Kudos to CrossFit: The 2020 Open Crackdown

 In CrossFit

By: Alex Parker, Oct 31, 2019

In my view, lack of strict adherence to movement standards has been an issue for years and years in CrossFit at every level of competition. It looks like CrossFit is taking a new approach to dealing with the issue and I’m happy about it!

On October 23, 2019, CrossFit released an article informing the public that: “Throughout the CrossFit Open and beginning with the first workout, the top 40 women and 40 men on the overall worldwide CrossFit Games Leaderboard each week will be required to submit videos for review.” CrossFit released another article on October 30, 2019 listing scoring adjustments for 20.2.

Following the first workout review, seven athletes received major penalties and 19 athletes received penalties for a false start. Following the second workout review, nine 20.2 scores were adjusted for miss counted reps or failure to adhere to standards and 33 athletes received penalties for a false start.

The “false start rule” is this: “This workout begins with the barbell on the floor and the athlete standing tall. After the call of “3, 2, 1 … go,” the athlete may pick up the barbell and perform 8 ground-to-overheads then 10 bar-facing burpees for 10 rounds.” or “may begin performing thrusters.”

While this rule is not new to the CrossFit Open, many athletes admitted that they simply were not aware of it. The high number of false start penalties in week two is not surprising given the fact that these athletes were not penalized for 20.1 false starts until after 20.2 scores were due. Whether or not this was the intention of CrossFit, the stipulation included on the 20.1 and 20.2 Scorecards serves as a test to see who is actually reading and following simple rules. The number of penalties issued for false starts suggests that athletes are not.

More controversial were the 20.1 major penalties that were issued. Penalties for not locking out the ground to overhead and not taking a two foot take off on the bar over burpees.

Some athletes took responsibility and accepted the penalty. Sam Briggs posted; “I take full responsibility for CrossFit’s penalty. It was on me to ensure that the standards were clearly met.”

Others…did not. One athlete posted on Instagram that the notice that he received from CrossFit read: “[Athlete], I manage the review process for the CrossFit Games. After consideration, your video has received a MAJOR penalty for consistent lack of extension in the ground to overhead. A MAJOR penalty for 20.1 is 2:30mins, which will adjust your [score to] 10:46. Good luck for the rest of the season.” The athlete went on to say that he has sent CrossFit HQ three emails asking for an appeal and never received a response. I’m sorry, but where in the rulebook does it say that athletes are entitled to an appeal in this scenario?

The athlete argues that CrossFit wronged him because he isn’t a big name and they did it because they need to feel powerful. Firstly, no one can argue that Sam Briggs, who was also issued a penalty, isn’t a “big name”. Secondly, I would argue that it’s high time that CrossFit assert some power and require adherence to its standards.

The athlete states: “The system is stupid and illogical, how can 8:16mins become 10:46mins? How can I go from 2nd in the world to 900th? How can one persons opinion of my video determine I’m not fit enough to keep my well earned score?”

While CrossFit’s level of disclosure and transparency over the years can be questioned, every athlete who signs up for the Open knows that it comes with its fair share of issues and that the competition is far from perfect and never has been. CrossFit’s standards of review are its standards of review. It is near impossible to actually issue a penalty that is reflective of what may be deserved.  At Regionals events, for example, an athlete can be no-repped once, correct the movement and continue with the workout. That is not possible in the Open. So the MAJOR penalty is what it is, and in the case of 20.1 for this athlete, it is apparently a blanket additional two minutes and 30 seconds. Standards of review and adjustment procedures are intentionally vague in the rulebook which allows CrossFit to maintain some discretion in this process. In my opinion, a MAJOR penalty should be an invalidation because it is so hard, if not impossible, to appropriately adjust scores.

Many of his arguments were not in relation to the issue at hand. He goes on to complain about the Filthy 150 Competition inviting athletes who did not compete in the online qualifier. I fully understand that this is frustrating, but it’s part of the sport at the moment and if you are going to be a part of it, you have to accept it.

I signed up for the Open only after knowing that I would be okay with the game I would be playing…a game with issues of fairness. That there are standards that people will inevitably skirt, either intentionally or unintentionally.

CrossFit is trying to do two things at once. It is trying to run an inclusive competition that allows people from all over the world to participate. They are also trying to run an elite level qualifying competition that after 5 workouts, will send the top 20 athletes and national champions to arguably the biggest competition in the sport – the CrossFit Games. With extremely limited resources, doing both of these things is extremely challenging, so it has to do its best, and I believe that issuing penalties to improve fairness is a good start.

