Stop three on the tour takes us to Three Rivers, Michigan for the Pit Teen Throwdown.
This is a competition I had been trying to get to for a couple years now and it never worked out. I’m grateful they didn’t give up on me and that I had the opportunity this year – the Pit Teen Fitness Ranch is a unique and special place.
Arrival and the JV Day
I got in on a Thursday afternoon. Friday would be a day for the Junior Varsity divisions. Saturday and Sunday would be for the Varsity and Collegiate divisions.
The day before a competition is always fascinating to observe. Typically many things are happening at the last minute and it’s nearly impossible to believe that something formal and organized is going to happen the following day- not the case here though. Sure there were things being done to get ready, but all in all, it seemed that Brock Yost, Stephanie Price, and the Pit Teen crew were ready to go.
The JV Day was a one day event for kids who have not competed in CrossFit before. Athletes who have competed on this day previously are now regulars in the Varsity divisions; what a cool idea. Their introduction would consist of five scored events taking place throughout the day- no small feat!
These kids had to run, bike, lift, do gymnastics, and drag sleds. They were in the box, and out on the property. Down by the lake and out in the parking lot. It’s hard to imagine a cooler and more fun introduction to what a CrossFit competition could be for teenagers. And for me, it was a good preview of what was to come.
Friday Night Announcement
Nearly 100 athletes who were slated to compete in either the varsity or collegiate divisions registered and then packed into the gym Friday night for a briefing and a workout announcement which was to be delivered by Adrian Bozman, director of sport for CrossFit. Check out the September 1 entry under “September Friendly WODs” for more on that. https://bfriendlyfitness.com/september-2023-friendly-wods/
Saturday: Varsity/Collegiate – Day One
This year the Pit Teen Throwdown broadcast their event for the first time. I had the honor of doing the color commentary alongside one of only two men who CrossFit hired during the 2023
Games season as a play-by-play broadcaster, Joel Godett. https://www.instagram.com/justjoel1/
White Joel and I have some experience in this regard, the rest of the broadcast team had very little. I spoke in depth about this on our world tour podcast stop following the competition, and if you’re curious about how we pulled it off I would recommend listening to that. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6PammUEoaI
Event 1: Send Off
It was an early start at the Pit Teen Ranch with all nearly 100 athletes starting simultaneously on “Send Off” a 5K trail run through the very unique terrain and property of the ranch. Runners from all six divisions wove their way out and around the course, which was only one lap by the way, different from the Games where they ran three laps of the same course. We were able to provide some coverage via drone footage, and thankfully Bozman joined the broadcast alongside Godett which led to some good conversation while the kids ran.
Event 2: Beach Ball
The turn around for the younger divisions was rather short before they began the second of four events on day one, Beach Ball. This was a rather unique event style, three minutes of work followed by nine minutes of rest for three intervals. Not only is that an unusual work to rest ratio, during your rest interval (nine minutes), three other heats of athletes in your same divisions went. So for the viewer, there was no down time at all. And for the athletes there was no excuse not to go hard each time your ‘sub-heat’ was up.
Event 3: Money Bar
The third event of the day brought the athletes inside the gym for a lifting ladder, with a twist. First of all, the floor was split into two ladders- one for the boys/men and the other for the girls/women. Secondly, the event was a two part event, but with one total score, which was for load (or the total weight accumulated throughout the event). Thirdly, all six divisions worked through the a snatch ladder before a short break to reload the bars and then all six divisions worked through a clean ladder. This meant that every male athlete and every female athlete had the same ladder. And finally, prior to your turn, each athlete declared to their judge a “money bar”; at this bar, after snatching it or cleaning it, you would perform an AMRAP of overhead squats or front squats which would be added to your totals at the end of everything. So you didn’t only have to be strong, but also smart, in terms of assessing at which bar you could maximize your total weight lifted throughout the event.
