It was just over a year ago that the Morning Chalk Up reported on the major changes coming to the CrossFit Games qualification process. Since then, seemingly every coach, commentator, and competitive athlete has tweeted their thoughts on this new era, but rarely has it focused on the dramatic changes to the “future of fitness,” namely the up-and-coming teen athletes.
The message that teens are the future, the heirs to Greg Glassman’s vision, has come across loud and clear. But perhaps not everyone at HQ heard it. At 16-years-old, I’ve qualified for the Age Group Online Qualifier (AGOQ) three times in the last two seasons, and I’ve had a front-row seat to this disconnect.
When the 2019 CrossFit Games rulebook was released, it confirmed the rumor spreading among teen athletes for weeks–that only ten would compete in Madison in each age division, slashing the previous two years’ invitations in half. You can bet serious money that the Games Instagram page received 800 irate DMs from some very upset 14 to 17-year-old Games hopefuls.
For as long as I can remember, Regionals (RIP) athletes earned three days of glory, a t-shirt with their name and some professionally photographed action shots for making it. This seemed to be HQ’s token of appreciation, its gift to the athletes. There is no such thing as a gift from HQ for teens. The closest thing we get is a one-size-fits-all congratulatory email for qualifying to the AGOQ. Last year, that email arrived just two weeks before the qualifier actually started.
“Good luck and train hard!” the email urged. By this point though, almost two months after the Open wrapped up, everyone who cared seriously about doing well had already gone through a strength cycle, done some obscure, weird form of training like, obstacle courses or picking up kegs, and had probably done triple Fran or something else completely detrimental that an online programming service recommended. By the time the qualifier rolled around, they’d gone to Hell and back–physically and mentally. Sure, a box owner might have posted something on Facebook about their teen athlete’s achievements and maybe even organized a Friday Night Lights for one of the qualifier workouts. But when it all came to a close, I know that I for one, felt empty and let down.
You can bet serious money that the Games Instagram page received 800 irate DMs from some very upset 14 to 17-year-old Games hopefuls.
For the ten kids that do make the Games, they’re rewarded with two or three more months of training throughout the summer. Don’t get me wrong, they love the training, but it also means spending time in the gym away from friends, the pool and ice cream during what’s most likely one of the last real summer breaks of their lives. Don’t worry, though. All the hard work pays off in the end.
Or does it? When they finally run onto the competition floor and their names are announced through the tinny overhead speakers, they’re greeted by a crowd almost exclusively comprised of parents and bored little brothers stuffed into one side of the farm animal expo that, for Games week, becomes the “Age Group Pavilion.” The commentators assigned to the age groups work hard to crank up the enthusiasm, but that’s a tall order in a barn that smells like pigs. The Games are the end-all-be-all, but the experience for the youngest athletes can be sorely lacking. The best “coverage” of the teen division I’ve ever seen was a four-minute video filmed, edited, and produced by Grace Lochner, another teen at the Games watching her friends.
I don’t want this to come across as overly whiny. The other teen athletes and I are more than willing to pay our dues, so I’ll conclude with some positive suggestions. The issues I’ve outlined would not be hard to fix. Creating a larger field of athletes in the competition makes the idea of pursuing competitive fitness more hopeful. Send the top 200 in each division a Reebok shirt with their name and a blender bottle. Put the teen AGOQ on a different weekend than the master’s, create a teens team division, or borrow from USA Weightlifting Youth Nationals and use what works. And above all else, promote the teens! They’ve got amazing stories, and if you watch closely, the fight for the podium is dramatic, maybe even more dramatic than the women’s division at last year’s Games.
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