Stop four, the Madrid Championship at the Caja Majica in Madrid, Spain.
Stop 1: Finland (Turun Tuomopaiva)
Stop 2: Utah (The Iron Games)
I was invited to be a part of the broadcast for the Madrid Championships for 2023 a few months before the competition and felt incredibly grateful for the opportunity. Now that it’s over, I feel that way even more so. While I did have some involvement in the preparations for the elite divisions for this competition, they were minimal but I hope to be more involved going forward. It is a strong team who are committed to growth each year- and yet they are already doing so many things well.
Travel, Arrival, Acclimation
I took a direct, but overnight, flight from O’Hare (Chicago) to Madrid. I’m not sure why, but the flight was very difficult for me. As a result, I spent the first 24 hours upon arrival acclimating (meaning a lot of sleep, rest, and self care). When possible I like to arrive internationally a couple days early just in case something like that happens and I need the day to get ready to work the way I like to throughout the competition. In this case, it was a good thing I did.
Day 1, Thursday
This was one of the most challenging work days I can ever remember having in the CrossFit space. There were several factors, almost exclusively out of my control, which contributed to that. In terms of work, I am extremely appreciative of Greg Lanctot and the way he stepped up when I needed it from him throughout a day that gave us very little in terms of basic expectations from a broadcast.
Despite the challenges, I believe we pulled through to deliver a mostly digestible product that represented the athletes well enough as they took on what was likely the most demanding day of competition.
From a more elevated perspective, it does seem that CrossFit broadcasts generally get off to a slow start and improve event by event and day by day. A principal I’ve recognized with inexperienced teams, but even amongst the most seasoned as well. This was Madrid’s first broadcast of this scope, and the elite divisions were the only ones competing Thursday- meaning it was the most demanding day for them, and therefore for the broadcast as well. Although it may be difficult to follow through on in all circumstances, recognizing that the first day is often the most difficult could be something worth considering for competition programmers and organizers who also want to have a high level broadcast experience for viewers around the world.
Event 1: the MAD Beginning
Aside from the demand on the broadcast, I actually really liked the opening two events for individuals this year. The first was a down and back chipper featuring tall box jump overs at the beginning and end, and strict deficit parallette handstand push-ups either side of a big set on the assault bike in the middle.
Dating back to the Regionals era, a chipper of this nature is quite common in a competition with seven scored events. However, it typically comes in the middle or slightly towards the end of the competition. I like the change here to put it first. I think an element of programming that is fun to play with is when each stimulus is placed throughout the competition.
There’s one change I would have made to the floor layout- specifically from the perspective of viewership (both on site and at home). The tall boxes, which were the beginning and end of the down and back chipper, were very close to the finish line. Athletes often would take a few steps towards the box before the nearly max effort it was for some of them on the way back (the last reps of the event). Because of this, it often looked like athletes were getting ready to finish (or even stepping slightly on the finishing mats) when they were not done with all the reps.
What I would have changed is to allow the athletes to do the pistols and light sandbag squats in a smaller area, moving the boxing 10-20 feet further away from the finish line. It avoids that confusion and allows for a slightly longer run to the finish with plays better for everyone. This observation could be said for many of the workout flows / floor layouts throughout the weekend in Madrid. It is not a factor that programmers and organizers weigh highly enough in my opinion. Dave Castro’s 2017 book Constructing the CrossFit Games is something I would recommend any who do either of those jobs read and re-read.
Event 2: Facilito
I love the name of this one, my crude translation is ‘couldn’t be simpler’. More literally it means the easy one- it was a couplet of chest to bar pull-ups and increasing weight, decreasing rep snatches. It reminded me of Bicouplet 1 and 2 from the 2018 CrossFit Games. I wasn’t sure exactly what to think of it from a programming perspective: would the chest to bars matter? Or was it just a matter of who could snatch the final bar? Turns out the answer was both, and I believe this was likely the biggest correlation in terms of individual event relative to top 10 finish: 9 of the top 11 women overall finished in the top 11 on this one, while 10 of the top 11 men who finished top 11 were top 11 on this.
