CrossFit's Big Start to 2012: Reebok, ESPN and the OC Throwdown

Peter ChenContributor IIIFebruary 7, 2012

(Michael Brian photos)
(Michael Brian photos)

CrossFit had a blockbuster January, with corporate partner Reebok launching nationally televised ads, ESPN embracing CrossFit in Bristol and on the air, and the exciting OC Throwdown competition occurring in Costa Mesa, California. 

CrossFit started out as a grassroots, “underground” strength and conditioning program, favored by law enforcement and military personnel as an alternative to mass market gyms and health clubs—and their shiny treadmills and resistance machines. 

Even today, most CrossFit facilities are spartan, with a warehouse look-and-feel. No heat or A/C and nary an exercise machine in sight—just barbells, gymnastics rings and pull-up bars, and WODs written on whiteboards. 

WODs are also known as the Workout of the Day. WODs typically are intense bursts of constant movement over a short-time period (e.g., 10 minutes). It can include sprints, weight lifting and exercises ranging from pull-ups to handstand push ups to kettle-bell swings to gymnastic movements. 

In 2005, there were fewer than two dozen CrossFit gyms. With Internet-based WODs and growth spurred by social media, today there are over 3,000 CrossFit gyms worldwide—and many newcomers in the U.S. and abroad join CrossFit each day. Pro athletes such as Justin Verlander, Knowshon Moreno, Matt Hasselbeck, John Wall, Chad Ochocinco and Roddy White have all done CrossFit.

Let’s recap the auspicious start to 2012. 

First, CrossFit’s major sponsor, Reebok, that first partnered with CrossFit in 2010, announced an expanded marketing campaign including TV ads—a first for the sport. 

2012 OC Throwdown winners (Michael Brian Photos)
2012 OC Throwdown winners (Michael Brian Photos)

Then ESPN announced on January 13, that it is promoting CrossFit workouts on-site at its headquarters in Bristol, CT. Many ESPN employees are doing CrossFit.

This was after ESPN rang in the New Year by re-airing the record-setting 2011 CrossFit Games.

Then on January 14-15, the OC Throwdown, which is the second largest CrossFit competition worldwide, was held in Orange County. 

Competitors had qualified last October over a three-week series of WODs. Elite entrants at the Throwdown included: 2011 CrossFit Games competitors Blair Morrison, Pat Burke, Nate Schrader, Tommy Hackenbruck, Gabe Subry and Jeremy Kinnick.

On the women’s side, the 2010 Fittest Woman in the World, Kris Clever—faced off against fellow 2011 Games Competitiors Becca Voigt, Lindsey Valenzuela, Katie Hogan, Taylor Richards-Lindsay and Games hopefuls Andrea Ager and Valerie Calhoun. 

The over 300 competitors and nearly 3,500 fans that crowded the Orange County Fairgrounds for the two-day Throwdown were not disappointed. The 10-minute WOD one on the 14th, required five sets of muscle-ups on the gymnastics rings—followed by clean-and-jerk Olympic lifting, descending from starting weights of 225 lbs for the men and 155 lbs for the women.

The WOD proved too much for many of the competitors in the early heats and they could not complete all five rounds. However, the Elite men vanquished the WOD, as Morrison, Schrader, and Hackenbruck competed against some of SoCal’s elite—Kenny Leverich, Max Fernandez and Ronnie Teasdale. Leverich won the event with a blazing time of 6:25.

The remaining WODs were equally challenging. Sunday’s finals featured walking lunges with 100-lb plates for the men and 65-lb plates for the women, as Tommy Hackenbruck emerged victorious in the men’s field—while Kris Clever won the women’s field. 

The Throwdown offers a glimpse into the upcoming Games season, as several up-and-comers looked strong—while some Games' veterans were not yet in full-form.

As the WODs at competitions continue to feature heavy Olympic lifts, the stronger athletes, such as all three of the Throwdown male podium finishers (Hackenbruck, Ryan Fischer, and Schrader)—may have an advantage over the endurance and speed specialists.

The athletes now move on to the CrossFit Open qualifying rounds that will lead to the Regionals in May and the annual Reebok CrossFit games this summer. 

All of this may seem, a little more mainstream than some early CrossFit advocates and athletes envisioned. But there’s no denying that CrossFit is now high profile. 

Could CrossFit one day be as big as the X Games, which draws over 100,000 fans annually to its summer and winter editions?

Or even become an Olympic sport? 


In the meantime, with Reebok and ESPN on board, the sport now gears up for its biggest CrossFit Games yet—this July in Los Angeles.