CrossFit Games

Weakness No More, “Swim ‘N’ Stuff” Proves Swimming Now a Strength

October 25, 2020 by
Photo courtesy of CrossFit LLC.
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While swimming has been a staple at the CrossFit Games since it was introduced in 2011, Event 10 of the 2020 CrossFit Games on Sunday morning featured a pool swim for just the second time in Games history, and the first time since 2013.

Why it matters: Swimming in calm water in a pool quickly allowed us to see just how far these athletes have come in the last 10 years — way more efficient strokes than the chaotic ocean swims of past years — marked by mass starts of athletes swimming on top of each other as they jostled for position.

  • Consider 2014: Athletes struggled through surfable waves at Hermosa Beach Pier (there actually were surfers on the beach that morning), making even proficient swimmers look like amateurs. As an athlete who competed there, I will say the event was more a test of who was the least scared of the water than anything else.

Remind me: 2013 was the only other time a pool swim was programmed at the Games. Athletes relied on various techniques — including above-the-water breaststroke, backstroke, sidestroke, and even some doggy paddle — to make it across the 25-yard pool. Some looked like they had never been in a pool before.

  • A win in 2013 meant you were a good enough swimmer to hold a freestyle stroke throughout the entire event. Rory Zambard, who won her heat and placed third overall on the event, “stay(ed) with the freestyle all the way through,” said an impressed-sounding CrossFit Games commentator.
  • Rich Froning, already a two-time Games champion, showed up in 2013 with lackluster swimming skills. He took a breathe-every-other-stroke approach as he moved slowly across the pool, almost looking like he might sink somewhere along the way. At one point, Froning stopped in the middle of the pool, his body vertical, to adjust his goggles. He placed 30th in the event.

Today: Seven years later, it’s not only a given that you show up to the Games knowing how to swim. It’s an expectation that you’re a very good swimmer.

  • Proof: Mat Fraser placed second on the swim event on Sunday, ahead of Noah Ohlsen, a college water polo player and excellent swimmer.
  • About Tia-Clair Toomey: “That a darn good swim stroke,” said CrossFit Games commentator Chase Ingram, a former collegiate swimmer himself.

The bottom line: In seven years, swimming has gone from being an acceptable big black hole in many elite CrossFit athletes’ game, to being just another tool they’re expected to have mastered.

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