8 Hours Behind the 20.4 Curtain with Smith, Carroll and Sweeney

Nov 3, 2019 by

9:24 AM — 7 hours, 36 minutes until 20.4

Sean Woodland pulls into a driveway in Santa Clara, CA; Tommy Marquez is in the front seat. I hop into the back seat and we head out to Pleasant Hill, CA, the home of Diablo CrossFit. 

Last year, the gym played host to the 19.3 live announcement match-up between Lauren Fisher and Alessandra Pichelli.  Even with one live event under their belt, Diablo owner Craig Howard admitted they’ve still been planning for a month to execute this one-hour event. 

Sean Woodland and Tommy Marquez driving to Diablo CrossFit in Pleasant Hill, CA (Photo by Justin LoFranco)

10:40 AM — 6 hours, 20 minutes until 20.4.

You walk into the gym and its already been transformed — railings are up, lined with sponsor banners and three Assault bikes stand in the middle of the workout stage to throw off would be prognosticators. Lighting is coming along. The DJ is testing levels and camera wires and getting tapped up.

To maximize preparation, Diablo canceled all classes today.

Diablo CrossFit before and after 20.4 setup (Photo by Justin LoFranco)

11:32 AM PT — 5 hours, 28 minutes until 20.4.

“I just hope it’s not heavy snatches,” Sean Sweeney says.

Sweeney and Jason Carroll are sitting opposite one another in Sweeney’s trailer with his fiancé Emmily Butz and a friend. The three slept in the parking lot last night after driving four hours from Fallon, NV. 

Carroll arrived earlier in the morning on a 60-minute flight up from Orange County. 

There’s not really much to do this far ahead of the announcement and no one’s too keen to workout. The conversation is mostly about CrossFit, rehashing the last few weeks of workouts, redos and chit-chat.

Both Sweeney and Carroll left work at home, preferring to focus on the event that evening. Sweeney and Butz run a successful affiliate four-hours East over the Donner Pass. The duo tag teams 3:45 AM wakeup calls every other day to keep the business running. Sweeney trains in between and settles in for a long, multi-hour nap midday before closing up shop in the evening.

Carroll represents the old guard of Games athletes who used to hold regular W2’s and only moonlighted as professional athletes. During the day, he’s a warehouse manager at Virus’ Huntington Beach, CA distribution facility. At lunch, he sneaks away to train around the corner at Red Wolf CrossFit before heading back in an hour later. He took Thursday off to make the trip.

12:30 PM — 4 hours, 30 minutes until 20.4.

Ben Smith arrives; his father Chuck too.

This CrossFit Games champion and four-time podium finisher is about as easy-going and nice of a guy as you’ll find. With 11 straight appearances at the Games comes an abundance of respect from anyone in the room.

Sean Woodland and Tommy Marquez are early to great him and after a few minutes we head over to Sweeney’s trailer.

Sean Sweeney, Jason Carroll and Ben Smith a few hours before the live 20.4 announcement (Photo by Justin LoFranco)

1:50 PM — 3 hours, 10 minutes until 20.4

It’s time for the official run through. 

The level of preparation and planning that goes into executing a live Open announcement at any level cannot be overstated. 

This is Woodland and Marquez’s second trip here in two days. Woodland insists on a level of quality and production that really cannot be achieved without a significant amount of effort. 

“Many people just don’t understand what it actually takes,” Woodland said in the car ride up. 

To keep the athletes’ time to an absolute minimum, they rehearse the walkthrough first so everyone gets on the same page before turning them loose to rest and get some food while the rest of the staff runs through a few more time. 

3:08 PM — 1 hour, 52 minutes until 20.4. 

“We’re ready to go!”

At this point everyone feels really comfortable with the plan in place and how they’ll execute. The doors are open and the crowd starts to fill in.

3:18 PM — 1 hour, 42 minutes until 20.4.

“We need the room,” Howard says. 

I grab my phone and head out. It’s time for a handful of “need to know” staffers are told the official workout which is usually delivered by 3:00 PM pacific. To date, a CrossFit Open workout has never leaked to the public before the announcement, a record CrossFit has gone through great lengths to keep. 

The only other person outside the room to know the specifics is the producer who needs to create the graphic for the livestream. 

Jason Carroll, Ben Smith and Chyna Cho hanging out before the 20.4 is announced (Photo by Justin LoFranco)

4:22 PM — 38 minutes until 20.4.

Nervous energy. 

Sweeney, Carroll and Smith run through the gamut of movements to warm up. 

Spectators stay clear of the cordoned area as the three shuffle step between various mobility routines, careful not to disturb their headspace. 

“Are you nervous?” I ask Carroll. 

“Oh yeah,” he admits. 

“I get nervous before every workout,” Smith says too. “Doesn’t matter what it is.”

(Photo by Skip Photography — Instagram.com/s.kip)

Sweeney agrees. 

All three said not knowing the workout beforehand definitely makes it easier not to overthink the strategy. 

We move on from various topics before each offers up a prediction for tonight’s announcement. 

“Overhead squats and wall balls,” Smith says. 

“Rowing and wall balls,” thinks Carroll aloud. 

Sweeney offers up a more complete picture: “You’re gonna have to earn your next round, every 3 minutes of 20 cal row, 20 wall balls and 2 snatches with increasing weights.”

We’ll see soon. 

Smith, Sweeney and Carroll lining up behind the building before being called out (Photo by Justin LoFranco)

4:59 PM — 1 minute until 20.4

Outside, they line up behind the building in order of Games seniority. 

Smith, the last one left, overhears the intro: “…true CrossFit royalty…” the loudspeaker announces. 

“I can’t believe they said that,” the 11-time Games feigns with a smile before heading inside. Even a veteran among veterans, Smith stills has a lot he can teach other athletes, stealing the show and the $2,000 prize purse up for grabs.

Ben Smith cleans 315 pounds for the final time to win the event (Photo by Justin LoFranco)

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