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CrossFit Games: A Judges Perspective

CrossFit Judge

2012 Australian Regionals

The 2012 Open was finished. Phew! That was tough… tougher than last year. And I knew the Regionals would be even tougher but I wanted to be a part of it. When I received an email to say that I would be participating in the Regional’s I was over the moon (fist pumps all round).

Before the Regional WODs were released I ventured to other Boxes and trained with some new guys I hadn’t met. We speculated about what we might expect. When the WODs were released, I watched them on the Games Channel. My jaw dropped. Are you serious?!  100-pound dumbbell snatch? 225 pound cleans? Holy crap! They were more than my 1RMs.

The flow of the WODS themselves seemed to be quite complex too – remove weights here, hold weights there, a burpee penalty if this happens, a 1-minute time penalty if that happens.  This would also be a test of the grey matter.

Everything about 2012 appeared to bigger, faster, heavier, and slightly more complicated.  But hey, this was CrossFit – always evolving, and I wanted to be a part of it.

The morning of the Regionals I was one of the first to arrive in the Wollongong with my fellow coach, Drew. The streets were empty minus a few individuals wearing shorts, hoodies and long socks. Yep, we were in the right place.

As I walked towards WIN stadium I imagined walking towards the Colosseum in Rome. In a few hours, male and female gladiators would be battling each other for the glory of being crowned the fittest in Australia and New Zealand, and earn the chance to take on the best in the world. And I was going to be a part of it – right in the mix.

I registered and was given a wristband and a shirt. It was starting to feel real now.I scanned the registration area and saw other CrossFitters signing in. I discreetly looked everyone up and down, speculating in my head how they would fare in the events. He’s a big bloke – he’ll be one to watch in the snatches. She looks super fit – definitely one to watch in the squat WOD.

There were many faces I did not recognize and then there were those who had become celebrities. I was like a schoolgirl seeing a boyband member up close and personal. Oh my God, there’s Amanda Allen, and there’s Chad Mackay. It was a CrossFit groupies wet dream.

This was cool. I made my way through the maze of corridors under the stadium and eventually found the chill-out room where we would rest and refuel between events. I introduced myself to others who were already there. Those familiar questions you hear when you meet CrossFitters for the first time were asked – “Where do you train?…..How long have you been CrossFitting?…….Are you a coach?…..Have you been to the Regionals before?………

CrossFit Judging

Image by Lee Valentine

There wasn’t much time to rest though as we had to attend a briefing on the first two WODs of the day. I could see the nerves and anticipation in everyone’s faces.  The Competition Director, Brad McKee, was introduced to us all. He looked like a pretty serious dude. Brad went through the first two WODs for the day and left nothing out. There seemed to be a lot to take in and I did my best to absorb all that he said. I did not want to stuff up. Not today.

I saw a lot of Media people and cameras everywhere. More than last year. If I messed up, it would be caught on camera – great. It wasn’t enough that the few thousand people in the stadium would see me, but now I also had to worry about the HQ staff seeing it and having the option to rewind and watch again, plus the tens of thousands of fans out there on the internet dissecting every second……….what nerves?

At the end of the briefing we were all shown the timetable for the day. I could see when I was on – WOD 1, Heat 1.  OK, now I really got anxious. Things were about to kick off very soon.My palms started to get sweaty and my mouth went dry. As time passed I could hear the music pumping and crowds of people start to file into the stands. I grabbed my 3rd coconut water for the day (I had only been there for 2 hours) to moisten my mouth.

At 10am it was game on. I was corralled into the athlete marshalling area and stood in what resembled a cattle stall. The stalls were only narrow – barely wide enough for some of the monsters that were competing. The first workout of the day was Team Diane so there were a lot of people squeezed into this small area.

There were mixed emotions on people’s faces. Some stood there solemn in an almost meditative state. Others wore iPods, no doubt listening to their psyche-up music. Then there were those who were joking, laughing and having a good old time as if they were standing around a BBQ with mates.  There were a few faces I recognized from last year. I wished them luck. Fist bumps were being passed around.

Batch, one of the behind the scenes coordinators, whistled out loud and caught everyone’s attention. “Listen up!  We are about to begin.  You will all walk out one team at a time in the order of your lanes.  Good luck everyone!”

Adam Brown Walking out

Adam Walking out: Image Valentine

Shiiiiit, here we go.  Batch looked at me and said,  “You’re up.”  I gulped and took a deep breath then began the very short walk from the marshalling area to the doorway that lead into the heart of the stadium.

The lights, the cheering, yelling and screaming, the music and the sound of the MC took my breath away. I felt like I had a small pterodactyl flying around in my stomach.

I was awestruck as I walked to my designated lane, my head on a swivel, staring up at the crowds, cameras and officials.  Other athletes followed behind and it wasn’t long before everyone was lined up and ready to rock’n’roll.

