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Interview: Jason Khalipa 2008 CrossFit Games Champion

Jason Khalipa 2011 Reebok CrossFit Open

Jason during 2011 Reebok CrossFit Open

In a sport like CrossFit, where participation levels are growing at an exponential rate, it’s not too often you get to meet someone who has been there from the very beginning.

Jason Khalipa, however, can safely say he is one of the ‘original’ CrossFit athletes. Not only has the 26 year old been learning the craft for the past five years, but he is also one of only five people to have ever been crowned the ‘fittest man on earth’.

Jason Khalipa on podium 2008 CrossFit Games

Jason Khalipa on the podium at the 2008 CrossFit Games

In 2008, Khalipa made history when he won the CrossFit Games title, in what he says was one of his most life changing experiences. Back then, there was no major sponsor, no real prize money on offer, and nowhere near the amount of competitors taking part in the sport as we have now.

With four more years of experience behind him, Khalipa is now focused on becoming the first ever competitor to win the event twice.

Heading into week four of the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games Open, Jason Khalipa is sitting in 15th position overall and is showing everyone he is still a dominating force.

This week, The Rx Review caught up with the 2008 champion to find out how he’s preparing for this year’s event, how much the sport has changed during his career, and who he thinks his main competitors are this year.

So Jason, how have you been finding this year’s open so far, and what are your thoughts on the workouts we’ve had?

Yeah I’ve been happy with the Open. They (the workouts) have all been great as individuals, but I think they’ve all been even better as a combined test of fitness. So the first one was very inclusive, I really enjoyed it, the second one was a bit more challenging, and the last one was the standard triplet, so I’ve really liked them, I thought they were really good workouts.

What are you hoping for in the final workout?

Whatever comes out I’m ready to rock it! You know the Open is fun, it’s a good time to test where you’re at and get ready for Regional’s. So you know, I really don’t change my training at all; I don’t really do anything different, I workout just as usual – I don’t take a day off, I just hit the workout, whatever comes up I just rock it and see how it goes.

Couplets would be good, triplets would be good, something simple, and something that’s standard CrossFit is what I’m really excited about.

Now, this year we have seen a few surprises in the male and female leaderboard’s with a number of athletes with very little CrossFit experience break into the top ten. Do you think we will start to see more of this in future years?

Jason Khalipa Beach Swim 2011 Reebok CrossFit Open

Jason during the beach swim 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games

No one is gonna get off their couch and a year later compete in the CrossFit Games. But I do think there are people who play football, who have been training in a high intensity fashion for years and have developed an edge for this fitness, who start getting into CrossFit and understand what’s going on, and a year or two later they are able to perform well.

But you never know what’s gonna happen, you know, it takes a long time to develop the skills that CrossFit requires. Even if you are a football player, you might have a good baseline, but it takes a long time to continue to develop all those unique skills that only someone who been to the CrossFit Games and who has spent the last 5-10 years of their life to develop, is going to have, because we practice so many different things, whereas a footballer might only work on one or two.

So, I think we are going to see more and more people coming out of the woodworks, but I think your going to see a lot of the similar guys stick to the top because we have worked so hard for so many years to develop our overall athleticism. Most of these people are trying to develop for their specific sport, whereas our sport is CrossFit, that should be the way of putting it.

Jason Khalipa CrossFit Commercial

Jason’s very funny 2011 CrossFit Games commercial

So do you think someone like Josh Golden, who is currently in second place with only one year of CrossFit experience under his belt, could win this year’s event?

I don’t know anything about Josh Golden. I mean I know he’s doing pretty well at the Open, but I think the Open is just one example. I mean, so know you’re saying you’re good at burpees, you’re good at snatches, and you’re pretty good at an overall conditioning workout. But that’s all we know about people right now, so to say they’ve got a shot at the Games, I think, is a bit premature.

You know, the Open is a good test, but the regional’s is where you see where the people can stand out. How do you deal with multiple workouts each day? How do you deal when you are out of your element? You know, you’re not inside your gym, someone’s telling you when you will go to your next event. That’s when all these other factors come into play.

I mean yeah, these people might be super fit, maybe even more fit than the people who make it to the Games, but it’s all about the people who can perform at the Regional’s and the CrossFit Games, which is a totally different element, so I’m excited to see how that goes for everybody.

Who do you think are your main competitors this year?

Rich Froning and Dan Bailey, without a doubt. My training partner Neal Maddox, we definitely have those guys on our radar. Those are the guys who are really setting the standard right now and that’s who we are going for.

You’re also training with Pat Barber at the moment, right?

We train occasionally together; I mean we work together, but Neil and I train everyday together.

On a personal level, how have you been preparing for each workout?

My mentality is, I’m not gonna re-do the workouts and I’m not gonna allow the Open to dictate my training. For example, I did the Open workout on Thursday, the day before I walked a mile with 300 pounds behind me. I mean, doing that kind of floodwork, would it really be beneficial to trying to get my best score?

What I’m really trying to do is just contain my training and see how I do in the Open and so far I’ve been really, really happy.

Which workout did you find the hardest?

The burpees affected me more than I was expecting, because there were a lot of people who were able to do so many more burpees than me in seven minutes, which set me back pretty bad.

I mean, I placed 5th in the world in the snatches, and I think like 30th or whatever in the last workout, but the problem is I placed 330th in the burpees, so it kind of set me back a little you know. But it is what it is you know and we’ll see next week if it holds (laughs).

Jason Khalipa 2008 Final Workout CrossFit Games

Jason Khalipa during the final workout in 2008 CrossFit Games

Now let’s rewind the clock a little bit, you won the event back in 2008, how did it feel being crowned the ‘fittest man on earth’?

At the time I was just laughing about it, cos’ I couldn’t believe that I came out of training in a small facility with my buddy and ended up winning. It was just a laughable experience meaning that I couldn’t even believe it. Driving home I couldn’t even understand how something like that could happen.

But over time now, I’ve gotten more and more into the community and it’s been the best thing, it’s really, really jump-started everything else I’ve been doing with CrossFit. At the time I had no idea how important it would be, but looking back at it now, it was a huge, huge, huge moment in my life and in the direction I was going to go.

Fast forward four years, and CrossFit now has a major sponsor, a $250,000 cheque for each individual winner, and wide world publicity.  Are you happy with the direction the sport is heading?

The money and all that stuff is good, but I think what’s really good about it, is bringing all the beefs out and really testing yourself against the best of the best of the best. So that’s what’s exciting, you’re getting the sponsors on-board who have the resources to get people involved in our sport, grow our sport worldwide and it’s awesome to see that growth and that value added to our sport.

Back in the day we had a couple of hundred competitors and now we are having 70,000 competitors. And the only way we were getting there is, because one, CrossFit is a phenomenal program, and two is from the help and resources from Reebok.

Finally, how did you find CrossFit?

I was introduced to CrossFit by Austin Begiebing, who now owns CrossFit Milpitas, and I was introduced to it when I was working at a conventional gym. And, you know, it took me a little while to be convinced that CrossFit was the way to go, but once I got convinced, I never looked back.

CrossFit’s awesome. Everyone should be doing it!

You can check out Jason’s gym NorCal CrossFit here.

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The Rx Review is an independent fitness website, reporting on the Sport of Fitness, functional fitness news, The CrossFit Games, health and diet related information, and also provides reviews on sports performance products.