The first event of the 2020 CrossFit Games, Awful Annie, definitely lived up to its name.
Thirty men and woman, vying for the final five spots at the in-person finale in California, had to perform descending reps of GHD sit-ups, cleans and double unders with a jump rope at their home gyms all over the world.
The ropes used in the event, called Drag, were made by American company Rx Smart Gear, and provided athletes with a unique challenge most overlook: how to handle a heavy jump rope and figure out the timing for double unders (where athletes pass the rope twice around their body each jump). The ropes weight 10 ounces, have no swivels, and are seen as “old school style”.
The mastermind behind the piece of equipment, Rx Smart Gear founder David Newman, said he has been working on getting his ropes into the CrossFit Games for years. The company sells ropes and other workout equipment, and Newman himself has done CrossFit since 2008.
“In 2016, Dave came up with this thing where he wanted to drop into every affiliate in Southern California and do a workout,” said Newman, who founded the company in 2008 after being a real estate agent. “He reached out to me and said, ‘Hey you’re an affiliate, I need to pop by and do a workout, and I was thinking of doing something with double unders.’ And I said, ‘Dave, don’t you worry, I’ve got everything figured out’.”
Thus kicked off a back and forth between Newman and Castro, in which jumping rope, once seen as an afterthought, has become a mainstay in the CrossFit Games and a regular training routine for athletes.
The double under has been a Games mainstay since 2010 and famously caused Finland’s Mikko Salo all kinds of trouble at the 2010 event, the season after he blew away the competition in 2009.
Newman said the technical side of jumping rope is a complex skill that takes into account various types of ropes, weight, length of the equipment and material used.
“The thing that I recognised very early on is that having the right amount of weight in your jump rope makes a huge amount of difference, depending on what your goal is. For me, the initial goal was I wanted to improve my efficiency and having a little bit more weight in the cord allowed me to slow down but still feel the resistance and the connection of the rope.”
Newman said when CrossFit first started incorporating jump ropes into events, the goal was pure speed. Since then, it has expanded into a more technical part of events where athletes need to hone their skills with the workout equipment.
“The early CrossFit mentality was that everything was on a clock and it was about going faster, a faster performance and I need to beat the clock.”
Mat Fraser’s Awful Annie winning time of 8:46 shows the technical prowess and skill one needs to perform double unders with a heavy rope without becoming exhausting. Newman said he sent a number of Drag ropes to Castro a few months before the Games, and Castro ended up doing a workout with the rope alongside new CEO Eric Roza, which sealed the deal.
Newman’s ropes had previously been featured in two Granite Games, Sanctional events in which athletes can book tickets to the Games, once again causing competitors all kinds of trouble who hadn’t previously mastered the skill.
He said Castro understands creating events for the Games is not only about testing the athletes, but making the competitions fun for people to watch.
“There is an entertainment factor to it as well,” said Newman, who has a number of high-profile athletes sponsored by Rx Smart Gear, including American veteran Chyna Cho and Hong Kong’s Ant Haynes, who came 27th at the 2019 Games. “But there is also an audience to entertain and with that you have to bring something new and unique to the mix.”
Over the years, Castro has incorporated a number of new events and skills into the Games hoping to throw competitors outside their comfort zones. In 2013, four-time champion Rich Froning’s lack of swimming experience was exposed in an event that featured lengths of the pool and muscle-ups.
Newman said the traditional idea of a CrossFit Games athlete is constantly being updated and expanded, which helps expand the scope of the sport and what it takes to win.
“It’s a tough balance for (Dave) to try to keep doing that and it makes it interesting for the participants because they always have to try to be on their toes and imagine, ‘What have I missed, what have I not looked into, what have I not practised?’ So there’s definitely some intrigue there, some mystery, and you either love it or you don’t.”