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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Initial Games Thoughts

I needed a couple days to decompress from binge-watching this year's Games, but I've been able to do some preliminary analysis and put a few thoughts together.  I'll follow up in the next week or two with some more in-depth coverage of this year's Games and the season as a whole.

  • Let me start by saying I thoroughly enjoyed watching this year's Games.  This is the first year since 2011 that I haven't made the trip to Carson, and while it would have been fun to be there in person again, I thought the live coverage was great overall.  Yes, there were some hiccups for us swapping between ESPN3 and the TV feed, causing us to miss out on some early heats that weren't shown on TV, but overall I had no trouble watching as much as I wanted.  The announcing has improved leaps and bounds since 2011, and thankfully they treat it as a real sport rather than an excuse to try to sell people on CrossFit (for the most part).   That said, I could have done without the constant hyping of the "Assault" bike that's just a fancy version of the AirDyne that's been around since I was born.
  • The final event, particularly for the men, was without a doubt the most thrilling in Games history.  I'll hold my comments on the pegboard climb for later, but the sheer fact that both champions were NOT in first place heading into the final event made for some top notch drama.  After Pedal to the Metal 1, I had a buddy text me asking to do a post comparing Froning in his prime to present-day Mat Fraser (assuming Fraser would proceed with another event win and hang on), but within minutes, Fraser had fallen into second place.  And the women's final was just as exciting (excluding the pegboard, I know), with Davidsdottir going unbroken on the deadlifts and farmer's walks LIKE A BOSS.  It was really tremendous.
  • On the whole, I thought the programming made for some fun events to watch.  I'll get into the safety concerns momentarily, but personally, as someone not doing the events, these were really solid for the viewers.  The Soccer Chipper was one of my favorites, and I also thought the Midline Madness (not a great name, in my opinion) was particularly intriguing.  And then Pedal to the Metal 2 was also pretty great, although those deadlifts looked awfully sketchy (maybe that's just the way I think after a couple back injuries).
  • Ben Smith would have won easily using the classic one-point-per-place scoring system (86.5-to-109.5 assuming the points were cut in half for the two sprint events).  Not saying I like that system better (I don't), but it does lend more credibility to Smith's victory.  He deserved it.  The women's top 3 also would not have changed.
  • OK, now for the pegboard.  Everyone has a different opinion here, but my opinion is that at least one element of this should have been changed.   You just cannot have one of the two final events, on national TV, where the majority of the athletes in the final heat (including the eventual champion) cannot complete a single rep.  That just can't happen.  Either: a) have this event earlier in the competition when people were fresher and it wasn't in prime time; b) allow athletes to drop from the top to make it easier to complete a rep; c) put the pegboard at the END of the workout; or d) announce it ahead of time so athletes could practice.  I mean, any of those would have been preferable to what took place on the women's side, right?
  • There have been many people who have criticized the programming of this year's Games for being too dangerous for the athletes (here's a great one).  I've been around this sport long enough to know that no matter what, there will be criticism of the programming.  It does not matter what comes out, there will be pissed-off people.  So I'm cautious to overreact here.  But we should at least take notice when you have former champions like Annie Thorisdottir dropping out due to exhaustion.
  • I wasn't in Carson, and I certainly wasn't competing, so I can't really speak to how the events felt.  But, I can say that looking at the programming as an outsider, I think there wasn't anything exceptional about this year.  By my estimates, the total time competing was around 163 minutes, which is less than 2012 and 2012 (both above 200) but more than last year (about 130).  Things were pretty heavy but not outrageous by Games standards (0.80 LBEL, lower than last year but above the Open-era average of 0.67).  This is fourth year of the past five that there has been a long event early on Friday.  And the weather, at least compared to where I've always lived, was not terrible (high was 85 Friday according to AccuWeather).  I think the big key was simply the Murph event:
    • This event was a much higher-rep workout than the long events of the past, meaning more likelihood for things like Rhabdo.
    • They held the event in the heat of the day, rather than the morning like in the past.  Things are so much more reasonable earlier on, when the Triple-3 was held last year.
    • The weight vest added an extra layer of heat, and obviously, athletes aren't allowed to strip that layer off.
  • Despite the fact that I'm generally not being too critical of the programming, I wish that at least once in my lifetime, CrossFit HQ will show just a touch of humility and compassion, and perhaps consider admitting when they might be wrong (GASP!).  When you see stuff like this Facebook post from Russell Berger, it just makes any level-headed person want to puke.  Insulting your own athletes?  Really?  Do we need to just hand the CrossFit enemies more ammunition?
  • The final thing I'll say, and I've said it for years, is that if we want the Games to be a slug-fest with ultra-long events, then we need to send the athletes who are most capable of doing well.  I'm not surprised that many Games athletes struggled with Murph, considering they don't need to perform well on that type of event to make it to the Games.  Sure, there is a relatively long chipper at the Regionals every year, but nothing like a 45-minute swim/paddle or a 600-rep workout in the heat of the day.  Yes, some of these athletes can handle those events quite well, but many cannot.  So either don't test those elements at the Games, or test them earlier on in the qualifying process.
Well I've already gotten pretty long here, so that will be it for now.  Don't worry, more to come in the coming weeks.  Stay tuned.

