Justin Lofranco returns! Justin joined us in 2018 on GGW Episode 271 when we recorded at Camp Timeout. Justin Lofranco started The Morning ChalkUp, the daily Crossfit news website. We discuss the 2021 Crossfit Games and get up to speed on all things Crossfit!
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This is Joy & Claire Episode 80: Crossfit News
Episode Date: June 24, 2021
Transcription Completed: July 16, 2021
Audio Length: 56:28 minutes
Joy: Welcome to another episode of This is Joy and Claire. This week on the podcast we have Justin LoFranco back on the show. You may remember him if you’re an old school Girls Gone WOD listener that we had Justin on the show Episode 271. I don’t know if you recall. We were at Camp Time Out, which was such a fun trip. But we talked to Justin LoFranco because you may remember last week, we were like, hey we haven’t talked about CrossFit in so long. The CrossFit Games are coming up. Are we going to go to the Games? What is going on? As luck would have it, Justin was available. We brought him on the show. We talked all things CrossFit, and I feel pretty up to speed now. So if you are out of the CrossFit world, like myself, I feel like you’re going to get a lot out of this episode, so you’re not going to be too out of it when the CrossFit Games come around. Because, let’s face it, the CrossFit Games are our favorite time of year. It’s so fun to watch. Even if you’re not at the Games. But if you are at the Games, it’s even more fun. So we’re really excited for you to hear this. Just a quick note that if you don’t have anything to do with CrossFit, I think you’ll still get a lot out of this episode. We had some really good discussion. But also, we talk a lot about things that are just in the CrossFit world, and we don’t really stop to explain. So just a heads up that if you feel lost, it’s because we’ve been in the CrossFit community for the past 10-15 years. But I love Justin’s take on everything. He’s got such a well-rounded view. The Morning Chalk Up is his baby. He founded this amazing news company, and they put out a newsletter and daily posts on the Morning Chalk Up, on Instagram, as well as their website morningchalkup.com. So you can hear all about this business there and how you can subscribe. As always, we just really appreciate your support. Please subscribe to our podcast. Share with a friend. And tag us in your post so we can repost any shout outs that you do. Thank you so much for supporting us over the years, and here’s our episode with Justin LoFranco from the Morning Chalk Up.
Justin: Oh hello.
Claire: Hi. You look so burly and rugged.
Justin: I should let you write my dating profile.
Joy and Claire: [laughing]
Claire: Burly, rugged guy wears expensive jacks.
Joy: And also hasn’t aged a day since I last saw you. You still look the same.
Justin: When you stay in the cold all day long, you can’t get wrinkly skin.
Joy: Is that true? Is that true?
Justin: It’s all very tight. It’s frozen.
Claire: Wind burn keeps you young. It’s like exfoliation.
Justin: Yeah, it is kind of like that because snow and ice slapping you in the face.
Claire: Yeah. Women pay thousands of dollars a year for that treatment.
Joy: Yeah, what are we doing?
Claire: All over the world. And here you are paying thousands of dollars to go and do it in the wild. How was it? How was Denali? I mean, I read your extensive recap online of course.
Justin: Yeah. I always get this question, and I answer different every time. I think because something so challenging physically, so long. 21 days of climbing, almost 30 full days in the whole travel experience. And it takes a while to really digest it and say, how do I really feel about that whole experience. Obviously, I feel great and happy that we were successful in our climb and everyone did it safe. It changes, you know. I was talking to some of the guys from the team today. I was like, it’s actually kind of a little dull on a regular basis. It’s because we’re not looking out at this massive, arctic landscape.
Joy: Yeah, you’re just being a normal human now.
Justin: I feel like I’ve had and I’m going through a little bit of an adrenaline crash. Not because we’re jumping out of air planes every day, it’s not like that.
Claire: No, I get it.
Justin: But it is like this epic, all-encompassing, very significant journey. You don’t have any real touch with the outside world except on GPS’s.
Joy: It’s culture shock.
Justin: Texting my sister these updates. I didn’t have Facebook. It wasn’t like I was really the one posting. She was posting the text, and that was the only access to the outside world that I really had. I don’t know. I feel like I have a little bit of an adrenaline crash.
Claire: So do you know what NOLS is? It’s similar to Outward Bound.
Claire: NOLS. National Outdoor Leadership School.
Justin: Okay, okay, yeah.
Claire: Yeah, that sounds so familiar. So I did a NOLS course in college. It was 30 days in the Yukon. Very remote, not as technical as what you experienced, but a very similarly remote experience. A couple of days before we were done, our instructor started telling us about the post adventure blues. And it is truly a mental health phenomenon where it’s almost like a reentry sort of experience. You go through this mental health transition that is very well documented.
Justin: Yeah, most of my climbs, the longest one I’ve done is five days, which is still – it was like 45 miles total. Mount Olympus up in the peninsula in Washington. That was the longest one I’d ever done. Usually it’s just 2 or 3 days, or I might climb for a whole week, but that’s one mountain is 2 or 3 days and maybe take a break for a day and another mountain is 2 or 3 days. So it’s not the same as 21 days of being gone and totally remote, sleeping in a tent every day, a singular mindset about this one mission. You really gel together as a group. It’s 5 of us, and sometimes you yell at each other too. It’s all of that, right. You work as s team to accomplish this goal, and you have a singular focus like that. Kind of experiencing it, kind of understand. The CrossFit games come up soon, so my adrenaline will spike. It’s like work on steroids, as you guys know. I’ll balance it out eventually.
Claire: Well let’s just dive right into the CrossFit Games chat.
Justin: Let’s do it.
Claire: Your favorite topic, I’m sure. Well hopefully it’s your favorite topic because it’s your whole life. So last week, we were talking on the podcast and we were like, we really should start getting our poop in a group for the CrossFit Games. We got to go. We always question whether or not we should go, and then we always go and love it. We were like, but we are so disconnected at this point with the CrossFit competition circuit and cycle. I think a lot of people are feeling that way. Our last “normal year” really was kind of 2019 season. But even towards the end of 2019, things started to change. We had the Open. The 2020 Open was in the fall of 2019. Then we had the whole qualifying process got completely blown up. Then it got completely blown up again this year. And people are like, I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be watching, where I’m supposed to be watching, what the time frame is. I’m going to tune into Instagram occasionally and see if Rich Froning is still a thing. So that’s where we’re at. I watched a little bit of the semi-finals this last weekend. We wanted to invite you on to ask you to impart your deep CrossFit Games knowledge with us.
