Last night, I attended a Crossfit party. During the party–held at Crossfit South Brooklyn–two very strong and fit women, Annie Thorisdottir and Lindsey Valenzuela, performed a grueling workout for ten minutes. (Perform as many rounds as possible of the following combination: five shoulder to overhead movements of a seventy-five pound barbell, ten deadlifts of the same barbell, followed by fifteen jumps on to a twenty-inch box). There were bright lights, an MC, television cameras, loud music, a raucous, enthusiastic, admiring crowd that clapped and cheered as the two athletes went flat out, performing a workload, which would leave most normal human beings, if not dead, then at least violently sick. (Most folks in attendance were Crossfitters themselves; thus, at the least, they had performed versions of the workout themselves and known just how difficult it is to sustain that kind of non-stop physical effort for ten minutes.)
At the end of it all, Ms. Thorisdottir had performed twelve rounds of the workout and Ms. Valenzuela eleven. (And change for both.) This was the second of the extravaganzas that Crossfit stages in the ‘Open’ section of its Crossfit Games: worldwide, average Joe gym-goers perform a series of workouts; some qualify for the so-called Regionals; and then another cut takes place for the Crossfit Games. (Described rather elegantly by a friend as the ‘World Series of Competitive Exercise’.) Last night’s event, as befitting an organization committed to putting on a show, was announced midweek on a live streamed program, with the workout performed immediately as a contest between two athletes known for their proficiency and fitness. Ms. Thorisdottir has won the Crossfit Games for the last two years running and is a serious contender to go for a third this year. Both Ms. Thorsidottir and Ms. Valenzuela are accomplished weightlifters; Ms. Valenzuela in particular is a national level Olympic weightlifter and perhaps has aspirations to compete internationally. (A difficult time awaits her; American women weightlifters have struggled to make a mark in international competitions thus far; perhaps Crossfit’s embrace and popularization of Olympic lifting might make a difference in this dismal situation.)
Writing on the Crossfit South Brooklyn blog today, I described the workout-party as follows:
The carefully choreographed production of spectacle, the deployment of mass media high technology, the showmanship, the human body beautiful and strong, the invocations of gladiatorial combat, the centrality of women athletes, it all was quite something to witness.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the evening was the open admiration of men for women athletes, one not couched exclusively in terms of their physical attractiveness. (Needless to say, the women in attendance were equally awestruck.) Sure, there was much talk of sensational derrieres, but overwhelmingly, the men present were in awe of the physical effort on display. This made for an interesting change from a pattern often visible at conventional sporting events; men often disdain the women’s events or accuse them of not working as hard, or performing as well, or being overpaid or some variant thereof. Crossfit still has a way to go in addressing gender issues that arise in its spaces–more on that anon, someday–but it has managed to work toward providing a forum where female athletes are equally worthy of appreciation. Just for that, the event was a revelation.