Yes, there are athletes who may intentionally skirt the rules in the Open. CrossFit just can’t control it all given the format. For example, one athlete posted a video of his 49th place 20.2 workout performing double unders with what appears to be a cable-less jump rope. This has yet to be confirmed officially, but there was no sound in the video and it was promptly taken down along with his other videos earlier this week. Because he posted his videos, we can hope that his score will be invalidated, however, because his score was not a top 40 score, it’s quite possible that without the video, no one would have known. This brings back memories of a certain video looping incident that occurred back in the 2017 Open.

When you sign up for the Open, you just have to accept that this is happening and will likely continue to happen to some extent.

It’s unfortunate that athletes just outside the top 40 in any given workout may be ‘getting away with things’, but that’s where the line is drawn and it’s better than where it had previously been drawn. We have to give credit to the CrossFit staff who are spending many hours reviewing these videos. At this point, they are doing everything they can. And instead of being thanked, the public is upset that more people aren’t getting penalized. CrossFit can’t win.

One could argue that CrossFit should remove the Open as a qualifying competition for the CrossFit Games, but then it would run the risk of losing the top athletes on the Open Leaderboard. More importantly, the Open offers an opportunity for everyone to compete together regardless of ability, which is a great thing.

It’s understandable that many athletes who have previously ‘gotten away’ with certain movement standards are upset that now they are getting scolded. But this is really no different than the kid who comes home after their 11am curfew 5 weekends in a row, and on the 6th weekend they are mad that they get punished. Just because the parents let them get away with it 5 times, doesn’t mean they should continue to let the kid get away with it. They have to put their foot down at some point.

To quote another athlete, who was issued a major penalty for 20.1 for not adhering to the burpee standard: “Those are the way I’ve been doing burpees for 6 years now through regionals, team series, past opens, etc. So it came as a surprise to me. …at the end of the day it’s my fault for not adhering to the standards CrossFit had in mind.”

As mentioned, it’s possible that there are athletes all over the leaderboard intentionally and unintentionally skirting standards, but penalizing athletes at the top is a good start. Think about how many people are watching Annie Thorisdottir’s workout videos on Youtube during the Open? If Annie is completing the workout adhering strictly to the standards, then others watching are more likely to as well. If she does not adhere to the standards, many people will follow suit and justify breaking the rules by saying: “well, Annie doesn’t lock out her snatches, so why should I?”

Creating a deterrence for athletes to not adhere to movement standards and other workout rules will create a trickle down effect of adherence in the general population. As with many things, it has to start at the top. Even someone like me, who tries hard to strictly adhere to the rules (annoyingly so in life in general as well) is more likely to pay even more attention to my movement quality, knowing that I could get penalized.

It’s no different than the CrossFit affiliate owners or their coaches setting examples at each affiliate. If there are coaches skirting standards on a regular basis, what do you think the class members are going to do?

The argument that the athletes who ‘belong’ at the CrossFit Games will qualify is not a strong argument given the fact that there are so many people who are extremely competitive. Sure, Sara Sigmundsdottir will likely qualify for the Games one way or another, but what about the people on the bubble? Someone might be 1 rep short of qualifying for the CrossFit Games through the Open, so it’s pretty important that all of the reps that the person who qualified ahead of them were counted correctly and completed to standard.

I have personally had many qualms with how CrossFit has handled adherence issues in the past. While this system isn’t perfect, this new review process, in my view, is a vast improvement and is a positive indication that CrossFit is willing to evolve and grow with the sport.

As Elizabeth Fry once said; “Punishment is not for revenge, but to lessen crime and reform the criminal”.

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Comments
  • Sam
    Reply

    Crossfit, as a sport, is a cheater’s game. It’s a social experiment fail. You see it every day in the box as members are encouraged to view their workout as a competition. Write your score on the whiteboard so you can be compared … and judged. Two ways to control how others perceive you – be better than everyone else or cheat. I bet if Glassman could change one thing about his brand, it would be this.

    You think the top 40 examples are bad? The masters’ divisions have been a cheater’s haven since the start. Let’s be real, no one watches these “athletes”. And they do it openly – posting their 115# PR lift 2 weeks after submitting a touch and go score of multiple reps at the same weight. Or, getting the top score on a thruster and rope climb sprint but capped at the Games when they couldn’t get 3 rope climbs. And on and on…

    The Open takes what happens daily in the box and magnifies. The ugly in CrossFit is on display for everyone.

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