Joy: And also, I think we want to process – or at least I do – so much that has happened with CrossFit over the last 1.5-2 years and how that plays into it. So it could get a little controversial. But it’s important, and I think that’s the reason why a lot of us stepped away from it. And also the pandemic happened, so it was almost this natural distance for a lot of people, and then people started not affiliating their gyms and then the pandemic was on top of that. There was this layered effect of CrossFit changing, and then we have a new CEO and so on and so forth. I think there’s a lot that we could talk about.
Justin: Anywhere you want to go. You ask the first question.
Claire: Let’s start with the basics. So walk us through where we are at right now in the CrossFit Games season.
Justin: Alright, so this is going to be the CrossFit equivalent of the State of the Union, which you probably need to know. And granted, I’ve been on a mountain for 21 days without access to the internet. But I’ve come back and I feel like I have at least the cursory knowledge of what’s going on. So here’s the lay of the land. CrossFit as a sport side restructured its sport to being a four-stage competition starting with the Open, which has gone from 5 weeks down to 3 weeks. Followed closely by a second online competition called Quarter Finals where athletes have to compete in, I think it was this year, 6 tests online. The top athletes from those areas competing in the Quarter Finals will move onto Semi Finals. Now each Semi Final area region is separated by continent effectively. So we have the North American continent, Asia, Africa, Oceana, South America. So one of the top athletes coming out of the Quarter Finals in one of those continents, you go onto Semi Final stage, which just wrapped up. Semi Finals is a host of different competitions that are run by outside organizations. Like Loud and Live that operates the WOD-apalooza event, by way of example. And the athletes go through these 3-day competitions very similar to what happened during regionals. Six or seven events, top five athletes out of the CrossFit Games. And then we have the CrossFit Games, which to our knowledge – and we believe this is true – does not involve any cuts or –
Joy: Yeah, like what they did in – was it 2019 when they did that for the first time?
Justin: And technically in 2020 when they called culled the herd down from 30 athletes at stage one down to five athletes, so they had to cut as well. But I don’t believe that’s going to be the case though. CrossFit hasn’t really said anything about it.
Joy: People were so mad about it.
Justin: They were a little less than pleased, I would say so.
Claire: So they’ve kind of combined the decentralized management of Sanctionals with the centralized scheduling of regionals to where they had a handful of Semi Finals weekends where you had three or four competitions happening around the world at the same time.
Claire: But none of the events were actually run by CrossFit.
Justin: Yeah. The people running the events are the same people that were running the events during Sanctional season. They obviously don’t have as many because they had scheduled for 2019-2020 season the expanded schedule of 27 events globally. And they were going to be every single weekend for like five months. I’m like, kill me now.
Claire: I think we’re probably all glad. Maybe that’s why no one’s paying attention because they’re like, all I was going to be able to do in 2020 and I wasn’t going to be able to keep up and I was going to have to circle back at the CrossFit Games, figure out who was there.
Justin: Yeah. That system’s over and done with, and we’re very unlikely ever to go back to it, to be frank. There were some merits to that system, time being not one of them. Which is every single weekend, it’s great, there’s a CrossFit Competition. But every single weekend, there’s a CrossFit competition, for like five months. The season was monstrously large and way larger than our infrastructure can support. We went from being like cool back yard barbecue sports to like the NBA overnight, as far as expectations. There’s not even enough photographers to photograph events, let alone media companies to cover them.
Claire: Right. So are the Semi Finals done? Was this last weekend?
Justin: They have the last chance qualifier, which is another online qualifier where they take the ones who didn’t qualify 6th, 7th, and 8th. 6th, 7th, and 8th for the most part are the ones that are going to be competing in an online competition. The top two will get an invite to the Games. I think that’s happening next weekend or next week or something. I don’t remember. There’s only two spots up for grabs. They get pulled into an online competition for an opportunity to qualify. That will be effectively the end of the Semi Final round or the third stage of the competition before the Games, and then in about two weeks prepare for the Games.
Joy: So is the same amount of people going to the Games as there were in years prior?
Justin: 40. 40 men, 40 women, along with 38 teams.
Claire: Okay. So talk to us about the people. Give us the run down on who you think at this stage would be your guess for top five women, top five men, and podium teams.
Justin: Oh wow. You know, I used to be able to answer this question.
Claire: Who are you watching?
Justin: Let me think here. I just got back, kind of reintegrated into CrossFit society. Because I was climbing, I missed the first three weeks of Semi Finals, so I don’t even remember all who has qualified yet. I want to talk mostly about – I still think Tia’s going to win. She is just –
Joy: Wait, you don’t think?
Justin: I do.
Joy: Oh, you do. You do.
Justin: So it’s kind of up for grabs. Holte is such a strong competitor, always has an opportunity to podium at the Games. Katrin Davidsdottir has an opportunity to podium at the Games. Who won this weekend? Bethany Shadburne looked amazing this weekend. I think she deserves a conversation that’s putting her up there towards the upper echelons. She was 8th place in 2019. She’s already a top ten athlete. Men’s side, Vellner, Cole Sager looks about as good as he’s ever looked on a competition floor, and I got to see firsthand this weekend. I was really impressed with him. Vellner won the Atlas Games this weekend. Always been a big fan for his potential to win. He’s a multiyear podium athlete. He struggled the last couple years to get up there, but he’s a guy I absolutely would be looking at. BKG – Bjorgvin Karl Gudmundsson for those of you who don’t know. That’s a mouthful, so BKG is a little easier to get out. He’s another guy that I’d be absolutely paying really close attention to for podium spot. Multiyear top five athletes finisher, former podium athlete. Looking at that guy as a potential winner, replacement for Fraser. And I think for the first time in a long time, there isn’t an immediate answer for who’s going to win the CrossFit Games on the men’s side. Even when Froning retired and we were still like, “It’s Ben Smith.” Ben is a guy, and he won it that year. Yeah, I think Fraser was part of the conversation too. But Ben, he’d already been at the Games like six times. We’re like, “Oh, Ben’s been chomping at the bit. He’s right there. He’s going to be the guy to replace him.” Turns out he was the guy to replace him. That one wasn’t a huge shock. And Fraser got second again that year. And Fraser went on to do what Fraser did. Now it’s been after the third year, you’re like, “If Fraser competes, Fraser is going to win.” I mean, the guy just shows up and absolutely dominates. This is the first year I’m like, I don’t really know. I really don’t know. Noah’s another guy that we’ve said, “Hey, this guy’s got clear podium potential.” 5th place athlete last year. 2nd place the year before in 2019, his first time on the podium. Absolutely.
