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CrossFit’s Live Coverage Needs to Improve

June 15, 2022 by

If The CrossFit Games intends to grow into a mainstream sport, their coverage needs to improve. In a sport that revolves around working out, it can be challenging to keep a general audience interested for long periods of time. During movements that are not well known and therefore generally not accurately appreciated, care needs to be taken to cover the competition in a way that is exciting and easily understood to the greatest number of people; the same way that Formula One, a sport that revolves around driving a car, successfully does. To accomplish this, it is useful to use qualities that are universally understood. Luckily, CrossFit already relies on arguably the most universal quality human beings experience: time. Unfortunately, this is not currently being used to it’s greatest potential. During workouts, some of which can appear to outsiders as boring, commentators rarely mention split times of any kind. This fact could possibly be made up for if camera angles were constantly wide enough for the viewer to track athletes reps; however, long duration wide angles can also make it difficult to tell which athlete is which and make the action feel stagnated during slower movements. To combat this, the workouts are usually shown from multiple angles using various shots. The benefit of this variance is that a viewer can pay closer attention to specific athletes, weights being used, good form, bad form, and unique equipment being used. In addition, multiple angles make a video feel like the workout is progressing a little quicker. The drawback to all of that is a loss of perspective of which athletes are in which place. This is where the announcers come in. The announcer or commentator should keep the viewer up to date on not only the current leader, but also the status of the rest of the heat. When an athlete is ahead by three minutes on a 2-mile run, no one wants to watch that athlete running all alone. If CrossFit is dead set on displaying that athlete during their lone run, it would be useful and more interesting to state that athlete’s 400m split times as they run, and possibly juxtapose that with another athlete farther back on the run. Better yet, viewers want to see the next best race and also understand why that is the next best race. 

For example: during The Syndicate Crown Event 5 Women’s Heat 3, the fifth and final qualifying spot for the CrossFit Games, was up for grabs. Christine Kolenbrander, Arielle Loewen, and Kristi Eramo O’Connell were the three athletes in primary contention for that fifth spot. Kolenbrander stood in fifth with 293 points, Loewen was in sixth with 291 points, and O’Connell was in seventh with 276 points. All of that information was relayed to the viewer clearly before the workout. The workout began with a 1,000m row. At the 1:15 mark one commentator, Sean Woodland, states the time to beat for the workout. That is one good reference to time, but it also has nothing to do with the current heat. During the row, commentators did not discuss the athletes' pace on the rower a single time, nor was their pace shown by any camera. The viewer is then left to stare at an athlete sliding back and forth without context for nearly 4 minutes. Cameras instead should be showing the athletes screens during rows, and commentators should be giving predictions for when that athlete will finish that row. Even as the athletes completed the row and walked to the next movement the announcers did not mention split times. The commentators say things like, “off the rower first,” or, “followed closely by,” instead of saying, “McClelland is off at 3:44, with Haley Adams three seconds behind at 3:47.” There is no reference by the commentators, Tommy Marquez or Sean Woodland, to what time the three women fighting for fifth finished the row. Instead, a viewer must struggle through the panning shots and put together that Loewen gets off at 3:51, and O’Connell and Kolenbrander get off at nearly the same time of around 4:02. 

The second movement of Event 5 is barbell thrusters. During the thrusters, there are again no references to time. No commentator times how fast any athlete is cycling from lockout to lockout and that information is not displayed in any way. No one times how fast an athlete gets to ten reps and contrasts that with how fast another athlete got to ten. As the athletes begin to finish the thrusters and move to the pull-ups, the same comments are made about obvious information on screen: “Adams is gonna be first to the pull-up bar,” or “watch O’connell in lane two.” At least Tommy makes a comment about one of the key athletes in the race for fifth, but again there is no reference to time. Adams is shown mounting the pull-up bar at 5:20, but we are left to assume that O’Connell does as well off screen. Tommy then states that O’Connell made up a “ton of time on the thrusters,” and O’Connell did, but it should be stated exactly how much. O’Connell, who was in seventh place in the overall standings, made up a thirteen second deficit getting off the row and was possibly first in the workout at that point. The sixth place overall athlete, Loewen, can barely be seen in her bright shirt mounting the pull-up bar at 5:26, putting her six seconds behind O’Connell. As Tommy finishes stating that O’Connell is great historically at pull-ups, Kolenbrander, the athlete who was placed fifth overall coming into this event, walked up to the pull-up bar and jumped up for her first set of pull-ups. Sean Woodland does point this out, but again he gives just the vague announcement, “Kolenbrander just getting to the pull-up bar to start her first set of thirty chest-to-bars.” This is another missed opportunity to inform the viewer on the state of the race for qualification. Kolenbrander was twenty seconds behind O’Connell and fifteen seconds behind Loewen when she mounts the pull-up bar. That amount of time could sound like a lot, but if we had been informed earlier that one athlete had already made up a thirteen second deficit in this workout, we could then believe that it might be possible for another athlete to make up a twenty second deficit. O’Connell ends up finishing her pull-ups first, twenty seconds ahead of the next female, Haley Adams, who is followed one second later by Alexis Raptis, making up that one second on Adams as they transition to the barbell for their second set of fifty thrusters. At this point, the three women doing thrusters are O’Connell, Adams, and Raptis. Remember, O’Connell was the seventh place overall athlete going in to this workout, and she needed to make up 28 points on Kolenbrander in fifth, and also make sure she beat Arielle Loewen in order to qualify for the games. As the camera and commentators lock-in on just how well O’Connell is doing in the workout, an attentive viewer can discern Kolenbrander and Loewen in the background still on pull-ups; they are 2 out of 4 women still on pull-ups, nearly last in the heat. At the 7:26 mark, Kolenbrander can be seen finishing her final pull-up and advancing to the thrusters, which put her thirty six seconds behind O’Connell, and seventh place at that point during the workout. That meant that it was highly unlikey for Kolenbrander to do much to stop O’Connell from beating her and making up a huge amount of points in the process. Loewen, who was fifteen seconds ahead of Kolenbrander in getting to the pull-ups, was now four seconds behind in getting off! O’Connell finishes her Thrusters at 8:11 and quickly transitions to the rower for her last 1000m row. Tommy states that she is 1:40 ahead of the next fastest split time in getting to the rower. This is again a reference to another heat, which is important, but there still had not been any time references comparing athletes in this heat in any way and the athletes were then making their way to the final movement. The next athletes to finish the thrusters were Adams at 8:41, Semenza at 8:46, and then Kolenbrander at 8:57. 

