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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Closer Look at the 2014 Games Programming

Today's post will basically put a bow on the 2014 CrossFit Games season.  What's that, you say?  Didn't the Games end 2 months ago?  Haven't we moved onto the Team Series already?  Isn't the 2014 Games season in the distant past?  NO!  It's not over until I say it's over, and since I've been too busy to wrap it up until now, it's not over yet!

Sorry.  Anyway...

Like last year, I'll break things down based on the five goals I think that should be driving the programming of the Games, in order of importance:
  1. Ensure that the fittest athletes win the overall championship
  2. Make the competition as fair as possible for all athletes involved
  3. Test events across broad time and modal domains (i.e., stay in keeping with CrossFit's general definition of fitness)
  4. Balance the time and modal domains so that no elements are weighted too heavily
  5. Make the event enjoyable for the spectators
For each goal, there will be some brief discussion and analysis, and I'll conclude by pointing out suggestions for improvement, because simply identifying the problems only gets us halfway there. Additionally, I'll point out things that I felt worked out particularly well.  For those who've been following this site for a while, this is basically the same way I broke things down at the end of last season.

So let's get started.

1. Ensure that the fittest athletes win the overall championship

I'll start by saying that I do think the two fittest athletes won the titles this year.  Rich Froning came through when it counted, and despite looking more human than in years past, I think there is no doubt that he deserved his fourth straight title.  Camille was ridiculously consistent the whole season, and her combination of Olympic lifting prowess and gymnastic ability is pretty much unrivaled.  Also, as discussed in this post from August, several different scoring systems would have produced the same champions.

That being said, if we're being honest, we have to acknowledge that Sam Briggs realistically could have won the Games if she qualified.  She dominated the Open, and aside from one event (an extremely specialized event at that), she was among the best in the world at Regionals.  While maybe not the most skilled, I feel she has the best conditioning in the world.  Looking at the programming that came out at the Games I think she would have fared well, but it would not have been easy for her.

Looking at the 36 events she competed in during 2013 and 2014, she's only finished outside the top 20 worldwide in 7 of them: 2013 Regional Event 2 (3-RM OHS), 2013 Games Zigzag Sprint, 2013 Games Clean & Jerk, 2014 Open Event 2 (C2B and OHS), 2014 Regional Event 1 (max hang squat snatch), 2014 Regional Event 2 (max HS walk) and 2014 Regional Event 7 (pull-ups and heavy OHS).  The theme here is heavy Olympic lifts and extremely short time domains.  Other than that, she's at the very top of the world.

Applying that to this year's Games, she potentially would have struggled on the 1-RM OHS, the Clean Speed Ladder, the Midline March (due to HS walks) and Thick and Quick.  Other than that, I'd expect her to be top 10 in basically everything else.  Would that have been enough to win?  It's hard to say.

How We Can Do Better: Avoid programming extremely volatile events at Regionals (like a single attempt at a HS walk).  Remember, the goal is to find the fittest athletes for the Games, not just to see who can avoid screwing up (this isn't American Ninja Warrior).  Also, I hope the qualification system gets tweaked to allow more athletes from the elite regions to make it (Central East men, for instance).
Credit Where Credit is Due: The Games test was not overly grueling this year (see discussion in my last post), and while we did have a couple of top contenders fall out due to injury (Kara Webb and Anna Tunnicliffe), it seemed like most of the athletes were competing at their best the entire week.

2. Make the competition as fair as possible for all athletes involved

I think HQ learned from the mistakes of 2013 as they programmed the Open this year.   Judging was pretty straightforward on every event in the Open, and really judging wasn't a major issue throughout the season.  To me, that's a huge key for this sport moving forward.  The less we can have spectators talking about the judging, the better.

I also like the improvements in the way ties were handled at the Games.  We saw very few big logjams the way we did in the in Cinco 1 and 2 in 2013.  All the athletes were able to separate themselves throughout the field on every event.

