CrossFit Games

CrossFit Rotherham: Bouncing Right Back, All The Way To The Games

June 21, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Ciarán Watts @wattsmediairl
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Teams of four qualify to go to the CrossFit Games, but at the Europe Semifinal, five members of CrossFit Rotherham stood together and embraced when their names were called. Rotherham took the tenth spot in Europe with 396 points and punched their first ticket to the CrossFit Games. But the journey was not easy.

Team Rotherham first began to take form with anchor members Daniel Tai and Sapphire Goddard during the 2022 season. The two had moved to Denmark to train with two other Danish athletes and form a team with the goal of qualifying for the Games. 

  • The day before the Open started, one of their Danish teammates snapped their ACL. Unfortunately, their team’s season was over as the alternate that had been chosen wasn’t fully brought into being an alternate and passed on stepping in. 
  • 2022 became a lost season for Tai and Goddard.

Frustrated, the two returned to the UK to tackle the 2023 season. Dan and Sapphire still wanted to make a team happen, and they decided to build one closer to home. They recruited Georgia Davenport, a former professional diver, and Moritz Neumann, an ex-bodybuilding triathlete, and focused on qualifying for the next stage. Because of their experience the previous year with an alternate who couldn’t commit, Tai and Goddard knew it was vital to have an alternate that was all in, and Davenport and Neumann agreed. Alexandra (Alex) Demetriou fit the bill perfectly.

Alex, a former soccer player, had known Dan for a few years, and even though they were following different programming, they had been training at the same gym for a while. Alex also knew Sapphire and Georgia and was a full-time personal trainer and coach, so her availability was there. 

  • Demetriou: “I knew that Dan had a team in Denmark ready to go the previous year. And personally, I didn’t think they would do team again due to how it ended. Then they asked me, if we get a team together, would you be a sub? I didn’t think much of it, I told them to put my name down, and I never thought it would actually happen!”

Coming in Hot

With Alex on board as a solid and supportive alternate, CrossFit Rotherham attacked the 2023 season. Everything was going great – the team was gelling, and 3 out of the 4 members even qualified for individual Semifinals. Most of the group did the Open and Quarterfinals together, and once they qualified, they scheduled a big team training camp in Tenby, the town where Neumann lived.

It was almost too good to be true. Then the other shoe dropped.

During the last training session in Tenby, on the last workout, and on the last rep, Sapphire Goddard’s knee went out on a heavy hang clean. She was in a lot of pain but was hopeful it wasn’t a catastrophic injury that would cause her to step away entirely from the season. Unfortunately, after her scans, she learned that her ACL was completely torn. Her surgeon gave her two options.

  • Goddard elaborated on the diagnosis: “He said I could compete at Semis, and hopefully the Games, or just get the surgery done now, with an eight-month recovery process, and I could be back next season.”
  • “The initial option to be able to compete this season was brilliant, but then I had to sit down and reflect and realize – it wouldn’t be great. It would be selfish if I did this because if I hurt myself more in the Semifinals, then the whole team would be out. And then it’s just a selfish decision, and I wouldn’t be back in time for next season either.”
  • “Me getting the surgery done as soon as possible would mean I could return for next season stronger and faster than ever. And it means the team can still go along and compete at Semis. It’s been a win-win kind of situation for everybody.”

That was all well and good, but someone needed to inform Alex.

Alex remembers reading the message: “Saph had messaged me four weeks before the Semifinal asking what the chances are that I could go to Berlin. I was already planning on going and  supporting them, but then she told me what had happened. At this point, no one besides the team had known what had happened to her. 

  • “I think I was the last to know because they wanted to see whether or not Sapphire could compete, and whether or not it was worth the risk.”
  • “So then she asked me, ‘what are the chances you could compete?’”

At first, Alex thought Sapphire was kidding: “I had to double-read it! I thought it was a joke; because I knew I was the sub, but I didn’t think they would need me. I instantly said to them, if you put me on the team, there is a chance you won’t be as good because it’s a completely different team with me on it. I’ve not done anything yet to this level. But I said, if this is what you guys need, then I will step up.” 

The Rubber Meets the Road

The stage was set for Rotherham to take on the Semifinals – it didn’t look how they anticipated, with a newly put-together team, and Sapphire watching and coaching from the sideline. After her ACL surgery, Goddard spent as much time as possible with her team. It was vital.

  • Goddard: “It was good for my mental health and the team for me to be there. And be as supportive as possible, because an injury like that can affect the whole team. And when I did it, we could feel there was a bit of a lull in our training as a group. So for me to be there and support the team was important.”
  • The devastating injury brought Rotherham closer together, instead of pushing them apart.
  • Daniel Tai: “Saph was a lot of the glue of the team. And she keeps the team united. So to have her around meant that we still felt like we had a purpose and that she was supporting the team, rather than just disappearing and being upset.”

The road may have been slightly bumpy in the transition, but the goal remained the same – to qualify for the CrossFit Games. Rotherham was dead set on always running their own race during the stacked Europe Semifinal, and if they didn’t qualify, to make sure they went down swinging and giving their own personal best every day of the competition.

The last day was much more stressful than they wanted it to be.

Tai reflects on the end of the weekend: “It was just so nerve-wracking and stressful always being on that cut line; you know, we were just above or just below right down to that final workout. We knew we were within a punching shot to make the Games, but obviously, you don’t know how that last workout is going to go. It’s just emotional and stressful the whole weekend, and as soon as they said it up on that big screen, all I just felt was this massive dump of emotion. It was just crazy; your body finally letting go of it all.”

The Bottom Line

As the team looks toward Madison, some teams might have preferred that the road to get there had been less bumpy and stressful. But not Rotherham, and definitely not Goddard, who will be at the Games with her team cheering for them until her voice is gone.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” said Goddard. “This is the best outcome, and it motivates me and fires me up for next year because I know that I have the ability to be there too. I want them to go out there, work hard, and have a great time. And hey, I get a nice holiday out of it too.”

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