Joy: It’s kind of exciting though. It’s exciting to not have that predictionality in the books because we’re like, “Oh, Mat Fraser.”
Justin: Very exciting. And that’s something we said, you know. “Oh, it’s always so obvious.” It’s after day one and the guy’s 50 points in.
Claire: Yeah, I think it was 2019 where he didn’t even have to compete in the last event and he still would have won. He was that far ahead.
Justin: I don’t know if it was 2019 because that was the year of the cuts, and it was a bit of a weird scoring year.
Claire: Maybe it was 2018 then.
Justin: 2018. I’m pretty sure he didn’t have to compete in the last event or maybe even the last in all of the last day.
Claire: Right, and he still would have won. While I’m not by any means questioning his athletic prowess, it doesn’t make it very interesting as a spectator.
Joy: No, it doesn’t. It’s like watching the Super Bowl when they’re already, like in the first quarter, like meh.
Claire: Right, it’s like, “Oh, the final men’s heat is going. I’m going to go to the bathroom.”
Justin: Yeah, it’s one of those things. That’s what was too bad. Mat kept it interesting to a certain extent. Like that 2014 year. He was not in first place coming into the final day and then he went and sweeped three straight events, and he had to show up and compete and actually win, and that’s good sports. I’m not sure if it’s just because Mat was so much dominant. Maybe he’s the most dominant athlete to compete in CrossFit ever and that’s just going to be the case. Or maybe it’s just that we’ve got to look at the structure to make it interesting or find other opportunities. Back in the day, people really used to sell out in one workout. They’re like, “This is my jam, and I’m going to go and put everything into that workout.” And it made it really exciting because it pushed the pace for other athletes that were out there. I remember asking Rich about his 21-15-9 workout from the 2014 Games. I was like, “I saw you. I was rewatching this video and I looked at it.” I’m like, “You look like you were gassed when you were doing it.” He won that event, but he looked like he was gassed, and he was in the second heat, not the final heat. He was in the second heat at this stage of the competition. He was not doing well. And he’s like, “I wanted to put up a time that was so fast that I would make everyone else hurt to beat me.” And you guys have interviewed Games athletes or you have listened to interviews before. How many Games athletes today say, “I wanted to make everybody else hurt to beat me.” Like, “No, I’m just staying in my lane. I’m doing my game plan.”
Joy: Yeah, they’re like, “I’m focused on what I need to do.”
Justin: Yes, exactly. And I was like, yeah, we need more of that. We’ve got to figure out a way to get people back into that mentality. They’re like, “I know that Noah really wanted to win that workout, but I wanted him to have to suffer to beat me in that workout.” I’m like, that makes good competition. That makes good event. That makes good spectatorship. Right? We’ve got to figure out a way to get that back. My solution was, I said you should just make it $10,000 for every event somebody wins.
Joy: That’s a good point.
Claire: Right. And everyone’s going to go and be like, “I want you to be in pain. I want everyone else to feel pain.”
Justin: I want them to feel pain, and I want ten grand. Yeah, that would probably work. This is the first time we don’t really know. I don’t think it’s going to be clear on day one or day two. I think that makes for a good sport. I’m really excited about that. I still think Tia is just going to kind of dominate like before. It’s not really about talking bad about the other athletes. She’s just still so far ahead.
Joy: Yeah. She’s just amazing. She’s in a completely different level.
Justin: I think by day two, we’re going to go, meh.
Claire: I will say, especially within the Semi Final commentators, the teen athletes were a big topic. We’re seeing these teenagers that have just aged into the adult competition but have been a lot of them competing at the CrossFit Games already in the teen division for years. Some of them have already been doing CrossFit for 7, 8, 9 years. And this is the depth of experience that we have yet to see from anyone in the sport because the sport didn’t exist.
Justin: Pretty scary. I think this is the first time that, except early, early, I mean 2007 or 2008 or 2009, when a 17 year old qualified for the Games. Well, 2007 just signed up.
Joy: Right. You just walk into Dave Castro’s backyard.
Justin: Just showed up and paid the fee and threw down that weekend. Other than there was an athlete – I don’t remember her name, but it was a female I believe who was 17 and was the youngest athlete to ever compete at the Games. Except during the national champion phase when there was a foreign country where an athlete was also the top qualifier too. This is the first time through a new, fully vetted, live competition qualification system where we’ve had multiple teen division females, 17 year old females, qualify for the CrossFit Games and have gone through the same system as individuals. They didn’t get any national championship competition invitations. Back in the day when Haley was 16, she was competing in Regionals but she wasn’t getting the top five spot. We just had two athletes who are 17 that beat out their peers in the adult division. This is the first time we’ve ever had that. And they are really fit.
Claire: So fit. Terrifying fit. Yeah.
Justin: It’s not just the capacity, it’s their numbers.
Claire: Yeah. And I feel like you see these 17-, 18-year-old men/boys/guys/dudes who are so, like you can just see the human growth hormone just radiating out of their pores. Like you can watch their muscles rebuilt as they use them. And you’re like, I twisted my knee two months ago and I still have to be careful when I walk down the stairs. This is not their reality yet.
Justin: No, no.
Claire: It’s not even close. It’s wonderful.
Justin: I’m actually more impressed with the women to be honest. The numbers that these women are throwing up are putting them in the upper echelon of lifters in the individual divisions. Like Mal O’Brien’s clean and jerk is 245. Tia Toomey won the Rogue Invitational with a 270 clean and jerk. She’s an Olympic weightlifter from the Olympics.
Claire: Literally competed at the Olympics in weightlifting, yeah.
