CrossFit As A Sport

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I was judging WOD 5 this weekend and as I watched someone doing toes-2-bar, I was struck at the wide array of skills and movements in CrossFit competition. This got me thinking about how difficult CrossFit is as a competitive sport. And that led me to think about how wrong those who denigrate the idea that CrossFit is a sport really are.

Sport (noun)-an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature.

The common insult leveled at the Games is that it is just exercising. “All you proved is that you’re just a better exerciser,” I recently heard a person sneer. So what? How is exercising any less valid a sport than swimming, or weightlifting, or racquetball, or motorcycle racing? What would you say to a person who sneered, “all you proved is that you are a better backstroker”?  How about “better water polo player” or “better softball player” or “better surfer” or “better run around the other guy and throw the orange ball in the metal circle with white string player”? Anyway, what is sport to one person is exercise to another. How about Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting?  Certainly those two great sports are just exercise to a lot more people than those who compete in them. Running?

Every sport is just as valid as another. The only difference is perception. And perception is usually a matter of culture and age. Different cultures perceive the value of sports differently. Curling and cricket may be hell on wheels when it comes to athletic ability, but I wouldn’t know or really care. Likewise there are sports that get a lot of ink here that really don’t make the cut elsewhere. One of them being America’s most popular sport, football. And here is where age comes into play. The age of the sport, not the age of the spectator (although that’s probably a big one too). For example, football’s popularity is pretty much a recent phenomena. For many years football was the redheaded stepchild (nothing against redheads, Emmett and Chris) of professional sports. It was loud and crude and violent and primarily a sport of midwest industrial towns.  And now the Superbowl is the most watched television event of the year, every year. CrossFit as a sport is a whole four years old.

Another common barb thrown at CrossFit competition is that of jack of all trades master of none. In other words, CrossFitters do a lot of things at a decent level but nothing really well. Nothing that is except CrossFit. And CrossFit is the sport, so it makes sense to be good at it. I hate to be so blunt, but this is such a stupid criticism.  Let’s look at a good mma fighter. Talk about jack of all trades and master of none. Most good mma guys are good boxers, but they would get crushed by Pacquiao, good kickers but not the level of Buakaw Por Pramuk, good grapplers but not quite Marcelo Garcia. I would say that just about all of them lift weights and run and do bodyweight exercises, but they are nowhere near as strong as a weightlifter or as fast as a sprinter or as good as a gymnast. What are they good at then?  Their sport. Mixed martial arts, mma. Likewise, one would not level scorn on an All Black because he was not an exceptional weightlifter or runner or jumper. He is not trying to be. His sport is rugby, not weightlifting or the 400 meter or the high jump. Those other sports are just means to an end for him, just exercising.

It is the same with a competitive CrossFitter. They are good at their sport–CrossFit. Think of the many different skills a person needs to compete in CrossFit, much less actually do well in it. Like mma, or rugby, it is pretty comprehensive. And like mma guys and their skill sets, CrossFitters are good at their various skill sets. Chris Spealler, a good example of a well-rounded, non-specialist, CrossFitter, actually put up one of the best American Olympic weightlifting totals for his weight class in 2010.

Sports originated to train skills needed in combat and hunting. Thus, most sports had a distinctly military flavor to them. Think archery, wrestling, boxing, running in armor, etc. Participation in and skill at these sports had a direct impact upon the survivability of the amateur soldier and the career development of the professional soldier. If we look at sports using those early markers-direct impact upon military prowess, then CrossFit ranks extremely high. Much higher, in fact, than just about every other sport, exceptions being actual combat sports, mma and judo and such. Specialists are a modern invention. Warriors needed to be adept at everything.

CrossFit as a sport is still in its infancy, but the steps it is taking are not baby steps. Its surging popularity is already a tide that is raising a lot of ships, especially the listing schooner of Olympic weightlifting in America, as well as rowing and other sports. CrossFit as a sport has a lot of potential. The current CrossFit Games Open Qualifier, with its 25 thousand competitors from a host of countries and an age demographic from the teens to 70 plus years old, says a lot more about it than I can.

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