I went over the WOD in my head.  Ensure the arms lock out, hips and knees are open, shoulders behind the bar, feet stay on the wall, palms stay off the lines, no bouncing, both plates hit the ground……….. and this was probably the easiest WOD in terms of standards to remember.

A few practice reps of the deadlift and handstand push-ups were performed before the actual event to ensure standards were known. Ok, that feels a bit better.  Everything was put into context.  I knew what I was dealing with.

We all got into our start positions. The tension in the stadium was building. My heart began to race.  3, 2, 1, GO!  It all happened so quickly. Everyone was moving at a blistering pace. I had to keep up. There was no time to waste. I had to be on the ball and make sure every rep counted. It had to be done properly. I was being watched. Don’t mess up, I kept telling myself.

Each rep was good. The deadlifts were easy. And then came the handstand push-ups. Keep it going. Maintain the range and good form. The crowd was yelling, the music was pumping, the MC was revving everyone up. Then it happened. Feet came off the wall before the arms were locked out. It caught me slightly off-guard.

I did what I had to do. All the weeks of tension, all the training had come down to this very moment and I yelled at the top of my voice, “NO REP!” and partnered it with a very deliberate extension of my arms to the side. “FEET CAME OFF THE WALL! YOU ARE ON 11,” and that was it my Games had officially begun.

Adam Brown Judging Wall

Image by Lee Valentine

Ok, ok. I’ll admit it, 2012 was not my season. Not as an athlete anyway. Yes I made it to the Regionals but I was there as a judge not a competitor. As an affiliate owner and CrossFitter I felt if I could not be there competing the best way I could give back was to spend my weekend as a judge. And what a weekend it was.

That phrase, “NO REP” was something I had to call more than I wanted to over the weekend.  Not because the athletes were bad. It was just that the standards were so high and as a judge I was looking for reps that left absolutely no doubt in my mind that full ROM was achieved.

Going to parallel in a squat was not good enough. You had to break parallel. The slightest bend in an elbow was not good enough to pass.

Being a Coach I was conflicted. I wanted to see the athletes excel and for that short time, I was with them I felt like I was part of their support team. I wanted to motivate them, give them some tips in the heat of battle. But I had to curtail my natural reflex and remain objective and impartial.

We were given very specific instructions by Brad. We were there to judge, not to coach. We had to maintain the high standards of the Games and the integrity of the competition. There was a lot of pressure on us judges to get it right. An athlete missing out on their opportunity to go to LA because I made a bad call was my worst nightmare and likely shared by every other judge. Hence the nerves.

On the flipside, being so close to the athletes was an inspiring thing. Whilst the rest of the crowd made assumptions about an athlete’s “poor” performance, I knew that it was because his or her back had seized up, or because he/she had popped a rib the day before and had only just had it popped back into place that day.

I could see the agony on the athletes face with every rep. I could hear their screams of pain and their breathlessness, but most of all I could see that steely determination in their eyes and their strong will to keep going. No-one I judged gave up, regardless of their placing. Every single athlete took it to his or her limit and beyond. That is what I will remember most about the Regionals.

Kylie Lindbeck Snatch Ladder

Kylie Lindbeck Snatch Ladder

That and being a part of some of the winning performances. One in particular stands out. I got to judge Kylie Lindbeck in the Snatch Ladder. Once all of the other girls had dropped off, it was just Kylie, me and Brad on the arena floor.

I knew everyone was watching Kylie, but for me, those seconds it took her to pull the weight off the floor, whip it over her head, and lock out, seemed an eternity and I felt like I was the one being scrutinized.

I could feel the crowd on the edge of their seats, holding their collective breaths. In my head I was screaming out “c’mon, c’mon, get it up, you can do it”, and I felt like all eyes were on me waiting to shoot my two fingers forward and call out “DOWN.”

I wanted to see Kylie take it to the end, as did everyone else. And when she reached 175 pounds and couldn’t get the weight up, I didn’t want to call out “NO REP.”  But I had to. And she was happy. And the crowd went off. What a feeling. What a great community!

As a judge, yes it was exhausting. Yes it was nerve wracking. Yes it was tough. Every judge out there that weekend put in a massive effort – more than most will know. They were long days. Throats were dry and hoarse from all of the yelling, eyes were red and dusty from maintaining constant eye contact on the athletes, and mental fatigue was high.

But having the opportunity to be so close to such great athletes and playing a small hand in their performances boosted everyone up and is what will stick in my mind.  And it means I will volunteer to do it all again next year and get right back in the mix.

I can’t finish this piece without making special mention of Brad McKee, Matthew Batchelor, Shane Luximon and Mick Shaw. These guys made a logistical nightmare run very, very smoothly. All of the volunteers put in massive hours, not for money, but for the love of CrossFit, and these 4 guys lead the charge. My hat goes off to you.

I recommend to any CrossFitter out there that if you are not competing next year, get involved and volunteer.  Insert yourself into the community, meet some great people and have an awesome time.

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