Graham Holmberg races up the rope in the final event

2010 CrossFit Games Finals

Testing Fitness as a Sport

Tony Budding shares some of the theory behind the structure of the 2010 Games.

CrossFit is both a training modality and a sport. As a training modality, we can improve the real-world physical capacity of folks from any walk of life. As a sport, we can compete for fun, or we can compete for the title of “fittest.” The CrossFit Games are the world championships of our sport, so we title the winners the Fittest on Earth. 

Using a single CrossFit workout as a sport is pretty simple. Put the names up on the whiteboard. Allow scaling, which is a form of handicapping, or not. Pre-register any excuses, or not. Set the terms of the workout and go. The winner is he or she who finishes first, with the most rounds and reps, or who lifts the most weight.

Combining multiple workouts into an integrated CrossFit competition is more complicated. Because every workout is different, combining them in a fair way is rarely a simple, straightforward process. We’ve been experimenting with this in the Games for four years now. This article is a philosophical look into what it means to test fitness as a sport.

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8 comments on this entry

1. ken c wrote...

i really liked the workouts at the games. i thought they tested, as equally as can be expected, skill, power and endurance. my only two criticisms are in the details really.

amanda with muscle ups and squat snatches is a great combination of movements but why make the athletes jump into the muscle up? no one trained this way prior to the games. if it was just to throw in a ringer then i get it.

cleans and hanstand push ups is another great combination but i wouldn't have asked the athletes to do them on rings. this is really just an opinion but it just seems to me that the movements being tested should be something that there has been plenty of exposure to. as far as i know, ring hspu have appeared in maybe two mainsite workouts. i don't think the lack of ability to them shows a training imbalance. its an extemely difficult skill that was barely on the radar prior to the games.

i do like the mixed modality discussion. makes perfect sense not to have single modality events. because of that, i think the games were a great test of broad general fitness; thus, true to crossfit's definition of fitness.

ps - i might have thrown a few crash mats under those ropes too. glad no one was hurt. credit to great athletes.

2. Kody King wrote...

Finally read the whole article. Your argument for your scoring system is nonsensical. I cannot believe that Crossfit continues to stand behind something so incredibly flawed. I wish it were just a bad joke, but Tony keeps trying to sell this scoring system. Tony, admit it was flawed system and tell the CF community that scoring will be better next year. Our elite athletes DESERVE a better scoring system. Or at least a fair one.

My name and email address are the link in orange if you need any suggestions (I'm a great monday morning quarterback)

I loved the events this year. Awesome test of CF and total fitness. Great job with the events, and the live broadcast.

3. Kody King wrote...

I read your article again to make sure my first post wasn't too harsh. It's pretty bad Tony. The majority of your sentences that try to refute an argument, don't make any sense.

This is an actual sentence from your article:

"Whatever absolute mathematical facts there may be about weighting early or later events more or less, the reality is that the Games, like nature, favor the generalist and punish the specialist with any glaring weakness."

How is the first part of that sentence refuted by the last part of that sentence? How are they even related? How can you pass this off as a sentence? How have you found a way to shove that many commas into one sentence?

Your argument reads like an Owen Wilson ad lib sounds:
At first glance I could gloss right over it and think it might make sense (or allow myself to accept that it makes sense. When I actually go back and reread it, I realize it is a load of crap.

The first part of that sentence (A) acknowledges that your system is a mathematical nightmare (hyperbole). The second part (B) basically states : "It's ok that we don't use sound mathematical principles to score a national competition because nature favors the 'Jack of all Trades'". B does not prove A. B actually has little to do with A.

You could have written: "2 plus 2 does not always equal 4 because a population of color blind men can mistake red for green in some shades of natural light". It would have made just as much sense and been a tad more entertaining.

4. Kody King wrote...

You are grasping at straws with your mat argument. Show some humility and admit you might have made a mistake.

A. There is no way you have any sort of medical expertise to diagnose or grade the injuries that occurred on the rope event. I am not saying the injuries were more severe than you made them out to be, but it is caddy and arrogant to dismiss them the way you did. (ie. there is not much difference between the force it takes to fracture the calcaneus and the force it takes to sustain your "heel bruise". A "heel bruise" , however , mostly refers to an injury sustained by repetitive trauma, not the injury mechanism you described.)
Side note: I just tied you for commas in a sentence.

B. Your ability to assert your condescension upon CF spectators that are concerned for the general safety of the competitors is impressive. You make your argument sound almost defensible. By calling us naive and telling us we can't consider any "what if's", you have already won your own argument.

C. This is an actual quote from your article: "..while good gymnastics matting might have helped reduce injury in a theoretical catastrophic fall, it may have caused one by giving an athlete a false sense of security."
In what world is this sound logic? If you don't want an athlete to fall from mid rope so the he/she can move more quickly through the WOD, then put a restriction on the height that he/she may "drop" from.

D. I can think of A LOT of "what if's". I am glad that we were lucky.

E. You could have just as easily written that mats might have been a good idea. Or you could have admitted that some other safety measure might have been more appropriate. Instead, your article finished with arrogance, closed mindedness, and an obvious lack of mathematical prowess.

F. I completely agreed with most of what came before the section entitled "The Rope"

5. Tony Budding wrote...

Kody King,
Thanks for the email. You have a curious mix of tones here, which is irrelevant to the argument but interesting nonetheless. So, in order:

I stand by the scoring unequivocally. You have completely failed to address my main point about it: the margins between athletes within different workouts are not equal measures of fitness. The margins (whether seconds, pounds, percentages, or some algorithmic calculation) vary greatly. For example, running events tend to have tight margins, whereas events with muscle-ups or handstand pushups tend to have substantial margins. Any scoring system that ranks participants' margins of victory in such diverse events as we find in the CrossFit Games is less fair and less accurate for determining overall fitness because it favors the specialist and overweights the high margin events.