Disc Golf in Madrid
Before we get back to the competition. I took the opportunity with most of the day off to play disc golf at, from what I could see, is the only disc golf course in Madrid. Even better, it is one of the first courses that has been put in the ground by the Paul McBeth Foundation.
It was an absolutely refreshing experience in every way. Much needed for both me and Hannu, my good friend and the executive producer of the Madrid broadcast this year. The only sad part of the experience was that there weren’t any other players on the course. I hope that one day I go back and every hole is full of college students (it’s on a university) and locals playing and enjoying the game.
Day 2, Friday
After a very demanding day for everyone covering the elite divisions on Thursday, Friday took a dramatic turn. In total there were nearly 2800 athletes who competed in the nearly 20 divisions over the course of the weekend- everyone outside of the elite divisions began Friday, while the elites only had one event on day two that was to take place nearly 24 hours after day one concluded- a Friday night lifting test… only was it?
Event 3: Lifting Test
I’d have to say this is one of the more controversial “lifting tests” I’ve ever seen at a CrossFit competition. And right on cue, it’s literally named that. Athletes had three 90 second intervals to find a one rep max clean and jerk… only within each interval they had to do 50 double unders. No problem right?
Wrong. The double unders were to be done with a mono rope, being referred to as bar double unders. This jump rope is commonly used by adaptive athletes in the upper extremity divisions. It makes it so double unders can be done with one hand. Using the exact same piece of equipment, you can also do them with two hands, but it requires some practice. Very much in the same way some people learn double unders in a week, others in a month, and others take years- so it seems to be with the mono rope.
The good news is this was the first event announced and athletes had three weeks to try and find this piece of equipment and practice it. The bad news is 20% of the elite individual field (9 women and 5 men) failed to ever make it to the barbell in a test that is called “lifting test”.
The question this produces is whether or not a skill of this nature should be required as a prerequisite, or barrier to entry, to a heavy lift? And while it’s somewhat unique in that regard, the concept isn’t. Think back to quarterfinals this past season and the introduction of the crossover single under, or the Games the year prior with the Speed Skill medley that demanded unbroken sets of single unders and pistols, strict peg boards (for that matter think back to the introduction of peg boards in 2015), and for some crossover double unders and presses to handstand on parallel bars. In all of these cases “skills” were introduced in relatively short order and they had dramatic effects on athletes’ seasons, earning potential, etc.
One of the great things about this sport is that we are continuously learning and playing new sports, including new skills. I don’t mind the inclusion of something like this at an offseason competition or the CrossFit Games as much as I do at the Quarterfinal stage of the season. More on this another time.
From a broadcast perspective, this was very difficult to cover, and I am sure it was the most difficult of any event to watch at home. Programmers and organizers who are attempting to broadcast lifting events need to execute better than this. From a commentators perspective, I could have been better too. The thing I should have done is explain how the “lanes” were laid out on the floor (since they were different from any other event throughout the weekend). This would have improved your chance as the viewer of locating “lane 7” when we were attempting to direct your attention there; although sometimes the cameras still weren’t showing the top action. I would say that is not on the director or camera man though, but rather on the organizers who decided on a format that sets up a broadcast for failure to deliver.
Either way, big lifts went up for most and we moved on to the weekend.
Day 3, Saturday
Event 4, El Parque
Day three started with a run. It was originally meant to be done with a ruck, but there were some issues with customs, so that didn’t happen. This offsite event is one we would not be broadcasting- and I totally respect that decision. Much like with event one of the Iron Games, I am fully supportive of competitions who decided to provide post produced coverage of off site events when they are not sure if they can provide high quality coverage of it otherwise.
The decision not to have the ruck included ended up being the right one given the complications. But when factored in to the overall programming we now see a lifting test that for some was a skill test, and a weighted running test that totally lost the weighted element. So two docks to the weightlifting component of the programming in the middle of the competition.
Following the run elite athletes had something like eight or nine hours off before the evening event. Another important feature of this competition is that the athletes could take the floor for each event relatively fresh- meaning they should be able to execute at a high level of intensity. There would be no short turnarounds (i.e. Ride into Pig Chipper where the athletes ability to recover was tested more than their ability to express intensity). I could see an argument for pros and cons to both of those, but I think for an off season competition the format Madrid implored is more appropriate. It was nice to hear from athletes after the competition ended that they weren’t completely destroyed by it; something many big offseason competitions of late have created.