How We Can Do Better: Though I personally liked the workout, the inclusion of a rower in Open Event 4 goes against the fact that HQ has consistently said that the Open is for anyone in the world.  Rowers are far more expensive than the other pieces of equipment that have been required in previous years.
Credit Where Credit is Due: Judging is becoming less and less of a factor throughout Open, Regionals and Games.  Also, there were fewer massive ties in the standings at the Games.

3. Test events across broad time and modal domains (i.e., stay in keeping with CrossFit's general definition of fitness)

Like last year, let's start by looking at a list of all the movements used this season, along with the movement subcategory I've placed each one into. I realize the subcategories are subjective, and an argument could be made to shift a few movements around or create a new subcategory. In general, I think this is a decent organizational scheme (and I've used it in the past), but I'm open to suggestions.

As we've seen in recent years, the season as a whole is testing a very wide variety of movements.  This year saw 27 different movements, compared with 29 last year.  The only movements that did not appear at all this year that have appeared in at least two other seasons are: bike, KB swing, wall climb-over and push-up. I don't think leaving those out are too much of a concern.

Another key goal is to hit a wide variety of time domains and weight loads. Below are charts showing the distribution of the times and the relative weight loads (for men) throughout the entire 2013 and 2014 seasons. The explanation behind the relative weight loads can be found here.  Two notes: 1) some of the Regional and Games movements had to be estimated because I don't have any data on them (such as weighted overhead lunge and pig flips); 2) the time domains for workouts that weren't AMRAP were rough estimates of the average finishing times.

What was lacking this year, as discussed previously, were the extremely long events.  There were no events beyond 45 minutes this season, and there were twice as many sub-5:00 events as last year.  You'll also notice that there were a smaller number of lifts in all of the ranges except the very low (0.4-0.8) and the very high (2.4+).  Part of this is just the fact that there were more lifts last season, though that was not the case at the Games.  We have previously noted that the Regionals were particularly bodyweight-focused this season, but the Games made up for that by being particularly heavy.

How We Can Do Better: I'd like to see us go really long at least once (though probably not more than once).
Credit Where Credit is Due: The season really didn't miss out on much.  It's really not likely that an athlete could finish well these days with a hole in any area of their fitness.

4. Balance the time and modal domains so that no elements are weighted too heavily

Based on the subcategories of movements I've defined above, below is a breakdown of movements in each segment of the 2014 Games Season. As in the past, these percentages are based on the importance each movement was given in each workout, not simply the number of times the movement occurred (so an OHS in the 1 RM at the Games was worth more than the OHS in Open 14.2).

We see this year that there was consistently focus on the Olympic lifts at all phases of the competition, but we saw changes in the other categories.  Pure conditioning (running/rowing/double-unders) increased in value steadily throughout, whereas high skill gymnastics increased dramatically after the Open.  Conversely, basic gymnastics decreased in value steadily and was not much of a factor in the Games.  As is typical, we didn't see many of the uncommon CrossFit movements until the Games.

In my opinion, the Olympic lifts were maybe a touch overvalued (a third of the competition seems like a bit much).  Also, I'd like to see the three phases of competition be a little more similar, so that you don't have athletes qualifying for the Games without being competent in a particular area, only to be exposed at the Games.  For instance, we continue to see running have little value until the Games, which means we may be letting in athletes who are poor runners.  Of course, those athletes won't win the Games anyway, but you may be keeping out athletes who would have been better Games performers.

That being said, there's no such thing as perfect balance here.  We know the Open can't have a ton of high skill gymnastics movements, and we know that Open-style workouts might not be spectator-friendly at the Games.  You could also argue that powerlifting-style lifts are undervalued, but I'm of the opinion that the Olympic lifts are a much better test, and HQ seems to agree, so I doubt we will see that change.  I don't see any glaring problems in the chart above, so that's good news.

As far as time domains, I think there was pretty good balance, even though a bit more weight was given to shorter workouts than in years past.  Like I mentioned previously, I can't complain too much about this, because it seems to keep the athletes fresher throughout the Games.  As long as HQ continues to throw in a few nasty workouts in the 15-25 minute range, plus one or two really long ones, I think that's sufficient.

