromas the year before.

With amazing athletes starting to pop up across the globe, simply making it through all the qualifying events for the international-level main competition has become an impressive achievement. What’s even more disturbing is that the best in the world keep getting better. The ripples from performances from greats like Rob Orlando, Chris Spealler, Mikko Salo and Jason Khalipa are being felt throughout the community. Even programming on CrossFit.com—always designed to challenge the abilities of the world’s best athletes—has become noticeably more difficult as its strongest and fastest followers continue to improve their fitness.

What does all of this mean for the final events set to take place in L.A.? We can only guess, but I’d wager we are going to see the world’s best take on challenges that push the limits of what is physically possible.

It’s easy to imagine that at some point the genetic freaks of the world are going to migrate toward this rapidly growing and rapidly more lucrative sport. What about a gifted collegiate athlete who played on a D1 football team but didn’t quite make it to the professional level? How difficult would it be for that athlete to show up and crush it in his sectional or regional, edging out all of the guys and girls we used to think of as firebreathers? When the cash prize gets big enough, and when enough spectators and potential sponsors start watching the events on their televisions and computers, isn’t it likely that we’ll see athletes like this?

Maybe, but maybe not.

The one factor that makes the CrossFit Games so unique, and so painful, is the unknown. Athletes who make it to the Games are capable of two very important things: enduring suffering and working on their weaknesses.

Many of CrossFit’s best athletes have backgrounds in sports that are known for their “suck factor.” Spealler and Eric O’Connor both wrestled competitively in college, while Matt Chan played water polo. They’re athletes who worked hard and achieved success but have now found a new sport that rewards their hard work even more directly.

Others, such as 2010 competitors Pat Burke (North Central Regional), Deric Maruquin (South Central Regional), Candice Ruiz (South Central Regional) and Ryan Lilienthal (North Central Regional), as well as 2009 competitors including Steve Smith and Steve Willis, have military backgrounds where physical ability is meaningless in the absence of a strong will and mental fortitude. These athletes learned how to work hard, which is, perhaps more than anything else, what you need to produce a fast Fran time.

Many of the world’s best athletes are born with raw talent. They have the strength, speed, power and coordination to literally walk onto the field, court or ice and make everyone else look like they’re standing still. What these guys often lack isn’t physical ability but the experience of failure. When you don’t have your weaknesses highlighted, they stay weak, but you also don’t learn to deal with them. When you don’t struggle, you don’t learn to overcome, and adversity can derail talent in short order.

But when you know how to work—how to really work and persevere in the face of adversity—you have a special talent that goes beyond being able to shoot a three-pointer or throw a football through a tire. Regardless of which man and women win the 2010 CrossFit Games, it’s certain they will be talented athletes, but it’s also certain that they’ll have the determination and willpower that make them CrossFitters.

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10 comments on this entry

1. Latham wrote...

Another thing that will keep many top level athletes from other sports from being competitive is height. In Crossfit a tall person puts out more work output and gets less reps/weight in return. Conversely, most other sports reward height. Certainly the "big three" in the USA, baseball, football and basketball, do so. Baseball is the "shortest" of the three, where average height is 6'1". 6'3" is the NFL average. Average height in the Crossfit Games this year: 5'8".

2. Deric Maruquin wrote...

Vic Zachary of the South Central is also a decorated miltary veteran!!! RLTW!

3. theo wrote...

Der. M.
Much props for pointing out my bro. You two both killed South Central but faced S#@t worse in Iraq and Afgan..... Either way you two both deserve to be there.....................enjoy the moment.
nothin but H-Town love

4. Luke Mullen wrote...

RE @1. Latham: I picture a future Crossfit Games where the barbell (dumb bell, KB, WB, etc) lift distance & time is measured in real time, allowing for calculation of actual work performed and power output. Ditto similar measurements, enabled by Moore's Law, allowing greater accessibility at lower cost to such measurement instruments.

Scoring would be based on actual measured work performed and actual measured power output.

Don't discount either "The Tall Ones" or "The Short Ones" or "[fill in stereotype]"

5. Daniel Mick wrote...

Don't forget our other service members: fire and police.

A lot of this article is what I've been preaching to anyone who would listen (or not) for the past 4 years...!

6. Ulf C wrote...

Please do not forget that the 09 champion Mikko Salo is Firefighter/rescue diver.

7. oscar h wrote...

Would love to see an open invite to professional athletes of other sports, allowing them to test themselves against our top athletes. Sure not many would accept and few would even have enough intestinal fortitude to push themselves. So many are just a bunch of overpaid princesses!!!!!

8. Eric wrote...

@Oscar-
...or they wouldn't want to mess up their offseason training and risk injury by doing a bunch of kipping pullups or high-rep Oly lifting. CF-style training doesn't have a lot of benefit for specialists such as pro athletes so there's not much appeal for them to do it. I know I wouldn't risk a multimillion dollar contract to try to prove something at a fitness competition.

9. oscar h wrote...

Yeah Eric your probably right, so its obvious that using that Smith machine has produced wonders... So continue using it an doing your EZ curl arm pumpers on that whitney houston bench thingie....

10. Eric wrote...

No need to put words in my mouth Oscar...no clue how Whitney Houston and EZ curls got brought into this. My point was that CF is great for GPP (which is what 99% of the population probably needs) but isn't very good for sport-specific training for world-class athletes. Just about every pro athlete does a lot of the same movements CF uses (i.e. Oly lifts, squats, deadlifts, sprints, box jumps, etc) but they train according to the needs of their sport. Kobe Bryant and Reggie Bush don't care how many double unders or kipping pullups they can do, or how fast they can do 30 reps at lighter weights in a workout like Grace or Isabel, but I guarantee they've got strength, speed, and power numbers that would stack up with any CFer.

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