P.S. I did read the whole interview with Emily Abbott that has been so often quoted (a cached version is here), and honestly it's not nearly as bad as some of the quotes that have been cherry-picked out of it.  Take a read and let me know what you think.  I am disappointed it was taken down from the site, though.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Current Pick 'Em Standings (FINAL)

Standings below are final, pending any potential mistakes I made.  PLEASE LET ME KNOW ASAP IF YOU FEEL THERE IS AN ERROR WITH YOUR POINT TOTALS.

This was a wild CrossFit Games, and in the end, the bookie (me) wound up making a huge profit on the gamblers (all of you).  The field racked up a mere 5,231 points on 7,400 points of wagers.  Not a single one of the 74 entries had Katrin Tanja Davidsdottir winning OR Tia-Clair Toomey on the podium.  And I'll be the first to admit, I didn't see this coming either.  Better luck next year, and congrats to Ian M!

Individual picks are below, with orange highlights for all correct picks.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Podcast Episode 12: Games Preview

Today old friend and long-time CrossFitter Alex Punger joins the podcast to chat about the upcoming CrossFit Games. The two discuss the programming so far, which events they'd like to see repeated from the past, whether or not the softball toss should come back (hint: no) and their picks for the Games Pick 'Em.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Reliving the Best Individual Event Performances in Games History

Today, with just over a week remaining until the 2015 CrossFit Games kick off, I've decided to look back at some of the most impressive individual event performances in recent Games history.  How to determine the "best" performances?  By using the standard deviation scoring method that I proposed way back when (not that I'm the only one to have proposed it).  Using this method, we compare each athlete's score to the average score in that event, then divide by the standard deviation of scores in the event.  The larger the number, the further above average the athlete was.  This allows us to compare performances across events, and in this case, identify the truly standout efforts.

I'll keep the commentary short here, and instead, point you to videos that you can watch discreetly at work (or in the comfort of your own home, I suppose).  For now, I've limited my analysis to 2012-2014.  I'll try to expand back into the dark ages at some point.  Enjoy:

2013 Legless (women) - Winner: Alessandra Pichelli (4.36 standard deviations above average)
2014 Sprint Sled 1 (men) - Winner: Neal Maddox (3.43 standard deviations above average) - Note: Neal is in the 2nd heat
2014 Cinco 2 (men) - Winner: Rich Froning (3.31 standard deviations above average)
2014 Sprint Carry (men) - Winner: Nate Schrader (3.13 standard deviations above average) - Note: Nate is in the 1st men's heat
2013 Cinco 2 (women) - Winner: Talayna Fortunato (2.89 standard deviations above average)
2012 Rope-Sled (men) - Winner: Matt Chan (2.80 standard deviations above average)

And just for good measure, two of my favorites for the fantastic finishes. Both involve Josh Bridges. I do think the Games will miss him this year.

2014 Push-Pull (probably my vote for the most exciting Games heat of all time)
2011 Killer Kage (note: Bridges actually didn't even win this event, that was Spencer Hendel in a prior heat. But still...)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

2015 CFG Analysis Games Pick 'Em Now Open

Welcome to the CFG Analysis Games Pick 'Em!  This is our second year doing the contest after a pretty good first go-round in 2014.

This year your picks will be submitted through a web form (link at the bottom of this post) rather than through the comments, although please use the comments to let me know of any issues you're having submitting your picks through the form.  I'll try to update this page regularly with a list of everyone's picks, so let me know if you spot something that looks off.  Currently the form can only enforce certain rules (such as requiring six athletes and wagers on each between 1-50), but it can't do the math for you, so if you have more or less than 100 points wagered, I'll let you know once I go to publish the next day's picks.  At that point, it's up to you to submit a corrected entry, since I'll be deleting any invalid picks once the contest starts.