There is another important point here that you've missed. Something true in mathematics may have no application in the real world. 2+2=4 is a mathematical fact. But 2 oranges plus 2 apples does not equal 4 of either. That doesn't negate the validity of the mathematical fact; it just means that you can't blindly attach mathematical facts to the real world and assume a commensurate truth or accuracy.

I'll repeat something that was in the article. We started with 45 men. Why 45? Why not 100? Why not 20? Was there something statistically significant about 45? No. It mostly had to do with the logistics of running an event, and not because it was necessary to find the world's fittest man. This is extremely important to understand because it changes how you evaluate cuts and scoring.

Look at the first four events of the Games. There was a long event, a medium event, a short event, and a heavy event. That's a pretty good mix of fitness tests, and after those four events, we could see a significant difference between the performances of the top 15 athletes and the bottom 20 athletes. It was obvious that the bottom 20 simply weren't in the same league. Almost no one in the bottom 20 had top 10 finishes in ANY event, and almost no one in the top 10 had bottom 20 finishes in ANY event.

What this means is that our search for the world's fittest should come from the top 10 athletes. But the process isn't so precise, so we weren't sure who the top 10 were going to be. The Sectionals and Regionals whittled it down from thousands to 45. The first four workouts, down to 24, and then finally to 16. In effect, though, these top 16 athletes were always competing primarily against each other because they were the only ones with a legit shot.

Of course, the system isn't perfect. But it's better than all the alternatives. Resetting the scoring, for example, eliminates the breadth of tests that count. Adjusting the weight of each placement actually punishes the fittest by overly weighting the final events.

6. Tony Budding wrote...

In terms of the mats, you accuse me of using WHAT IFs to make the argument. The biggest WHAT IF comes from the criticisms. What if someone had really hurt themselves? Well, they didn't. You accuse me of condescension, callousness, not caring about the athletes' safety. That couldn't be further from the truth. I know the great majority of the competitors personally, and many are close friends. I was worried about them falling (I also worry about my 16 year old daughter driving). My point isn't that it wasn't dangerous, but that I don't believe that having mats there would have made it inherently safer. Interestingly, there is a corollary here with ABS brakes and car accidents. ABS brakes don't reduce accidents (see Question #4 here

Kody, it's obvious that you care about the sport and our athletes, and for that I thank you. We have a great future of competition ahead of us.

7. Kody King wrote...

Your response was much more tactful than my posts... thank you. I apologize for my tone. My words were much more biting than they should have been. Too often my banter comes out as just plain mean.

With that said.

I love your point about 2 apples and 2 oranges, it allows me to see where you are coming from. You are correct, 2 apples and 2 oranges do not equal four of either. It does however equal 4 fruit. It does equal 4 semi spherical edible objects of similar mass. It probably also equals a pretty awesome paleo fruit salad for 2... I digress. My point is that it still equals four of "something", and that "something " is measurable. Those "somethings" can then be compared.

Your argument fits perfectly in supporting your point that while trying to manage events that have time/reps/weight as their results, the best scoring option is to use a place ranking system. I mostly 99.9% agree. The logistics of anything else would be difficult. It would not be user, athlete, or fan friendly. With that said:

Let me propose this method of scoring, I would like to hear your input.

It is a rank system. It is very simple

Lets pretend that you just made the 24 man/woman cut. Each of the athletes have scores from 4 previous events. Each of the athletes has a rank order from each of the four events.

Now, reassign each of the athletes a score for EACH of the four events as if the cut competitors had not competed in those events. Your 24 athletes are still ordered by how they finished on each event. The difference is, now they are only being compared with each other. They are no longer being compared to scores that basically don't exist. Everyone is still reward for how they did on EVERY event.

It doesn't erase CS's 1st on Amber, he is still rewarded for that. But Blair M has a 24 instead of a 39 on that WOD, which makes the scoring MUCH more fair for him as he moves further into the competition.

Make another cut...16. Everyone gets new scores for ALL of the previous events. It makes it as if all 16 athletes had only been competing against each other the entire time. It makes each event stay weighted the same. Everyone is rewarded for where they place in relation to the other 16.

The point is there is no huge RESET button that reassigns new score while erasing past performances. Just a little reset button that allows us to compare our top 16 as if they really are our top 16.

It would have been nice to just find the top 10 from the beginning and send them through the same workouts. This system allows you to do exactly that (except its 16 not 10).

8. Kody King wrote...

I did not accuse you using "what ifs". I criticized you for dismissing the "what ifs" by telling us that the "what ifs" did not happen.

I think your ABS point also missed the mark. Not that the facts are inaccurate, just that the situations are not analogous.

A much more accurate comparison would be air bags. Since the invention of airbags there have been a lot less fatalities secondary closed/open head injury following MVA. There have also been a lot more broken noses from air bag deployment, some of these following a very low energy MVA's. It is a risk/reward situation. I would much rather be alive with a broken nose, than risk the alternative by not having an airbag.

In the same light, I would prefer that ALL of the athletes be a little unstable at the bottom of the ropes. I would prefer their instability over the slim chance that one of the athletes might suffer an un-matted 20 ft fall.

Here is another side of the coin:

I am sure that CF covered itself legally for injury sustained during the events. But I am also certain that the "what ifs" your critics proposed, would sweep the rug from beneath you in a court of law. ANY injury argument could have sited negligence and probably win the case no matter what sort of document the athletes had signed.

I am not trying to incite a lawsuit, just trying to shine a different light on the situation.

Again, Tony, I would like to say that I appreciate the tactfulness of your responses. Reading my own words back to myself, I realize I made some pretty inappropriate accusations. I am very sorry that I attacked you the way I did. Thanks for your responses.


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