The African Semifinals Battle (of the Michelles)
In a continent that only gets one berth to the CrossFit Games this summer, there’s only room for one Michelle. But both Michelle Merand and Michelle Basnett are hoping to finish atop the podium at the African Semifinals, the Fittest in Cape Town, in South Africa.
- While their abilities on the leaderboard look similar — Merand edged Basnett out in the Open, but Basnett topped the Quarterfinals in Africa, while Merand was third — their similarities end there.
Michelle Merand: Merand, 31, was born and raised in South Africa and today owns FitBox TygerValley in Cape Town. A 2019 CrossFit Games competitor, when Merand found CrossFit in 2015, she was a drinker and a smoker.
- “I really didn’t do anything athletic,” Merand said. “It was truly really one of those CrossFit saved my life kind of situations…and then I just kind of fell into a health and fitness routine.”
- Her first Open competition was in 2015. She placed 38,492 worldwide. Since then, Merand has improved her rank on the leaderboard every year. Last year, she placed 204th in the Open, and this year she jumped to 127th worldwide.
Notable: Merand has become the athlete she is today training just an hour or so a day, because that’s all the time she has.
- On top of all the business-related duties that go along with gym ownership, Merand usually coaches 30 classes a week. “I get up around 4:30 am and coach three classes until 8:15, and then I usually train for 60 to 90 minutes. Then I eat and have personal training clients, and then I coach in the evening,” she said of her normal day.
- Recently, however, as she prepares for Semifinals, she has brought on a couple more coaches to help her handle the class volume.
Semifinals outlook: Merand, who said her biggest strengths include barbell cycling and gymnastics, couldn’t be more excited that the Fittest in Cape Town competition is her Semifinals, as she has always done well there, she explained. In 2019, Merand punched her ticket to the Games in Cape Town.
- “That year I only had a few weeks to prepare for the Games after I qualified, and it was incredible and completely overwhelming, but I would have liked to have been a bit more prepared,” Merand said.
- She’s hoping this year will be a different story. “I know it’s always a great competition, and secondly I would really like to win,” she said.
Michelle Basnett: Basnett, 24, was born in South Africa but moved to the United States when she was 4 years old. Today, she’s a coach at CrossFit Cornelius in NC and a realtor; however, she’s taking a break from real estate right now as she prepares for Semifinals, which will have her traveling across the world in an attempt to qualify to her first CrossFit Games.
- While Basnett is less experienced than Merand, her recent success winning the Quarterfinals in Africa and her lifting numbers — a 315-pound back squat, a 250-pound clean and jerk and a 205-pound snatch — speak for themself. She also hit 250 pounds on the four-rep max front squat event during Quarterfinals.
- Beyond absolute strength, Basnett, who is coached by Mike Ratnofsky of OnUp Training, explained her cheerleading background has helped her make gymnastics another one of her big weapons.
One big thing: Basnett insists that she’s not naturally a competitive person. It’s something she has had to learn, she explained.
- Basnett started CrossFit when her cheerleading team “kind of fell apart,” and she was simply looking for a way to “look a certain way and take care of myself,” she said.
- “But as I got more and more into CrossFit, the constant challenge and getting better, and seeing there is always room for improvement and growth, brought out a more competitive side in me. So I guess I had to learn how to want to win,” Basnett said.
Semifinals outlook: Basnett remains humble about being one of the frontrunners to qualify out of Africa to Madison, WI this summer.
- “My mindset going into Quarterfinals was that I definitely wanted to be in the top five or 10. I wasn’t expecting to win, but it was a nice little surprise,” she said.
- And while her goal is to do the same at the Semifinals, she’s not putting pressure on herself. “I’m mostly looking at it as a good challenge and a way to test my fitness,” she said.
The big picture: Both Michelles have their sights set on Madison this summer, but getting to the Games isn’t the most important thing CrossFit has given them.
- “I have grown to be more competitive and I want to see where it takes me…but my why will always be about taking care of myself at the root,” Basnett said.
- Merand added: “It’s about more than going to the Games. It’s about trying to see, literally, how far I can push myself, whether it’s in a workout or in business. I want to see where my limit is and how far I can get,” Merand said.