OK, below are the official rules.  Even if you entered last year, please read these over.  A few items have changed.
  • Each contestant has 100 points to wager on six different athletes.  You can wager those points in whole-number increments, with a max of 50 and a minimum of 1 on each athlete.
  • You must select one wager on an athlete of each gender to win, finish top 3 (podium) and finish top 10.
  • The payout on each correct pick is based on my predictions (see below) of each athlete's chances of winning, finishing top 3 and finishing top 10.  If you wager 20 points on an athlete to win, and I give that athlete a 10% chance to win, you get 200 points if they win.
  • On the form, each athlete's name is followed by three numbers.  These are the respective payouts for a win, top 3 and top 10.
  • At the end of the Games, the winner is the contestant who has the highest total payout on their picks.
  • You have until the start of event 1 on July 22 to get your picks in.  If you want to revise your picks, please just submit a new entry and post to comments (on this page) that you'd like me to delete your first entry.  As noted above, entries with invalid point totals or with the same athlete in multiple spots will eventually be deleted, but I will notify you first.
  • You may want to write down your picks as your are filling them out.  The form won't automatically send you a confirmation, but you will be able to see your picks once I update the public list of entries, which will usually be daily-ish.  I may end up posting them to a shared Google drive if the list gets lengthy (let's hope!).
This is all free, and there is no formal prize, but if you'd like, I'm extending an invitation to chat with me on the podcast for the winner.  If interested, please submit your email address.  That's optional, and don't worry, if you submit your email address, I'm not going to contact you for anything unrelated to this contest, and I won't publish it.

For a little bit more background on how I make these predictions, read up here and listen to the podcast below.  The basic idea is that these picks are based on the simulations of the Games based on combinations of the events that have happened so far this year, but there's a bit more to it than that.  I've made some enhancements this year, so in theory, this year's contest should be a little more challenging than in the past.  Enjoy!

Click here to access the contest entry form.  You can fill out the form on a mobile device or a computer.  Keep in mind this is my first time using this software, so I apologize in advance if things are a little buggy early on.  Let me know in the comments here what kind of issues you're having and I'll do my best to get things fixed up.  Of course,  this is not my full-time job, so it could be several hours before I get to it.  Worst-case, just post your picks to the comments and I'll get it added.

Click here to view the picks submitted to date.

CFG Analysis Games Predictions:


Friday, June 26, 2015

2015 CFG Analysis Games Pick 'Em Starting Soon

The CFG Analysis Games Pick 'Em is back again this season, and the contest will open sometime in the next 1-2 weeks.  The general concept is the same as last season, so read up here if you aren't familiar.  However, I'll be making a few changes this season:

  • Each contestant will get 100 points to wager, rather than 20 last season.  This gives you a little more flexibility in how to allocate your points.
  • Points can still be wagered in whole-number increments, but the maximum that can be wagered on each athlete is 50.  This prevents people from loading up all of their points on one athlete, and it makes it less likely that someone will win the contest solely based on one big pick.
  • You cannot pick the same athlete more than once.  For instance, you cannot pick Mat Fraser to win and also to finish top 3.  I want people to diversify their picks as much as possible.
  • If I can get it set up, the entry form will be something more formal, and not simply the comments section.  This will make things easier for you guys, and me as well, particularly if we get a lot more entries this year.
Keep your eyes peeled for my odds to be released in the next couple of weeks, then get your picks in. You can enter anytime up to the time the first individual event starts.  Enjoy!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

2015 Regional Review

After week 2 of this year's Regional season, I noted on this blog how many surprises we had seen to that point.  Well, week 3 brought more of the same, with big names like Julie Foucher missing the Games and more under-the-radar first-time Games qualifiers, like Joe Scali and Alex Parker in the West Regional.  It's still shaping up to be a stacked field at the Games, particularly on the women's side, but let's take a quick look back at the Regionals before we move fully into Games mode.

First, the let's take a look at a few stats about the programming.  As I noted on Twitter a few weeks ago, this year's programming appeared to be heavier than last season, but pretty typical compared to 2011-2013.  After factoring in the actual loads on the snatch event, here's what we saw for the load-based emphasis on lifting (LBEL) in 2015, compared to prior years:

  • 2015 - 0.69 men, 0.46 women (48% lifting)
  • 2014 - 0.59 men, 0.37 women (43% lifting)
  • 2013 - 0.60 men, 0.38 women (43% lifting)
  • 2012 - 0.92 men, 0.60 women (67% lifting)
  • 2011 - 0.68 men, 0.44 women (48% lifting)
  • Average 2011-2015 - 0.69 men, 0.45 women (48% lifting)
As we can see, 2015 was very average as far as loading for the Regionals.  There was really nothing outlandish in terms of required loads, and limiting the snatch to two attempts kept the weights lower in that event.  In fact, the men's average lift was 232 lbs., and when we look at the men who were in the top 330 in the Open last season (roughly those who would have qualified in the Super Regional format), the average snatch was 235 lbs.  And keep in mind that last season was a hang squat snatch, rather than a full snatch, any-style.  The women's load did go up from 145 lbs. to 150 lbs., which is probably a testament to the continued improvement of lifting skill among female CrossFit athletes.  The limited number of attempts also increased the variability compared to last season: the standard deviation in 2015 was 51 lbs. for men and 32 lbs. for women, whereas in 2014 it was 33 lbs. for men and 28 lbs. for women (again, limiting to the top 330 from the Open).