Event 5, The Burpee Maker
It is quite difficult to get an interval style event programmed just right for the demographic of athletes competing. Back in 2017, when Castro programmed 2-2-2-3 interval at the Games, he nailed it. Since then, many have tried it, including the Games, and it hasn’t always worked out as well.
Elliot Simmonds and his team at QHP got this one right. Two of the elite competitors finished in the third round (and it was incredibly impressive that they did), about a quarter to third of the field finished in the fourth round, most of the rest finished in five, and a small number were capped. I found this to be a very exciting event to both watch and commenate. The other thing I really liked about this one is that the barrier to entry was low, but the stimulus for everyone is a high degree of relative intensity.
Saturday was a good day.
Day 4, Sunday
The final day of competition was conventional in several ways: morning event, midday break, evening event, award ceremony, after party.
Event 6, Rap-Air-Up
I still haven’t figured out why this event has this title; if anyone knows, please do tell. There was a ski-erg in this, but that made a difference for very few athletes. The handstand ramp obstacle course and ring muscle ups dominated the story for nearly all the athletes giving us the second event of the weekend (along with event 1- strict deficit handstand push-ups) which limited many athletes from a gymnastics perspective.
Not every competition has to have the same objective behind it, but it is fun to look at what was programmed, and how it played out, to assess if there were any biases in the programming. With one event to go, let’s look at what we have had to this point:
- Long chipper with upper body gymnastics pressing bias
- Weightlifting / gymnastics couplet that rewards general fitness
- Weightlifting test, but only if you had the capacity to learn a new skill
- Running test
- Capacity test
- Gymnastics test, more emphasis on pressing than pulling
Simply using that, what would you like to see in the final?
Perhaps some upper body pulling and something heavy? Me too.
Event 7, Iberus
There was a little confusion about the actual name of this event, and that should simply not be the case. It’s a good time to mention that there were quite a few things that due to some last minute changes created inconsistencies with the graphics for the broadcast. Integrating the necessary people from broadcast into pre-established chains of communication is an area Madrid can improve on- and one many other competitions can learn from and hopefully get ahead of.
This was a couplet of legless rope climbs and Iberus (pig) flips for the men. The women had a combination of legless rope climbs and rope climbs- and that was a good thing as it produced a similar output in terms of stimulus. In fact, even as it was, the fastest men were faster, and there were less people and less percentage of people who got capped on the men’s side. Another good note for programmers, it is ok to change the events for men to women relative to capacity that has been tested and proven against each other. There are certain things programmers still give women that are much easier for them than men, and the other way around. Study the results that are out there, learn from each other.
The strange thing about this event was the 400 meter assault air run buy in. It felt forced. If you needed to use it to fulfill a sponsorship obligation (which is perfectly fine if that’s the case), I think having something like 300-200-100 / 3-2-1 / 6-4-2 would have been cleaner.
All in all, this was a good final. Easy to watch, exciting, not too long, not too short. And it balanced out the competition as a whole.
This is always a tricky part of a competition, and even more so when a broadcast is involved. In this case, I actually think, for what it was, which is a community event plus an elite competition, that Madrid did a good job. They ran all 20 or so divisions through a ceremony on the main stage, with light broadcast coverage, in about 30 minutes. Elite divisions were last and after the fact, we interviewed the winners of each division.
Because we had decided to do that we interviewed two other men, women, and teams after the final heat of the final event (one each in spanish and then in english). Hannu, myself, and Bella (who was doing most of the interviews), really enjoy getting more faces in front of the camera. It felt good to be able to do that.
I’m not much for the after party. I prefer to have dinner with a few people who I maybe don’t see too often and reminisce on the weekend, or life in general. Extremely happy that I was able to do that in Madrid on Sunday night. Went to bed earlier than most (midnight) and got up at 7 am to pack and head off to Sweden. Will check in with you guys again from there!