The rise of CrossFit over the past few years is undeniable.
The sport has gone from fringe offering to elbowing its way into the mainstream. It’s been a two-pronged approach. The Reebok CrossFit Games, now televised and turned into documentaries each year, have grabbed the attention of even casual viewers on platforms like Netflix and iTunes with their striking visuals of pumped-up athletes punishing themselves to extremes.
The past two championships have been given the glitzy Hollywood treatment, with Fittest on Earth: A Decade of Fitness, chronicling the Games’ 10-year anniversary for the 2016 competition, and The Redeemed and the Dominant: The Fittest on Earth, which documented the 2017 event. Both movies now have cult followings and incredibly high IMDB scores for sports documentaries in general.
The other side is the tidal wave of CrossFit gyms opening in countries across the world.
According to Google, Hong Kong has six CrossFit-styled gyms, five of them on the island. Over in North America, the sport’s epicentre, there’s now an estimated 10,000 “boxes” and worldwide estimates sit at around 13,000 across 120 countries.
But, the sport is still largely a North American one, with little reach outside a few clusters across a handful of American states where the sport has solidified its cult following.
Now CrossFit, looking to capitalise on a curious and captivated global audience, announced some major rule changes to the sporting event’s calendar and qualifying circuit. Two, in particular, have everyone up in arms.
Gone are the CrossFit Regionals (to be replaced by 16 worldwide invitationals) and now the Open phase (where potential competitors submit videos), will grant one guy, one girl and one team, from each country with an official CrossFit affiliate, a golden ticket to the grand ball.
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CrossFit says the move is to get away from the Games and work on promoting its health and wellness angle worldwide, which has sent the global CrossFit community into a feverish debate about whether there are ulterior motives lurking in the shadows.
What this means in Hong Kong is one guy, one girl and one team will ultimately compete in the 2019 Reebok CrossFit Games next August somewhere in the United States and go from unknowns to celebrities in the blink of an eye.
CrossFit crowns its winners the “fittest people on the planet”. These new rule changes are not going to impact the top 20 or even the top 50 athletes on either the men’s or women’s side, but it will drastically change the landscape below them.
No one in their right mind would ever think someone outside the top 100 could upset at the CrossFit Games, but if there are some diamonds in the rough, CrossFit’s new internationally slanted rule change could be the best way to uncover raw talent from the middle of nowhere.
This, of course, will largely come at the expense of the United States’ fringe CrossFitters, the ones who regularly compete with the best but never top the leaderboards. These athletes are now going to have to take what little money they make and find an invitational event to earn their ticket to the Games.
Once again, this could be a good thing in terms of enticing more top athletes to travel and promote the sport around the world, forcing them into de facto ambassador roles in the process. The benefit is that these invitationals will invariably get a profile boost as marquee but not premier CrossFitters (largely from the US) look to snag their tickets to the Games in any way possible.
The first CrossFit invitational to be sanctioned is one in Dubai, showcasing how the sport’s governing body is most definitely taking an international approach to this new format.
About the only confusing thing is that CrossFit thinks it can only increase its health and wellness branch at the expense of the Games – which has been the sport’s bread and butter mainstream ticket for the past few years. If you ask anyone who follows the sport, it can do both, and the two could go in lockstep.
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There is a valid argument on both sides as to whether this will dilute the talent pool by doing away with regionals and moving toward a more invitational-style gathering of the best. I get what CrossFit is trying to accomplish, and I get where the CrossFit purists are coming from.
But next year Mat Fraser and Tia-Clair Toomey will most definitely be at the Games surrounded by their perennial counterparts trying to knock them off their respective crowns, so to think we’re going to see a bunch of scrawny amateurs from obscure countries nabbing screen time at the big event is silly.
Either way, the sport is riding a groundswell of interest, and CrossFit has reached an incredibly important stage in its maturation process.
Do these rule changes help CrossFit break into the hearts and minds of the mainstream sporting world, or will they sink a fringe sport that simply had a fleeting moment in the sun?
You’ll have to tune in to find out.