Madison looks like a good fit for CrossFit.
That’s why the city was picked as the first venue outside California to host the world-championship Reebok CrossFit Games, a competition of the workout regimen’s devotees vying for $2.4 million in cash prizes and real-time exposure on Internet and network TV.
The 11-year-old CrossFit Games come to the Alliant Energy Center Thursday through next Sunday. Visitors can watch some 640 hard-core, hard-bodied athletes from 31 countries in action and up close, and can participate in their own fitness experience: The games also offer music, a vast vendor village with competitions and shopping, free workout areas and the chance to try some of the same challenges that the top CrossFit athletes take on. Huge video screens will help spectators keep track of all the competitions as they’re happening.
The actual “tests” the athletes will compete in, however, are kept secret until the last minute.
“The CrossFit games are very unique as a sporting event, in that the athletes don’t know what the events are that they’ll compete in, until sometimes only hours or minutes before they take the competition floor,” said Justin Bergh, the games’ general manager.
“What this means is that athletes have to train year-round to be as generally prepared as they can possibly be, and when they arrive they’ll find out what the scored events are going to be, and how many events (there) are going to be as the weekend unfolds.”
Some basic information has already been “leaked,” he said, such as “there will be a run-swim-run event. There will be a bike event and it will be using an obstacle course. None of the details have been released about those events; that’s just a little teaser. There will also be traditional CrossFit workouts.”
Past games have featured lots of heavy lifting, running and other challenges — just like the workout plan itself that uses high-intensity varied movements and weightlifting to train for general fitness.
A sport that can inspire almost religious-like devotion in its participants, the for-profit CrossFit was founded in 2000 by former gymnast Greg Glassman. Based in a gym referred to as a “box,” the high-intensity training and elements of community in CrossFit have spread to more than 12,000 affiliates.
Jeb Simmons, who runs CrossFit Fort Atkinson, will be among 240 competitors in the masters category of the weekend’s games, and is the only participant from Wisconsin. The games will also feature 40 men and 40 women in individual competitions, 240 in the team events and 80 in the teen category. About 16,000 spectators are expected each day.
This will be the first games for Simmons, 42, who first got into CrossFit through his brother. Simmons had worked out at home on his own, but wanted to get in better shape so he could play sports with and have the endurance to run around with his four kids, he said.
After getting hooked on CrossFit, he opened his own 6,000-square-foot gym in downtown Fort Atkinson five and a half years ago.
“It’s really my life. I’m here every day, whether I’m working out or coaching,” he said. “Right now, at 42, I’m in the best shape of my life.”
The Madison Area Sports Commission, which helped recruit the CrossFit Games to the city for the next three years, expects at least a $7.2 million economic impact from the four-day event, which will be televised on CBS-TV on Saturday, recapped on CBS Sports Network each night, and live-streamed on Facebook and at games.crossfit.com.
“We’ve been looking for that huge marquee event that we haven’t had in awhile to kind of enliven the city again,” said Madison Area Sports Commission vice president Jamie Patrick.
“Every event that we bring here definitely has an impact on our hotels, gas stations, restaurants — but this is going to take it to a whole new level just because of the volume of people that are coming and the different unique needs they have to put on the games.”
Unlike the Madison Ironman, a one-day event that draws about 30,000 spectators and volunteers and is a qualifier for the Ironman finals in Kona, Hawaii, the CrossFit Games are an actual world championship event, Patrick noted.
“This is probably similar to Ironman when it first came: There’s a large following that people might not know is there,” he said.
“Once people see it they’ll understand a little more of what we’re talking about.
“The Alliant Energy Center will not look like anything you’ve seen before,” he said. “The only other thing that would have a footprint of this size would be World Dairy Expo, which is on the other end of the spectrum. This will be a festival.”
CrossFit’s Bergh calls the games “the Woodstock of Fitness … equal parts festival, concert and sporting event,” with overnight tent and RV camping available on site.
“The whole competition journey we call ‘The Road to the Games,’ ” he said of the annual qualifiers. “So ‘The Road to the CrossFit Games Ends in Madison’ has been kind of a popular term that we use in a bunch of our studio content, our build-up programming,” he said.
“All roads lead to Madison for CrossFit athletes from around the world.”