Event 4: DT Remix
DT is an old classic: 5 rounds for time of 12 deadlifts, 9 hang cleans, and 6 shoulder to overhead. We’ve seen it evolve in a variety of different ways from heavy, to double, to with a spin. This time, the reps were reduced to 5/3/1 and it was turned into an AMRAP six minutes. Once a heat took the floor however, the athletes never moved, and there were no round counters. What this meant is that for the most part, on day one, there was no way to keep track of who was winning any of the four scored events very well during the event itself. So while what the athletes were being asked to do was great in many ways, it was very difficult from a broadcast, storytelling, and spectator standpoint to have any idea of what was happening relative to the sport side of things, the part where people want to watch to see who’s winning and ultimately who won.
Sunday: Varsity/Collegiate – Day Two
The second and final day of competition for the varsity and collegiate divisions would feature three events on three different fields of play.
Event 5: All Gas
The morning started at the rig on the beach with a straight gymnastics test. Day one had no gymnastics in sight, a very rare thing for any day of competition in any CrossFit competition, so it made sense for this to be an exclusive gymnastics event. Once again it was AMRAP style though, and with no markers for following the action, if you weren’t paying very close attention it wasn’t obvious who was in what position in each heat. This is a developing pattern here now: well written tests in terms of challenging the athletes, but not much to offer in terms of being spectator friendly from the storytelling aspect. I think this is a rather easy change and something that would elevate the competition even more. Also of note on this one is that the burpees over hay bale were done in the dirt, which I heard some people say they thought was unnecessary, but I think Yost was sending a message that would be echoed throughout the day- this is the Pit and in addition to being Fit, you have to be willing to get dirty!
Event 6: Strongman IV
This one took place at the Slag Field (which is basically a smoothed out area of the gravel parking lot) under the infamous Copper Hoppper (which you have to see to understand, but we did get some aerial shots of it on the broadcast).
This is the event I did alongside my colleagues after Bozman announced it Friday night. The version the athletes did was in the dirt, with heavier implements, after five other events, and it showed. A very demanding strongman test which required strength, grit, and very good grip endurance and strength. These are the kind of events people come to competitions for, the ones you cannot replicate in a box during training.
With a straight gymnastics event in the morning and a straight strongman/grit event to follow, there were some big moves on the leaderboards after each of these, and in most cases that meant setting down some showdowns for the final.
Event 7: No Brakes
The competition would end with a chipper. The chipper started in the gym with 35 thrusters, took the kids out through the terrain once more (this time on single speed bikes), and then finished in the gym with some double unders and handstand walking. And while the handstand walking wasn’t too long or demanding, it did end up being a critical separator for some athletes and divisions, which was good to see because overall the competition seemed light on gymnastics.
There were several exciting finishes on this event, but the finish in the men’s collegiate division is the closest finish I’ve seen in any CrossFit competition that I have ever been to. Two athletes came into the final tied on points and with a decent lead over third; so it was essentially winner take all between the two of them. They were jockeying for position and the lead throughout, and it was all going to come down to the handstand walk…which they finished less than one second apart from each other! I cannot possibly do justice to the drama and represent just how close this was here- but if you want to know, you know where to go:
Sunday Livestream and go to the 7:38.00 minute mark for the start of the final heat of mens collegiate division.
Closing Ceremony and Final Thoughts
I almost never mention the closing ceremonies, and they are something I often give a lot of thought to because they are usuaolly some what underwhelming- especially from an attendance standpoint. The award ceremonies at the Pit, however, were the most well attended I’ve seen in quite some time. It seemed most of the athletes and most of their supporters (the fans in the stand) stayed for it. Warm ovations were given for podium finishers in all divisions, and then everyone stayed for the presentation of the ‘Jacob Morris Spirit Award’, which is modeled off of the Spirit of the Games award, is named in honor of Jacob, and is chosen by votes from the athletes in each division- a neat twist on an award that honors the spirit of competitive sportsmanship both on and off the field of play.
As I said in the beginning, I am very grateful to have been able to finally experience “the Pit”. It’s more than a competition for the organizers, and that is felt in everything that happens there. I look forward to seeing the continued evolution and growth here, it’s already something special, and as Yost told me at some point during the weekend, they are just getting started.