Justin: Literally competed at the Olympics in weightlifting. She’s been training and weightlifting for a decade. Oh, okay, that’s great. 245’s pretty good. I think Amanda Barnhart I think got 265. Also somebody who’s known for their strength, who’s also a larger sized athlete than Mal O’Brian who’s like 5’3” and 120 lbs. or something. It’s nuts. I don’t think she has a double body weight clean and jerk, but if she does it’s an extremely difficult thing to do in weightlifting. For the female athlete to double body weight clean and jerks at nationals and perhaps even for the national championship. You know, Alyssa Ritchey was a CrossFit Regionals athlete and was only the 7th woman in American history have a double body weight clean jerk. Just saying. I’m looking at these numbers being like, that’s nuts. Both her and Emma Cary. Emma Lawson qualified and competed at the Atlas Games over the weekend. She’s Canadian. She’s only 16. She got I think 8th.
Joy: It’s impressive.
Justin: I’m like, don’t live near me. Go to a different gym. I’ve got to step my game up. I’m 34 years old. I’m like, shoot, you guys are so unbelievable. I’m so impressed.
Claire: Yeah. I’m like, did I miss my window to be fit? Maybe.
Justin: If you didn’t know then, you should know now.
Joy: Oh, the glory days of when you first started CrossFit and you actually thought you had a chance of going to the Games. Just in the back of your mind, just thinking, maybe. It was so small. Just maybe. The first Regionals I went to was at some colosseum in Castle Rock, and I walked in, and you just sit down on a bleacher, and the bleachers weren’t even full. It’s crazy. Anyway. What do you think about programming? What’s going on with Mr. Castro, and what do you think is going to be focused on for programming this year?
Justin: For the Games or for the whole season in general?
Joy: For the Games, yeah.
Justin: I’m really curious what he does. I liked a lot of events from 2020. My one knock on the events though – by recollection, I probably had a more accurate opinion when I was right there looking at them during the Games – but my one knock was, I wanted there to be more creativity. And not because you need to be creative to create great events. But he had so many opportunities with only five athletes to really do things that were completely different and perhaps not even possible than any other Games, right? I remember ’14, ’15, ’16 – definitely ’14, it was like throwing athletes in a meat grinder sometimes. And there were some criticisms that it was too hard back then, but nobody’s said it in the last several years that the Games have been too hard. And here’s the thing, it doesn’t just have to get harder to be harder and we have to beat people down more.
Joy: Right, not to kill people. Like the year Annie Thorisdottir almost died doing Murph.
Justin: That was ’14. And you’re like, well, part of the Games’ point it to find the tip of the spear. Not everybody is supposed to succeed at the test, but when you have athletes getting two minutes under the time cap and everybody gets two minutes under the time cap, you’re on a workout that only takes seven minutes. You’re like, well obviously they’re not heavy enough or you gave them way too much time. You don’t just want the athletes decimated, but at the same time, I want to see the women’s top end barbell, everybody fails but one athlete.
Joy: Right. That’s interesting and exciting to watch.
Justin: Push them beyond – no one’s ever done a workout with a 275 lb. clean programmed in the workout for women. I don’t know that, but I’m pretty sure that that’s true. You’re like, okay, let’s see how far they can go. Let’s really test that capability. And that’s where creatively, it doesn’t just have to be heavier, but what other creative elements can we incorporate there. You could have done things for the first time – I think someone was interviewing me about this too back then, and I said, “Well look, I know this is kind of silly, but what if you had to make someone tread water with a kettlebell?” I know that’s kind of dumb, but –
Claire: Underwater clean and jerk.
Justin: How long can they las? Under water clean and jerk.
Claire: Just in, this is the year for the limbo.
Joy: Claire wanted to say it. She wanted to say it.
Claire: Every damn year. I have to say it. I have to bring it up at least once per year.
Justin: Flexibility, mobility is a part of –
Claire: I have given deep thought to this. Coordination, accuracy, flexibility. It’s measurable. It’s repeatable. It has so many –
Joy: And there’s music,
Claire: There’s music. You look ridiculous. There’s so many things about the limbo that make it a truly just ideal competition.
Justin: That’s fair. How low can you go?
Claire: Take it.
Joy: How low can you?
Claire: Exactly. Dave Castro, you feel free to take that idea and run with it. I’ve been saying it for years.
Justin: That’s the kind of idea where you’re like, it doesn’t make sense to do it with 40 athletes, but if you only have 5. Because some workouts would take too long to cycle through. You couldn’t do a sprint repeat workout with 40 athletes because there’s 5, 6, 7, 8 positions on a track. It would take you 2.5 hours on the track. It would be nuts. Nobody wants to watch people do sprint repeats for 2.5 hours, like in a tournament style relay like they did when they did the obstacle course. Well the obstacle course gets way more exciting when you can [UNCLEAR] multiple times. Multiple, multiple, multiple times because you only have 5. Or a tournament style thing could be very interesting because you have fewer athletes. That’s kind of creatively where I was hoping – Look, this is the only time we’re doing this thing at Aroma’s. It’s not going to be the case again. They’re going to go back to sites and venues where they can have spectators and stuff. I was hoping that was there. That was a long-winded answer, but when it comes to the Games this year, I hope we don’t play it safe. I give Dave a lot of credit in years like ’13, ’14, ’15, ’16 when his attention to detail and increasing the spectatorship and the potential for great sport moments, his attention to detail was very keen. It was good, and he bought things like pilons and things like markers on the ground and looking at those elements and say, how do we really make this a spectator friendly sport. And I get it. He got his toy taken away and he got a little bit upset about that. I don’t think his heart’s been in it the last couple years. I hope he puts it back in there. And that’s the truth of the matter. I think he’s done a lot of great programming in the past in his complete, holistic Games experience. I think he lost that passion. Maybe he has it back, maybe he doesn’t. He had 2020 Games under a new owner, but it’s as barely any time considering when the sale happened and when the Games was actually on.
Joy: Yeah, when everything happened, yeah.
Justin: But I look at the Open and I look at the Quarter Finals and I look at him rubber stamping a lot of workouts for teens. I want to see if the guy’s heart is going to be in it. And I want to see the answer to that question by the product that he puts out.
Joy: Right, and I think there’s so much of that that drew us to it as well. You know, in the good ole days when they had the amazing open workouts and it was very exciting and there was this big production. He was kind of like this character of – yeah, it’s interesting.
Justin: He was CrossFit’s villain, and now he’s just the guy that programs a bunch of workouts. I know I’m over-reducing his role in CrossFit, but that was the position that he decided that he wanted to have, and it was entertaining.
