Photo Credit: Desert City Classic
I believe this is the first stop on the tour that I had a hand in programming for the competition, or at least a much more significant hand than minor suggestions here and there which does happen on occasion in the run up to different competitions.
Taylor Self, J.R. Howell, and I were involved on behalf of Self Made Training Program. We programmed and tested most of these events over the summer before and after the CrossFit Games, prior to the start of this world tour. The other two were not able to make it out to Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona for the live competition, but I wanted to ensure that at least one member of the programming team was here representing and observing. But, you know I can’t just sit idly by when there are stories to be told- so I got in front of the camera for a couple hits with their media team, and behind the camera to livestream most of the top heat action for elite teams and individuals over the two day competition.
Arrival and Getting Ready
Got in Thursday afternoon for a two day Friday-Saturday competition. It’s always a bit of an unknown when going to a competition for the first time what the setup is going to feel like, but a safe bet is generally that you’ll walk in less than 24 hours before competition is slated to begin and think “there’s no way they’ll be ready“. However, once you’ve done that enough times you realize that one way or another, everything gets done.
Knowing the next two days would be long ones, I checked into the hotel and got a couple hours of work done so as not to feel stressed during the competition and then went back to the venue for the briefing in the evening. Usually if there is a representative from the programming team present for the briefing they would be introduced and potentially even say something, that did not happen, and seeing that I was not needed otherwise, I spent the time catching up with Ken from Sherpawerks.
Day One: Friday
Elite divisions had more scored events over the course of the two days, so they were the first ones taking the floor, a nice early start at 7 a.m. and a moderately heavy barbell to boot.
Some people might look at that and think 7 a.m.!? heavy barbell?! Elite divisions?! And immediately be critical. However, managing 18 divisions 3 competition venues, restrictions in terms of where heavy barbells can and can’t be used, where the rig is and isn’t, where a wall for handstand push-ups is and isn’t, making sure all equipment is available for all workouts on all floors at all times, etc end up forcing certain decisions to be made.
And at a more macro level, especially the elite competitors should be ready for anything at any time; it’s more or less the nature of the sport.
Event 1: Clean it Up
The workout itself was a death by style EMOM for 10 minutes beginning with 1 clean and then 1 shoulder to overhead, then 2 cleans and 2 shoulder to overheads, etc, always adding one of each, and always completing all the cleans and THEN all the shoulder to overhead reps. In the elite divisions we selected 205 and 145 lbs for the weight with the intent that some might get close, but no one would finish. It played out almost exactly as we had hoped on the men’s side with a handful of men getting into the 9th round. On the women’s side I’m not unhappy with how it went, but they didn’t get as far, and I think that’s mostly because the top athletes in the field aren’t as good (based on previous competition experiences) as the top men. For that particular field it seems 135 might have been a better choice, however, the strongest pressers in the field were rewarded which is what we had been going for.
Events 2 and 3: Gauntlet Chipper
The chipper on its own is a nasty capacity test with some high skill gymnastics in the form of 20/15 ring muscle ups in the middle. But, to accomplish several things at once:
- Introduce an element of strategy into managing the middle portion of the chipper
- Allow for a single modality gymnastics test since we also had a weightlifting (event 1) and monostructural (event 5) specific test as part of the competition.
- Encourage athletes to potentially take a risk and go for it on the rings
By making the muscle ups a second and separately scored event on their own.
The one thing I didn’t really account for, and began wondering as I was streaming the first heat, is that being the best on the rings meant a high likelihood that you’d win both parts of the workout.
While that was more or less the case since the male and female who won the ring muscle up portion also won the chipper, the races were still compelling. Particularly on the men’s side where it came down to less than one second. I would consider this a programming oversight on our end and will certainly be something to learn from going forward.
Event 4: Inter the Sandbag
The final event of day one for the elite individuals is the type of event that should be feared by those who know this sport well. An interval style workout with a bye in almost everyone should be able to do: toes to bar and burpee box jump overs, with the score being reps of sandbag to shoulder. To put it succinctly, assuming you have the capacity to handle the toes to bar, this is just about how badly you’re willing to hurt.
When programming there is obviously a lot of attention put on the physical demands, but if you’re not also considering the psychological tolerance of the athletes that might be an area that could allow for growth as a programmer. It was cool to see the athletes dig and push, evaluate their closest competitors during the rest intervals, and take risks in the last two rounds, especially knowing it was the last thing they had to do for the day.
All in all, day one wasn’t perfect, but did go well from a programming side.