With O’Connell having at least a thirty second head start on all other athletes, it was relatively safe to say that she had wrapped up 1st in this workout. The focus then should have been on Loewen and Kolenbrander, and of course Adams and Raptis. Finishing her thrusters at 9:02, Raptis was behind O’Connell, Adams, Semenza, and Kolenbrander. Raptis’ main competition, Adams, had a twenty-one second lead on her. Anyone with experience on a 1000m row knows that twenty second leads, especially at the end of a workout, are not likely to be surrendered. Loewen finished her thrusters at 9:26, so Kolenbrander had a twenty-nine second lead on Loewen after being 15 seconds behind her earlier in the workout. From that point on, the commentators should really just be trying to calculate where the overall points will be if all athletes finish in the order they got to the rower. Both Sean and Tommy did a good job of this for the entire row. O’Connell does end up finishing in first with Adams 7 seconds behind. Adams made up twenty-three seconds out of the thirty seconds she was behind on the row. It would have been nice to see the screens of these two athletes as it would have created some fun suspense. The next athlete to get off the rower and finish is Kolenbrander. With O’Connell finishing 1st and Kolenbrander finishing 3rd, Kolenbrander was able to prevent any large point losses to O’Connell in the overall standings, despite being in seventh place at one point during the workout. This close finish between the two athletes set-up a great final event. Kolenbrander’s fluctuations during the workout go unnoticed or unmentioned, and that makes the workout less exciting. There are absolutely no time references during the entire workout, unless you count the reference to the previous heat’s best time. That should be unacceptable to a sport that is almost solely dependent on time as a measurement of performance. 

CrossFit should study the broadcast and commentary style of Formula 1 racing as an example of a sport that revolves around something that to the casual observer might seem very boring, but because their coverage is so detailed and thorough, it draws people in. Laps for cars are broken down into smaller segments called sectors, and each sector is timed and displayed. Most CrossFit workouts are already broken down into rounds, so this should be easy. If a driver sets a fastest sector time it is displayed in purple, the same could be done for CrossFit. If this is more expensive technology than CrossFit can handle, then commentators need to pick up the slack and time athletes themselves. Commentators should have two stop watches at all times to be able to compare two athletes, or at minimum watch the floor clock and time athletes’ movements and relay that information verbally. F1 also rarely displays cars close up by themselves, they usually show a minimum of two cars. CrossFit constantly zooms in on one athlete which prevents a viewer from comparing one athlete to another. CrossFit often zooms in on a workout leader for so long that even after that 1st place person finishes, they display that person rolling around and breathing heavily while the second place finisher crosses the line without the camera showing or commentators knowing. Sometimes this zoom happens so severely that someone else in the field will come out of nowhere (because nothing else can be viewed) and take the 1st place finish completely unbeknownst to even the commentators. That should be unacceptable. If a zoom in occurs, there should always be a split screen of another athlete or a wide shot. This method would prevent loss of context during a workout. F1 does a great job of showing what they refer to as, “the best of the rest.” For the past several years, Tia Toomey and Mat Fraser have dominated events so thoroughly that it can make a workout outcome seem predetermined and boring. The same thing happens in F1 with dynasty teams. However, F1 is willing to completely disregard race leaders for long segments of time in order to cover good head to head races further down in the field, despite their lesser meaning in regards to overall points. 

Although this all sounds harsh, these are easy fixes and the team that exists now is fully capable of putting this all together for a terrific CrossFit coverage experience. The ankle chips CrossFit already uses can be used to display round split times. In the future workouts could be broken down even further by movement times. For example: during the event 5 already mentioned each athlete could be timed through their chip timer from the time they walk into the thruster box to the time they walk out and the viewer could know who did the thrusters fastest. Commentators can also contribute by using old school methods and timing movements or rounds themselves. Until these simple issues are fixed, CrossFit will not be at a popularity comparable to any mainstream sport, regardless of the talent of its athletes because of the difficulty an average viewer has in tracking workouts.

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