Joy: It was 100% entertainment.
Justin: And sports is entertainment.
Joy: It is.
Justin: We come to be entertained, you know. Russell Crowe, throw him a sword like the Gladiator. That’s what people come to see. They come to spectate that. And to build that organically, not because you have great stars in the NBA throwing down massive dunks. The events and how they’re structured and put together have to create the moments. And that’s a difficult challenge. His attention to detail for many years is what helped build those moments and give opportunity for that. You could incentivize them financially. That might help too. But there’s a lot of ways of doing it. I think he has to have a big role in bringing that back. I think that’s going to be one of his biggest challenges is not finding the fittest in the most balanced competition sort of way. It’s putting on a great competition and entertaining a whole bunch of people. If they want more people to watch, it’s got to be entertaining.
Claire: I’m also curious to see if, at all, the vibe of the Games changes in a way that you’re the spectator can even notice, given the change in ownership and given that Glassman was vocally unenthusiastic about the Games. You know what I mean? He showed up. He was there. But he would be the first person to tell you, the Games are not it. We haven’t ever talked to Eric Roza. I doubt we ever will. Although I see him walking down the street all the time. But there’s a big ole place by CrossFit Sanitas that I love. I’m like, I think I know that guy. He has never been to the bagel place. To be clear, I don’t want to slander him. I have never seen him at the bagel place.
Joy: Oh my gosh, guess what? He eats bagels.
Justin: It’s carbs!
Claire: Anyway. The point of this is that I wonder if his thought process and if his ethos about the Games and its place in CrossFit is how is it different than Glassman’s?
Justin: I’ve talked to him about this. I saw him this weekend and we’ve been on the phone a couple of times over the year that he’s owned the company now. His ethos about the Games is different. Greg, for being a brilliant programmer and trainer, never was able to figure out how to strike the appropriate balance with the whole community between the Games and training. He just never was able to trike appropriate balance and stuff. His heart was in training. He’s actually quite a brilliant trainer when you think about the workouts he put together and programmed and executed on and his vision for that and what it’s done for so many athletes in gyms that have changed their lives around and have so many more years on their life probably because of the effectiveness of those workouts. So he’s really a trainer at heart, not an entertainer. I think, and a lot of people think, he should have sold the Games off to IMG years ago and let them do what they did with the UFC. But that didn’t happen. So now here we are today. Now Roza, big fan of the Games. He likes the sport of CrossFit. I don’t think that CrossFit’s going to be making a concerted effort into developing CrossFit health as a concept, as a genre, as a vertical for furthering a discussion in health. I think he’s going to let the gym speak for themselves when they talk to their members. Look guys, we can help you lose weight. We can deal with hypertension. We can deal with Type 2 diabetes. We can get your mobility back. We can allow you to pick up your kids or your grandkids and be able to play with them and the benefits of those things. I think he’s going to let the box do that kind of advocacy about CrossFit and let the results speak for themselves. I do think he wants a bigger and more concerted engagement with CrossFit as a sport. I believe that. I think we’re seeing that. I think he wants to finalize the structure. He’s working with CBS on a live contract for broadcasting, wants to bring it back to the good ole days. Now the challenge is going to be surpassing that, surpassing that in a really big, significant way. Surpassing it doesn’t mean you’ve got 1.5x. Surpassing it and really growing it means you’ve gone 5x. So if peak interest is 1 million, then you need 5. So what we’re seeing is I think he’s trying to right the ship and get everything organized and coordinated and get the team set. They had to shotgun the games and get it done under new leadership. I think he was like, look, we’ve got to get it done, but I’ve got to focus on other parts of the company. Now they’ve got a good season structure and they’ve codified the relationships with brand partners and brought them back and brought sponsorship money back, brought spectatorship back, and all the things like that. I’ll see what he does in 2022. I’m looking for some big changes from a person who spends their entire day thinking and looking and talking to people that do business in the sport of CrossFit. I’m looking for some big changes. I don’t think that what worked in ’16, ’17, and ’18 is what’s going to get them there, to millions of viewership.
Joy: To increase the viewership.
Justin: We want to have people tuning in on Sunday live, live, a million. They’re going to have to do something different than what worked for them in ’16, ’17, and ’18. I don’t know what that is yet, and I haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen anything that’s big. I’ll give them another year, and then we’ll chat.
Joy: So here’s what I’m thinking. This sort of parlays into some questions we got from listeners today too is reputation. CrossFit has a reputation. I think that plays a lot into whether or not people are going to watch CrossFit because what is the reputation you think people say when you say CrossFit?
Justin: Well I think it’s probably a little cultish. Hardcore.
Joy: Yeah. It’s cult.
Justin: People still think it’s a little dangerous. Perception out there of the population. They say it’s more prone to injury. But yeah, that’s probably still their opinion.
Joy: So it’s almost like when people say, “I run marathons,” or whatever. People are like, ugh. There’s very much the idea that you’re either in that camp or you’re not in that camp. And people who have a very specific view about CrossFit, whether or not it’s you’re in a cult or maybe they paid attention to the drama that happened – I shouldn’t say drama. The big situation.
Justin: It was fairly dramatic.
Joy: But I don’t want to downplay it like it was this drama. It really was a serious deal of what happened with Greg Glassman. I think whether or not they paid attention to that news or whether they think CrossFit –
Justin: Oh, I think it had a negative on the barometer.
Joy: On the brand. Yeah, for sure. I think that a lot of gyms decided to step away from the affiliation. That is another big deal. So I think the 2020 year had a big impact on CrossFit, you could say negatively, as far as their reputation. So if they want to grow their viewership and people watching the Games, you have to make it something that a lot of people can get on board with as far as their mission, what they stand for, etcetera, etcetera.