On the competition side, CJ Gerald got off to a blistering start with three 1st place finishes and a second through four scored events. On the women’s side, Emily Torrez nearly matched him with three first place finishes and a third, meaning they would be the overnight leaders heading into the final day.
Day Two: Saturday
One of the earliest directives we were given from the competition organizers is that everyone would be swimming on Saturday. The big questions were, who would swim when? And what implement or implements would be paired with swimming?
Event 5: Swim Event
There were several different versions of the swim event written over the months leading up to the competition as we kept getting different information about what would or wouldn’t be available. In the end, the local community pulled through and allowed us to borrow echo bikes for what became a really gritty 18 minute couplet of swimming and echo bike calories.
My favorite part of watching this event was that being a good swimmer was important, but being strong on the bike actually seemed to matter just as much. Generally when evaluating any workout in any competition I look for a limiter- what is the one thing that will be the biggest factor in terms of determining who did well and who did not? The best answers for most workouts are the ones that aren’t so obvious. And even though there were only two choices in this one, I could make the argument for both. And so, despite not knowing for sure what this would even look like until I got here, I’m extremely happy with how it turned out.
Shoutout to Michelle Weir who took the win on this one with 112 calories for the women, and Derek Lakowske, who had gotten my attention on the rower the day before during the Gauntlet Chipper, and backed up his prowess on machines with a commanding win on this one at 223 total calories.
Event 6: “Pat”
The other very known objective for programming was to include a workout which was in honor of Pat Tillman. Between his presence in the Arizona community, and the overlap with Labor Day weekend, this made a lot of sense. However, getting the workout right with numbers that paid tribute to him, the inclusion of the weigh vests, and making it challenging enough to warrant being in his honor, yet still do-able within a reasonable time cap, made this one fun to come up with.
Watching it play out made me feel good about what we’d ended up with. Five of the men and four of the women were able to finish under the time cap; almost perfect given all the variables in play in the design of this one.
Event 7: Finale
Programming final events is an interesting topic in CrossFit: sometimes it’s the starting point and everything builds backwards from there, sometimes it’s a piece of the puzzle that just happens to emerge in the middle of programming, sometimes the workout is written but you don’t know it’s the final, and other times it’s the last piece to fall in place. There is no right or wrong way to go about it, and I think forcing a sequence can often lead to a lower quality product overall. However, the final workout is critical because it’s the last thing the athletes will do before a winner is revealed, and it’s the most likely workout for most people to watch or rewatch. You want it to be short enough to keep the audience engaged the entire time, long enough to tell a story, and hard enough to reveal the fittest (many times the winner(s) of the final also win the overall competition).
This particular workout had rope climbs, some legless and others not, and overhead squats. The density of legless rope climbs would almost be the critical factor in this one, more so for the women than the men, but we took a risk and let them do the same number of legless. Usually I would advise against it, but the women rose to the challenge and got after it. A quarter of the women’s field finished, another quarter was very close, and a quarter of them couldn’t really get going. That speaks to a bigger topic though- when outsourcing programming of your competition, it becomes really important to attempt and communicate well what the likely demographic in terms of ability is for each division, and overall I’d say that was well done in this case. On the men’s side the top five finishers for this event were also the top five finishers for the competition.
There was a tie on points at the top for the men between last year’s winner Chris Ibarra, and last year’s runner up, C.J. Gerald. They combined to win six of the seven events (including tying for the win on event 1). Ultimately Gerald with four event wins, edged out Ibarra with 3 event wins to reverse their order of finish from last year. Rounding out the podium was Andris Sturans who also placed third here last year. You may also recognize him from our Iron Games coverage earlier in the offseason.
On the women’s side it was Kammi Rush, at 36 years old, taking the win, and she did it in an opposite fashion compared to the guys. She didn’t win a single event outright, but rode the momentum of consistency, three seconds, two thirds, and two fourths, enroute to a six point win over day one leader Emily Torrez. Rounding out the podium was 2023 North American West Semifinalist Alina Ward who won the final to earn a points tie with Torrez, but lost out on the tiebreak to Torrez’s three event wins from day one. Special mention to 16-year old Brooklyn Sittner who had finishes of 4th, 2nd, and 2nd on the final day to vault up into fourth place.
Competition As a Whole
The Desert City Classic made a big step forward this year. The event organizers are invested in seeing this thing grow and last. They have leaned on some existing relationships and partnerships which I believe set them up for continued success. Very happy to have been involved this year and looking forward to what’s next for them.