Here’s a confession: I don’t think I can always tell when an athlete’s chest hits the bar during pull-ups.
This is not because I’m dumb, careless or inexperienced. It’s because it can be really, really difficult to evaluate high-speed athletic movement in real time.
Hell, it can be hard to evaluate pictures of athletic movement at times.
I recall getting a chest-to-bar question wrong repeatedly on CrossFit’s Judges Course a few years ago. Not because I don’t know what “chest to bar” means but because camera angles play tricks on your eyes.
Judging workouts is incredibly difficult, and mistakes are common. I’ve made them.
So have you.
I’m aware that some will disagree with me and knee-jerk to defend their judging skills. But I don’t think their arguments hold any protein shake.
My counterpoints to the “perfect judge” argument come from:
- The MLB, where umpires are always under fire.
- The NHL, where refs are always under fire.
- The NBA, where refs are always under fire.
- The NFL, where officials are always under fire.
These are the top leagues on the planet, and officiating controversies are a daily occurrence. Human error is simply part of almost every single sporting event.
I bring this up as the online CrossFit Semifinals start today and continue next weekend. You can see the schedule and the workouts here.
3, 2, 1 … Hit Record and Say the Password!
With Games spots at stake at these online events, even a single missed rep can be very costly—and that puts a ton of pressure on judges. They must hold athletes to precise standards during the test, but their work will then be checked in video review, and mistakes will result in penalties for athletes.
The penalties can be kill shots. Live, you might miss a wall-ball target for a no-rep but push a little harder to make up the lost ground and beat a rival. Online, you can only hope you did enough because errors spotted after the fact can’t be corrected. You could literally do the whole competition and finish in a Games spot only to lose it because video review showed you and your judge missed a few reps.
Added to that pressure: CrossFit has a password system to ensure athletes complete and film the workouts in certain “windows.” You can read all about that here. And there are precise media guidelines that indicate everything from camera placement to distance between equipment to athlete orientation in relation to the camera. Example on Page 2 here.
I’ve been a judge and a video person at many events, and I can tell you getting it all done to A+ standards will be challenging. I definitely expect some mistakes: bad reps, dead batteries, overflowing memory cards, power failures, missed emails and submission windows, and maybe even a little straight-up cheating. Remember the surreal, ultra-bold Trevor Bachmeyer looped-video incident from 2017.
I’m sure a missed rep or two will slip through. They always do, and we’ll likely be treated to some lively debates on squat depth, lockout and movement standards.
And someone always comes up with a workaround no one thought of—like the dude hanging by his legs to rest during a set of “max total pull-ups” in the Affiliate Cup at the 2009 CrossFit Games. (Dave Castro spotted it and took care of business instantly.)
All in all, it’s going to be a fascinating two weeks of competition.
And I think the best competitors will get through to the Games.
I’m not saying “best athletes” on purpose. The best athlete could get eliminated by a bad judge and crummy media team. But the best competitors will have their judges and media as dialed in as their nutrition.