Justin: Yeah. I completely agree. I think it deterred potential customers from joining a gym. I think also the pandemic where there were fewer options to join, if they had any lean or notion to do that – though some, like my gym, was open for the majority of the pandemic. They got people the first time because “my gym is closed, and this one is open.” That had nothing to do with CrossFit on a corporate level. They had a business opportunity that existed for some markets that were open. There are big box 24-hour gym who weren’t allowed to be open. Or as a corporation, they said none of them. These are independently owned, so they can make a decision. I don’t know the answer to what CrossFit is supposed to be from a mission statement perspective. I think that Eric has to figure that out for himself and decide the vision or what that direction is. I don’t know what it is. I think it’s a part of all the things it was before. It is the best hour of your day. An opportunity to get healthy and fit and do that and make lifelong friendships with individuals in your box. You come for the fitness, stay for the community. I think all of this is still very relevant and still the case today. But on a corporate level, what does CrossFit as a corporation stand for, I don’t think I can answer that question for you. I don’t think that they can answer that question yet. The deal was done relatively quickly. In fact, very quickly. And announced relatively quickly. The letter of intent was what they announced. The letter of intent was signed by Greg to say, yes, I have the intention of selling and you have the intention of buying. That’s a binding document. That was what we announced in June, a year ago.
Joy: A year ago, which is crazy.
Justin: They hadn’t even done a deal yet. It took them another month to do a deal, and then the DOJ had to approve the deal. And so they got that news out there very quickly to help styme the exodus and the damage that was going to be irrevocable at that point. But they are down to 12,000 affiliates now. More than 12,000 – I would say it’s less than 12,500, more than 12,000.
Claire: I think too, we’ve talked about this for years and years the difference between the brand of the affiliate and the brand of the Games. Those are two very distinct brands that they try to combine into one brand experience, and they’re just not a single brand experience. If you think about this truly from a branding/marketing perspective and a mission statement perspective and a messaging perspective. It’s very unique in the sense that the CrossFit Games and the CrossFit me who goes into the gym and is doing ring rows nine years in, my experience is very different. And the value proposition is incredibly different. It’s so different from the NBA where you go to the JCC or the YMCA or your local… just play a pickup game of basketball, the pickup game of basketball that you’re playing isn’t owned by anyone. You could do it anywhere. Maybe you do it because you love basketball and you watch basketball, but you don’t do it to have a direct connection to the NBA, nor do you expect to have one.
Justin: Yeah, CrossFit is different in that regard. The stands are filled with 100% CrossFitters.
Joy: Right, right.
Justin: Whereas the NBA, the stands might actually be 1% that play regularly basketball.
Claire: Yeah, and so to your point of how are you going to get to 5 million viewers, well how are you going to get back to 15,000 affiliates?
Justin: How are you going to get to 25 million active CrossFitters?
Claire: Yeah, and how are you going to –
Justin: I’ve got an answer for that by the way.
Claire: Let’s hear it.
Joy: What is it?
Justin: I don’t think – and I’ve said this to staff at CrossFit, even recently. I said, look, I don’t think that America needs 10,000 gyms. Just don’t. I don’t think there’s enough people that want to do group fitness. CrossFit-style group fitness because there’s other group fitnesses out there. Yoga is group fitness. Soul Cycle is group fitness. Etcetera, etcetera. There’s a lot of group fitness out there. There’s millions of people that are doing it. I just don’t think America has a marketplace for 10,000 locations for CrossFit. By the way, there are not 10,000 group locations for any fitness out there, even in America. You have the number whatever it is now. It was 6-5, 5-5, somewhere in that mix. Let’s call it 6. It doesn’t matter. I don’t think it needs to add another 4. I don’t think adding another 4 will give them 10 million active CrossFitters in America. I think it will give them 4,000 times 150. That’s what I think, or probably lower than that.
Claire: Or it will give them less than that because a third of their gym membership will be like, “Oh, a gym opened closer to my house. I was already going to another gym.”
Justin: I don’t think that’s the answer is opening gyms. I think that the answer is taking CrossFit directly to consumers. That’s’ the way Peloton works, and Peloton has a million active CrossFitters – ah, jeez.
Justin: A million active subscribers to their online digital fitness.
Joy: And it’s amazing. I do Peloton. I have a Peloton. I love it.
Justin: I’ve never done it. I’ve seen it done, and I think it’s pretty cool.
Joy: And you know what it is? It’s the trainers. The trainers are freaking amazing, and you fall in love with them, and you’re like, “I’m never going anywhere else again.”
Justin: I was at my sister’s house all the time down near Huntington Beach. I’d work, you know. And this woman, who also was now working remotely because of the pandemic, I used to hear her every day in the garage. I’m like, hey, get it. She’s coming to work. Freaking, that’s great. She’s loving it. She’s into it. I can hear the speaker’s going. She’s like, “[heavy breathing] Come on!” She’s motivating herself. I’m like, yeah, she’s freaking doing it, and I’m loving it. I was pumped for her.
Joy: You’re like, “I’m going in there!”
Justin: Yeah, I want to get in and do a workout. So CrossFit employs the best functional fitness trainers in the world. I say functional fitness broadly because it appeals to anybody who is teaching functional fitness, not just at a CrossFit gym but anywhere. They employ the best trainers in the world on seminar staff, and they’re the only ones in the world that are legally allowed to produce an app called CrossFit. So you’re telling me that they can’t deliver CrossFit to people in their garages the way that Peloton delivers bicycle to people in their garages.
Claire: Or Street Parking.
Justin: Or Street Parking does or NCFIT does, by the way.
Justin: You’re telling me they can’t go live on an app. They’ve got the trainers, the best trainers, in multiple languages all across the globe. They have a studio with a lot of cameras.
Joy: They’ve got the equipment.
Justin: They have the money. They have the equipment. They have the only rights to the mark. And they have a multi-year partnership with the largest creator of fitness equipment in America called Rogue.
Claire: And their new CEO probably knows some tech guys who could write an app for that. I don’t know. I’m pretty sure. He did work for a tech company.
Justin: I’m pretty sure for the cost of a Peloton bike you can get bumper plates, barbell, a box, a wall ball, and a jump rope.
Joy: You priced it already.
Justin: Of course.
Claire: That can’t all fit in the back half of your office while you’re on Zoom. No one’s going to go, “Oh, is that a box?”
Justin: No, but you can fit it in your garage, the same place you do Peloton.
Joy: Yeah, people want to do garage workouts.
Justin: I’m oversimplifying it, but I’m saying if CrossFit wants 10 million participants in America or globally, whatever marketplace you want to think of. How do you reach more people? How do you do that? There are a lot of people who don’t want to do group fitness. They just don’t, they don’t. That’s totally fine. People today would rather workout in a garage by themselves or go home after work or do it in the morning before work, shower, and return.
