Elite CrossFit athlete Ashley Jordan in action.

The largest athletic competition you’ve probably never heard of

By Jordan Klein
Medill Reports

With over 300,000 competitors worldwide, the CrossFit Open is an athletic competition 10 times larger than the Boston Marathon. But you’ve probably never heard of it.

For those involved, from athletes to coaches, this competition spells five weeks of stress, sweat, and sometimes, tears.

“Oh yeah, the Open is terrible for me,” said Todd Nief, CrossFit coach and owner of South Loop Strength and Conditioning. “It’s just chaos surrounding it.”

CrossFit is a sport that combines weightlifting, gymnastics and bodyweight exercises to improve fitness. Athletes can compete against one another in various workouts, testing who can lift the most weight, or who can complete the workout the fastest. And just like any sport, CrossFit has a season. That season begins with the CrossFit Open, which runs from Feb. 22 to March 26 this year.

The Open is a five week competition consisting of five workouts. Each week, a new workout is announced, and athletes have four days to complete it, often at their local CrossFit gym. Each competitor posts their scores online to the worldwide CrossFit leaderboard, giving them the chance to compare their results with friends, or with the best athletes the sport has to offer.

“Going into the Open right now, it’s just staying focused,” said Ashley Jordan, an elite CrossFit athlete who trains out of South Loop Strength and Conditioning. “[The Open] is my ‘why’ for what I’m doing right now. I filter a lot of my decisions through that.”

For some athletes, like Jordan, the CrossFit Open is one of their biggest yearly competitions, the start of another competitive CrossFit season. For others, it’s and opportunity to measure their growth or have fun with friends.

But for all involved, it’s a time to struggle and sweat and cheer with a worldwide community.

“Human beings are built to work with each other towards challenging goals,” Nief said. “And for many people in our contemporary society, that’s missing.

“We’re missing this aspect of working together on something hard, and I think CrossFit provides that for people.”

Photo at top: Ashley Jordan is an elite CrossFit athlete who trains out of South Loop Strength and Conditioning. This year, he’s striving to place in the top 20 of his region of the CrossFit Open. (Jordan Klein/MEDILL)