Another way to see if we're not weighting one area too much is to look at the rank correlations between the events. If the rankings for two separate events are highly correlated, it indicates that we may be over-emphasizing one particular area.  As I did last year, I focused only on the Games, since it's not really a problem if we test the same thing in two different competitions since the scoring resets each time.  It's the overemphasis within the same competition that's a problem.

The chart below shows all the combinations of men's events at the Games, excluding the finals, since the entire field did not compete.

The cells highlighted yellow had a correlation above 50%, and the cells in red had a correlation below 0% (for some reason, the "-" sometimes doesn't come through well on the picture, but those are negative numbers).  Only two combinations had a correlation above 50%, and one of those were the two sprint sleds (each of which were worth only 50 points, so this actually isn't really a problem that they're highly correlated).  The other combination was event 2 (1-RM OHS) and event 9 (clean speed ladder) - this shouldn't be surprising.

For women, the results were similar, although there were also high correlations between Event 1 (The Beach) and Event 3 (Triple-3) and between Event 2 (1-RM OHS) and Event 6 (21-15-9).  Not sure about the OHS/21-15-9 combination, but the other one also makes sense intuitively since both events are very long.

It's also interesting to note the negative correlations, most notably the -31% correlation between Event 3 (Triple-3) and Event 9 (Clean Speed Ladder).  Women showed a -14% correlation here as well.

All in all, this is similar to what we saw last year, but probably a bit more balanced.  Between men and women, there were 6 correlations above 50%, compared to 8 last year, and as mentioned, 2 of those (sprint sled events for men and women) were only given half-weight.  

How We Can Do BetterI've said it before, but it bears repeating: We need to test running earlier in the season (and more than just 50-yard jogs between rope climbs).  Also, I'd prefer we lighten up just a bit on the Olympic lifting emphasis.
Credit Where Credit is Due: Things were really balanced overall, and cross-correlations between events at the Games were lower, indicating we weren't testing the same things a bunch of different times.

5. Make the event enjoyable for the spectators

I was lucky enough to attend the Games in person for the third straight year (thank you to my lovely wife), and I can say without a doubt that they are improving the spectator experience each year.  I was originally concerned about the fact that the morning and afternoon events would all be in the soccer stadium, but I think they made it work.  There's still no doubt that the tennis stadium is the more exciting venue, but the issue there is that you can't fit as many athletes in each heat, so the sheer number of heats tends to make things drag on.  In the soccer stadium, they were able to keep most events to 3 heats, which really is a big improvement over 4 heats.  Not to mention that all the silver ticket holders get to watch those events as well.

Another change was that the team events were all done in the morning prior to any individual events, so it really separated that out from the individual competition.  While some of the teams may disagree, I liked this move because it shortened the breaks between individual events.  Some of the team events can really drag on, and while the top heats are often exciting, the majority of fans probably don't want to sit through tons of the team competition if they don't have to.  And of course, those who do want to watch can show up in the morning and get great seats.

I think ultimately, the Games are going to have to have all of the events in the soccer stadium, or some other large venue.  There is simply too much demand to continue limiting the Gold tickets to only 10,000 fans.  From my understanding, they sold out in a matter of minutes this year, and even some people who were logged in prior to the tickets going on sale could not get them.  Let's hope HQ can find a way to satisfy the demand while still keeping the event as exciting as possible for those who do get tickets.

How We Can Do Better: Do not let Swizz Beatz perform again.  In fact, replace the musical act completely with those crazy gladiator dudes.
Credit Where Credit is Due: The experience continues to improve each year.  The views in the soccer stadium were improved, there were fewer lulls in the action and the spectators were more engaged than in previous years.  The conclusion of that men's Push-Pull event with Bridges narrowly holding off Froning was still the highlight of the weekend for me.

And now... the 2014 CrossFit Games season is in the books.


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