Justin: They don’t want to join the box. We’re not stealing members away from the box.
Justin: There’s nobody at Red Wolf CrossFit where I go that has been there for five years that’s like, “I could do this workout from home with no one around me.” There’s two, three people that might say yes to that maybe. But then they have to go buy the equipment. They’ve already in for thousands of dollars at their gym. And they’re in their routine and they love it. They love the people. They wouldn’t be stealing people away from the box. They’d be adding a whole new section of individuals that has no interest in working out with anybody else. That’s what I think. I’m oversimplifying a lot of things in a lot of ways to get from Point A to Point B. They have the ability to access equipment. They have the ability to use the mark and create the official CrossFit app. They have the world’s best trainers in multiple languages. They already have the infrastructure for three key components for delivering on this successfully. And for $25 a month or $40 a month, they can digitize fitness times 1 million. How much is that going to add to the bottom line? Because I guarantee there are investors that are invested in CrossFit that will say, “Well we want 5x off on the money that we poured in there. We didn’t do it just for a hobby. We didn’t give you a couple hundred million dollars so we could put it on our business card, on our Instagram profile that we are investors.”
Claire: Just so we can watch Mat Fraser win again. No. Okay, so we only have a few more minutes to wrap up. There was one quick question that I wanted to cover. Hopefully we can do it quickly and move on to a few of the –
Justin: I’ll make it brief.
Claire: Do you think we will see a difference in the Games because of the change to NOBULL?
Justin: The way the Games is operated and structured? Like the actual events and things like that?
Claire: Or I guess what about the Games do you think will be different other than the vendor tent?
Justin: I think the vendor tent will be a little bit different. We just saw the athlete clothing that just got teed up. They have it on their shoes. I think that with a small company there’s the capability of doing more creatively because they can pivot quicker. Now there’s some negatives to being a small company too. There are indeed purposes in how they develop shoes. Reebok was always 12 months out. They would have the next Games planned already for 2022 Games. I think some of the capability is to be more creative. The only thing I’ve seen is their jerseys, which look pretty cool, I’m going to be honest. The touch of having the last name on the shoe was really neat, really visually very appealing, and I think it’s really cool. I don’t expect there to be a lot that’s different, but they did the deal in January. That’s not a lot of time to plan the Games in six months, so I don’t expect a lot to be done. I think they could because they can creatively move quickly.
Claire: This is a really big, big, big topic, and I hesitate to even launch into this five minutes before. I’ll ask what I think is probably the least complex version of this question because we got a lot of questions about diversity in CrossFit.
Justin: Ah, okay.
Claire: So this probably is the least complex way to tackle this. Do you think the current semi-final format helps encourage diversity and inclusion because it seems the more diverse regions get fewer qualification spots.
Justin: Yeah, they do, to be honest. Asia and Africa, right. Let’s point to those ones specifically. And South America as well. South America gets fewer than North America. But from a sports perspective, I don’t think it’s necessarily – not everybody gets a medal in sports. That’s how I see sports. I think there has to be ways to increase diversity in the sport of CrossFit that doesn’t just mean that we’re giving spots to athletes that can’t hold their water against other athletes. The NBA is not a sport that says, well, you know – to be frank, we want more white people in the sport because there aren’t that many, so we’re going to give spots specifically allocated to tall, European centers that shoot 3-pointers. They earn their spot there. I think we have to find a system that allows more people to earn it and to help. One way, I’ll just give you a quick example, is what about increasing intermediate level competitions in the continent of Africa or South America. Look, we’ve got to create a farm system to help them step up their game. What about finding more ways like that? Let’s not just give spots to athletes that can’t compete against Katra. In Europe, they just can’t. You’re not good enough, I’m sorry. You can’t lift enough, and you’re too slow. And I think that good sports recognizes there’s a potential to earn it, but good sports recognizes how to foster another set of athletes from other areas. NBA does a ton in China. NBA does a ton in Africa. They’re saying, look, we want to find ways to find the best athletes in the world, not just Americans. That’s the truth.
Justin: Go to the Olympics.
Claire: So it’s not about who is qualifying for the Games. It’s about what does the athlete funnel look like and how can you diversify the top of the funnel.
Justin: I think you would have better athletes in general over the next 15-20 years if you developed more ways for them to compete at higher levels that allow them to get the play that they need. I played sports all growing up. My dad used to tell me, “You want to get better Justin? Don’t play against middle schoolers. Play against high schoolers. They’re stronger than you. They’re faster than you, and it will make you think faster and get stronger in order to compete. Otherwise, guess what? You’re just going to get your butt kicked left and right. They’re going to steal. They’re going to block your shot. They’re going to be all over you, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ll never score against those guys unless you figure it out for yourself.” But in order to do it, you have to have an opportunity to be there. But that’s on the pickup court. That’s not at the high school state championship. I don’t get a ticket there just because I really want to go. I don’t think that’s the right model. I think, great, we’re giving an opportunity to get some athletes there and represent a global community. But one big criticism with national champions was you had to cut them all because none of them could compete in the later stages. They just couldn’t.
Claire: Right. They all came in from all over the world, and they got cut out in the first event.
Justin: Yeah. There’s a lot of people who aren’t very good at CrossFit that are better than a whole host of other athletes. They proved that at the Open. That’s not finding the fittest on earth, and that’s the point of the CrossFit Games. It’s finding the fittest on earth. I think one solution to that is finding ways of getting people involved in the more intermediate and advanced competitions in other areas, and I think CrossFit can be a solution to doing that.
Claire: Alright, Joy, do you have one last question? Or should we wrap it at that?
Joy: Yeah, I do have one last question. Did you listen to the Joe Rogan-Mat Fraser interview?
Justin: I did not.
Joy: Okay. Then it’s not fair to ask you.
Justin: But I got a pretty good rundown.
Joy: I guess what is your unofficial take on Mat throwing Dave Castro under the bus?
Justin: Well Dave Castro has pretended to be the villain of the CrossFit Games for a long time, and he is the villain of the CrossFit Games for a long time. I think Mat’s just one of the athletes that’s been willing to say something about it.
Joy: Sure. And it feels like it was this personal thing. They had this personal vendetta or something.
