Two Down, More To Go: Steph Chung on Back-to-Back Sanctionals and Navigating the New Format

January 23, 2020 by
Credit: Steph Chung / @stephchung2

There is a Sanctional almost every weekend this season — beginning in November and lasting through the first week of July. Twenty-seven Sanctionals mean Games-hopeful athletes will need to balance their desire to qualify, with their mental and physical prowess — not to mention their financial capabilities — in order to get the job done. For some, the quick turnarounds from event-to-event add yet another layer of complexity to the competition season.

It’s been less than two weeks since the CrossFit Mayhem Classic wrapped in Cookeville, TN. For Games veteran Steph Chung, walking away with a 6th place finish may have felt good – but it means she’ll saddle up again for yet another competition this weekend — Strength in Depth in London–to try and punch her ticket.

  • Chung: “Mayhem was tough, but Rich did a good job of programming so that it wasn’t a total beatdown on the body,” Chung said. “The toughest thing was going into the Rogue Invitational qualifiers right after getting home from Tennessee – those were a little tough to mentally push through.”
  • She earned a sixth place finish, only two spots, but 110 points from a qualifying position.

Front-loading the Sanctionals season is becoming a common strategy for many athletes trying to make it to Madison. Since the backfill process protects early season winners, it makes sense to try to qualify as early as possible. But it means a host of other difficulties to tackle in addition to the normal stress of competition. According to Chung:

  • Mitigating physical breakdown/injuries is a must. “I knew that January was going to be a physical and mental challenge, sort of a marathon rather than a sprint, so I’ve paid close attention to my recovery efforts and tried to stay ahead of the fatigue,” she said.
  • Costs matter. “On the financial side, we (Rob and I) pay out of pocket to send me to most competitions so this month has been more travel-heavy than others. Luckily I have some great sponsors who are helping me out with the travel and competition-related expenses for this one! I really appreciate any assistance that enables me to compete around the world in this new Sanctionals format.”
  • You can make the most of it. “I like the idea of front-loading the season, then taking some time off to train and then ramp up again towards the end of spring,” Chung said. “I definitely need to plan better for competition vs. qualifier timings next year though! The competitions have done a better job of consolidating their qualifiers for this season, but I’d love for it to be even more condensed next year so as not to conflict with other Sanctionals.”

At the end of the day: when planned properly, Chung believes this new Sanctionals format may actually make it easier to balance life/being a professional athlete. “We’re not constrained to the Open-Regionals timeline anymore, so taking time off or having an “off-season” can happen anytime we choose. I think that makes it easier to go on vacation, prep and peak for specific competitions, and allows for some flexibility if any injuries/issues happen unexpectedly throughout the year,” she said.

  • Other elite athletes are joining Chung on the back-to-back trip from Cookeville to London, too. Kyle Bernier and Will Moorad will cross the pond on the men’s side (remember though that Moorad withdrew from Mayhem early due to injury), while sixteen-year-old Paige Powers and Nicole Chovan will join them on the women’s side.

For Chung, four more may be on the books, but depending on how these next few events go for her, Chung may play the end of her Sanctionals season a bit more by ear. For now, you can plan on seeing her at SiDAtlas Games, and the Reyjkavik CrossFit Championship. Her overall goal is to experience as many competitions as possible, continually improve her athletic capabilities, and qualify for Games… while still enjoying the ride. “I want to leave the competition floor after each weekend knowing that I performed at my best and had nothing left to give,” she said. “I try not to dwell on the larger goal or outcome too much during a competition, as I find this stresses me out and is more of a distraction than a motivator!”