CrossFit Games

Mat Fraser’s Top 5 Moments: 2018 Battleground

February 4, 2021 by
Image Credit: CrossFit LLC
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The 2018 CrossFit Games are widely considered the high watermark for the sport. In a year where participation and media coverage was at an all-time high, the spectacle of the sport reached a fever pitch thanks to the incredible performances of the athletes on the floor as they tackled an increasingly stout, and complex test of fitness. 

On the surface level, the 2018 Games were another dominating performance by Mat Fraser as he cruised to a new record for the largest margin of victory — 220 points — but behind the scenes, a collection of close calls and gritty performances characterized Fraser’s will to win in the face unseen adversity.

#3 – 2018 Battleground

Day two of the Games started off with a beefed up variation of 2017’s obstacle course race and was preceded by the most extensive opening day of the Games yet — with four events bookended by a cycling criterium race and a marathon row. During the Crit, Fraser managed to avoid disaster in the form of a near bike wreck on the final set of turns before settling into the top spot and donning the white leader’s jersey that has practically lived on his shoulders.

  • Fraser’s 6th place finish in the Sprint O-course in 2017 gave every indication that another top finish was on the horizon and the added wrinkle of a weighted vest, some rope climbs, and a “Rescue Randy,” drag would do little to derail that. 

With early heats finishing in the 10 minute range, execution was at a premium on the portions of the O-course where minor mistakes meant restarting the obstacle and losing precious seconds. The final heat was grouped fairly close together as they approached the cargo net with Fraser sitting in 3rd in the heat at that point. 

The collective CrossFit world held their breath at the sight of watching the fittest man on earth plummet from the top, with his legs still tangled in the netting. For a split second, they worried that they had just witnessed the unspeakable: A freak mishap derailing a third consecutive title. 

  • Patrick Vellner, 2018 2nd place finisher: “I remember running just behind Mat as we were getting to the obstacles and thinking that I had an edge on him through that section.” 
    • “Mat has always been a very aware competitor and surely knew that I was right on him and I think we had the same idea: that we’d have to be fast, bordering on reckless, through the obstacles to maintain an edge. Getting to the cargo net, we were both familiar with the obstacle from the O-Course event the year before, but didn’t accurately factor in the effect of the weight vest as we went over.” 
    • “I really briefly saw Mat disappear over the top and lose control and, rather than seeing it as a warning, I looked at it as a chance to hit the gas and try to pass him. We all know how that ended up.”
  • We took slightly different routes to the bottom, with Mat getting a leg snared in the net and me falling like a rock from the top, but we were both a little stunned to say the least after the fall. We gingerly navigated the next few obstacles and managed to push it until the end of the event and both managed top finishes. I know the deals I was making in my head and I can only imagine it was the same for Mat. You can hurt at the finish line, but for now there’s still work to do.” 
    • “After the event I had a bit of a scare, I had suffered some internal bleeding in my lungs and had to go to the hospital before being cleared to compete later on. Mat, on his side, had torn his hip flexor after being caught in the net on the way down. Unlike my dramatics, he kept this a secret for the remainder of the competition.”
  • After checking on each other at the finish line we headed back to the warm up area where I got held up by medical and taken away. Mat snuck on by, but his first stop was to relay the info to my family and coach after returning to the athlete area so that everyone knew what was going on.” 
    • “Mat is as fierce a competitor as you can find on the competition field, he’s skilled and scrappy and it certainly seems that there’s nothing that could slow him down, but off the field, when the battle is done, he’s looking out for his friends and fellow competitors. He’s a true champion.”
  • Matt O’Keefe, Manager: “We were in the outdoor stadium seats and the big screens went out actually so we didn’t see it but heard the call and it turned back on when he was getting up. We heard the reaction from those that saw it on screens but we couldn’t see and knew something wasn’t right. It was almost fortunate we didn’t because we would have been horrified. “
    • “I saw it on a replay when I went back to the athlete area to meet him. He walked up to me to give me a hug and said “I’m sorry. I f*cked up.”  I just wanted to know if he was ok. Vintage Mat, he said he was fine. Come to find out he tore a muscle in his hip. It bruised up that night. He was the toughest guy in every field. I watched him tear his knee, and the response was the same.  “I don’t want you to ask me about it again unless I bring it up. I am good.”  Both times he was far from good but endured the pain to victory.”

Not only did Fraser not skip a beat in the workout — where he would go on to finish 2nd overall, a four place improvement from the O-course in 2017 — he would keep his foot squarely on the gas pedal for the remainder of the competition. In the nine events after the fall where he tore a muscle in his hip, Fraser finished seven of those events in the top four overall including wins in the Fibonacci repeat from 2017, and the Aeneas finale to break his own record set a year prior for the largest margin of victory. 

Critics errantly questioned whether or not Fraser could handle adversity or pressure at the top during the Games, but the reality was that there was more adversity and pressure present than anyone ever realized and in fact he was so good at handling it, that it prevented those outside of his inner circle from even knowing it was there. 

That would change in 2019, and it resulted in arguably his most iconic moment ever. 

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