Claire: Can Dave Castro say, “I’m not here to make friends” for his whole career and then get butt hurt when someone’s like, “Dave Castro wasn’t very friendly”?
Justin: No, I think that’s kind of silly. But I don’t know if we should be particularly surprised that Dave hasn’t made a lot of friends over the years. I mean, if anybody’s been watching the Games the last six or seven years, when the athletes say, “Why are you doing cuts?” It’s like, “Well, just be better.” Okay, you expect that everyone’s going to turn around and be like, “Wow, Dave’s such a nice guy. Definitely loves us.” He’s just kind of a bit curt. Now Dave behind the scenes isn’t exactly that way. In fact, he likes you. He’s quite a nice guy, and I’ve had genuinely some good conversations with the guy. But Dave is trying to build the Games to find the fittest on earth. He’s got his own style of play, and the style of play is abrasive. So he shouldn’t be shocked when athletes don’t love him. And Dave, the abrasive Dave, the persona that he puts on also means that guy don’t care. I don’t think anybody’s sitting out there that’s done the Open for the last six, seven, eight years and thinks that Dave Castro really cares if people don’t like him.
Claire: Fair. Very fair.
Joy: I just thought it was interesting because Joe Rogan is arguably the most popular podcast out there, and for Mat to go on there and put – to me, I don’t know, I haven’t talked to either of these guys in person, so I always feel like a hypocrite when I’m just spouting off on something I don’t know every detail about.
Justin: What I share about it is – and I know where you’re going with it. It’s that, there’s a lot of things in the sport of CrossFit and the sport within the sport that’s gone on behind the scenes that nobody has any idea about.
Justin: That primarily is just because the only person that was ever talking about anything was the CrossFit Games when the Morning Chalk Up came around, and now you know a heck of a lot of things you didn’t know before. And that doesn’t mean to say that the way anybody does business is dirty. That’s just to say there’s a whole realist of how this sport has been governed for years that has pissed off a lot of athletes.
Joy: For sure.
Justin: And the guy at the helm is Dave Castro.
Justin: And I think naturally –
Joy: Here’s the guy that won the CrossFit Games and could probably win for five more years if he wanted to, and yet he’s kind of giving a little bit of a middle finger. I’m like, are you biting the hand that feeds you?
Justin: Dave said, “Mat Fraser’s slipping.” He brushed it off as, “Oh, that’s entertainment. I’m creating entertainment.” Stuff like that. I don’t think Mat thinks that clearly. So yeah, the commissioner of the sport went off and said he thinks that Mat Fraser’s slipping. Mat Fraser did go out and won by the largest margin and shattered every test that Dave put out there. Dave, I guess you’re slipping because your tests aren’t very hard. Yeah, it’s a personal thing that Dave said, so I guess you can’t be that shocked.
Joy: Yeah, I know.
Justin: Right? You guys look at our site, I don’t remember the whole thing, but yeah “he’s slipping” was kind of the whole quote that came in there. And he said some other things. But yeah, I guess I’m not that shocked when it comes down to it because, A, it’s not true because he kept smashing everything after that. He’s trying to create controversy where there doesn’t need to be any. And you know what, he took a dig at Mat and Mat took a dig at him. Grow up. Get over it. If he’s creating entrainment by him saying that, then Mat’s creating entertainment by saying all that –
Joy: Exactly, exactly. It’s a little childish.
Justin: Congratulations, you got it. Now that’s what you wanted, right? You wanted shots being fired across the bow, and you want Joe Rogan’s 1.5 million listeners per episode on there. And you know what, I guess that was good for sport because that’s what you wanted originally. You got it. Great.
Claire: If you can’t take it, don’t dish it out.
Justin: Yeah. But hey, if your argument is that I did this for entertainment to gin up interest, well guess what? Mat Fraser did that more than you did, so you should be thanking him.
Joy: Exactly. Thanks Dave.
Justin: Thanks Dave. Appreciate that. Maybe they have some spat that is personal, and there could be many reasons for it. I’m not aware of it, so I couldn’t speak to it. But from a perspective of “he’s slipping” and that’s his response. He says he’s doing media and Mat says, “I’m doing media too.” What’s the deal?
Joy: What is your plan for the CrossFit Games where people can find you there?
Justin: We are going to go in person. The team writers and stuff, we are planning to basically do wall-to-wall coverage, which is what we do always. Videos, interviews, analysis, sports coverage should be on morningchalkup.com. We won’t be broadcasting live. That’s going to be CBS this year. They’re our online partners and stuff. We’ll piggyback off of that and tell you some interesting things. Mostly looking forward to actually getting a chance to start over again with a new style of coverage for the CrossFit Games now that they’re codifying and figuring out how they want to look and how they want to invite media partners in to give more coverage and more analysis, etcetera. So excited about a new opportunity to do that with a new team and have fun with it. At the end of the day, it’s a big celebration of fitness and it’s a great opportunity to hang out with a lot of CrossFitters. So that’s also really my favorite part about the whole thing.
Joy: It’s so fun, it is.
Claire: We always call is CrossFit Disney Land.
Justin: It is. Or summer camp.
Claire: Yeah, CrossFit summer camp, totally.
Justin: It is.
Claire: Well, where can people find the Morning Chalk Up. Tell us a little bit about how to sign up for that.
Justin: Yes. So the Morning Chalk Up is Monday through Saturday daily newsletter about CrossFit. Tell you a lot of things going on, not just about the sport. Community, health, how people are changing their lives, inspirational stories, etcetera. Go to our website morningchalkup.com, sign up through the link there. Or you can go to our Instagram account @morningchalkup – shocker – and access a lot of our content through there too. We’re publishing every day multiple times per day some cool, interesting stories. But hopefully inspire you to continue staying in the gym and stay involved with the community that you love.
Claire: Thank you so much, Justin, for joining us. Everybody, you can find us @joyandclaire_ on Instagram. You can go to joyandclaire.com. Find us on your favorite podcast app. Rate us. Leave a review. Share us with your friends. We would really appreciate it. You can always email us firstname.lastname@example.org. We read all your emails. We love them. If you’re going to the CrossFit Games, let us know. We’re trying to figure out what the heck we’re going to be doing, but we are 80% sure we’re going to be there. Justin, thanks again for joining us, and we will talk to you guys next week.
Justin: Yeah, thanks so much for having me.
Joy: Bye, guys.
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