The Titan Games: CrossFit’s Primetime “I Told You So”

August 17, 2020 by
Photo Credit: Steve Dietl (NBC)
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Matt Chan and Dani Speegle hoisting the final trophies as champions of season 2 of the Titan Games was a fitting ending to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s primetime television show that attempted to test athletes in a series of physical challenges against elite athletes from various sports.

The final result should come as no surprise to any longtime members of the CrossFit community,  but having a legend of CrossFit’s “old guard,” and one of the CrossFit Games next generation of rising stars conquer a show hosted by one of the biggest celebrities in the world in front of millions of viewers is another important brick in the road of CrossFit’s rise from fitness rebel pariah to global industry leader.

Started from the bottom: CrossFit has long been embroiled in a battle with the mainstream fitness establishment over the legitimacy of the training program, and it’s potential to build world class athletes capable of feats recognizable on a broader scale.

  • CrossFit’s early leadership tactics would often involve purposefully fanning the flames of controversy through it’s assertions — defying commonly accepted practice —  ruffling the feathers of the establishment as often as possible as the best way to garner attention for an upstart program from a California surf town.
  • The scrutiny and attacks towards CrossFit that resulted (couch thread anyone?) served as bulletin board material and free marketing for a company that was adding more gyms with each passing year, and churning out athletes that would kickstart a sport of their own.

CrossFit’s early feuds with mainstream fitness were an integral part of it’s history that ultimately sparked massive growth within the sport and company — participation in the Open grew 1000% in five years, with affiliate numbers growing 400% — and recognition in pop culture soon followed.

  • The gold standard of pop culture has always been The Simpsons, and eventually CrossFit found its way into the longest running television show in history as punishment for some of Lisa’s school mates with Ralph Wiggum getting a tough no-rep.
  • Ed Sheeran, Grammy Award winning artist and Pat Vellner look alike, teamed up with Chance The Rapper for his song “Cross Me,” and the latter included a nice CrossFit reference

Examples like these are now commonplace but with it also came higher profile naysayers and negative publicity within the fitness industry to the extent of publishing false data with the aim of damaging CrossFit’s reputation.

  • The Devor Study, a 2013 paper published by the NSCA’s Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research purposefully falsified injury data about CrossFit, which ultimately led to retraction, lawsuits, and a landmark ruling in CrossFit’s favor.
  • There was also the infamous Jilian Michaels feud that got picked up by USA Today, and who could forget this (funny, admittedly) piece by Bleacher Report that clearly didn’t age well.

Fitness over feelings: CrossFit Inc. hasn’t exactly done itself any favors with the recent fall out over former owner and founder Greg Glassman’s recent behavior, and the volatility in the sport over the past couple of years, but the one ace up CrossFit’s sleeve has always been the truth of the fitness it has helped millions of people from all walks of life build from the ground up.

  • It’s hard to argue the efficacy of a program that repeatedly transforms the lives of the people ranging from nonagenarians and the chronically ill, to those battling eating disorders and PTSD.
  • It’s even more powerful when considering the shared experience that those people have within the walls of an affiliate with the Mat Frasers, Tia-Clair Toomeys, and Rich Fronings of the world, who stand at the forefront of the sport as proof of the ultimate potential of the methodology.

The results were something the exercise establishment could never reconcile until eventually “functional fitness,” areas started popping up in Gold’s gym, 24 Hour Fitness, and commercial gyms across the country.

  • As the sport garnered more coverage through ESPN and CBS, and feature length documentaries, critics of the sport centered around the comparisons of CrossFit’s elite to the athletic feats and focus of more established sports.
  • In Sports Illustrated’s ranking of the Fittest 50 athletes in the world, Tia-Clair Toomey ranked sixth, and Mat Fraser ranked third below specialist athletes in gymnastics, swimming, boxing, MMA, skiing, tennis, and basketball, ironically using examples and photos of those athletes squatting and deadlifting in their explanation.

Which brings us to the Titan Games: One by one each of the original Titans from the various pro sports listed above that were hand selected by “The Great One,” were taken down and beaten by contestants on the show — with four of the six finalists being CrossFit athletes. Then 3.5 million viewers tuned in to watch Chan and Speegle take down the title as the show took home the top TV ratings mark for the twelfth Monday in a row.

Why this matters: CrossFit has never needed validations from anyone outside of the space, but when a collection of elite athletes are competing on common ground where well-rounded fitness is repeatedly the biggest indicator of success, and two past and present CrossFit Games athletes take down the top spot in front of millions of viewers, (whether the show mentions it by name or not) it’s time to ditch coincidence and conjecture and start embracing the truly elite fitness that CrossFit builds and has continually forged for the past two decades.

Forging Elite Fitness……that sounds catchy.

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