Another question is, well, does the programming really have an impact on who qualifies for the Games.  The answer, in my opinion, is yes, although the effect is rather small.  The chart below shows the average weight of the men's Games qualifiers (ignoring top 2 and bottom 2 values each year), as well as the LBEL of the programming at Regionals each year.  Weights for 2015 based on data from Sam Swift, prior years were collected manually from the Games site when I wrote last year's Regional Review.

The effect is relatively small, but the weight of the qualifiers does follow the same pattern as the LBEL of the programming. In 2014, when the LBEL was at its lowest, the average male qualifier was 192 lbs. In 2012, when LBEL was at its highest, the average male qualifier was 199 lbs.

Additionally, I looked at returning regional athletes to see if there was any correlation between weight and the change in rank from year to year.  The hypothesis was that since the programming appeared to be heavier this year, bigger athletes should tend to see more improvement in their ranking than smaller athletes.  Again, the effect was not huge, but it was consistent with expectations.  For men, there was a -12% correlation between weight and change in rank (negative change in rank = improvement), and for women, there was a -8% correlation.

Another thing we saw with the programming this year was an even bigger emphasis on Olympic lifting, with 48% of the points coming from Olympic-style barbell lifts (36% coming from the snatch and clean alone).  There was also a decline in basic gymnastic movements, such as the toes-to-bar and pull-up, while high-skill gymnastic movements, such as the muscle-up and handstand push-up, continued to be a major focus.  Basic gymnastics made up only 10% of the points, compared with about 20% in 2013-2014, while high skill gymnastics made up 33% of the points.  High skill gymnastics made up 36% of the points last season, but only about 15% from 2011-2013.

Combined, Olympic-style barbell lifts and high skill gymnastics made up 81% of the points at the 2015 Regionals.  That is the highest of any HQ competition in history.  Below is a list of the competitions with the highest percentage of points coming from these two sets of movements:

1. 2015 Regionals - 81%
2. 2014 Regionals - 67%
3. 2015 Open - 61%
4t. 2010 Games - 50%
4t. 2011 Open - 50%

To me, we had a little bit too much emphasis in these areas.  These are the two most technical types of movements, so I'm not sure if these are necessarily the same athletes who will excel at the "unknown and unknowable" events at the Games.  At Regionals this year, there were also no powerlifting-style barbell lifts, no kettlebell or dumbbell movements and no wall balls.  There were also no burpees, just like the Open.  The last individual HQ competition prior to 2015 without burpees was the 2007 Games.  That just seems odd.

All this being said, I liked the programming this year more than last season.  The programming was balanced as far as loading, and the events were pretty well-designed and competitive.  Sure, I'd have liked more than 2 attempts on the snatch, and I think event 2 ("Tommy V") was a little boring for the fans, but generally I thought the programming made sense and was good for the fans.  Event 7 was another thriller, although I'm still a little bit more of a fan of last year's event 7 (pull-ups/OHS).

Finally, let's look at the qualifying athletes.  Of the 40 men's qualifiers, only 15 were first-time athletes.  Two athletes, Spencer Hendel and Nick Urankar, returned after missing the Games for at least two years (Urankar had missed three years).  Of the 40 women's qualifiers, only 13 were first-time qualifiers.  Thuridur Erla Helgadottir also returned to the Games after missing the last two years.

How did my predictions turn out?  Actually not bad.  I'd like to have a few back, like Stacie Tovar and Lindy Barber each at 4% (probably should have cut them a little more slack for just having a bad year in 2014), but overall, things were pretty well-calibrated.  The mean-square error (MSE) was 7.35% this year, which is worse than last year's 4.0%, but things were also tougher to predict this year.  Because of the smaller field, a higher portion of the field had a legitimate shot to qualify, which is generally going to make the MSE higher.  Had we just given every athlete an equal shot to qualify, the MSE would have been 10.7%, whereas last year it would have been 6.1%.

The chart below shows the calibration of the model this year.  You can see that across the whole field, the actual predictions (blue line) were rarely off from the perfect predictions (red line) by more than 5-10%.  For instance, the far right blue dot indicates than I gave the best athletes about a 73% chance of qualifying (x-axis), and in reality, those athletes qualified about 68% of the time (y-axis).  Not bad!

Before I go, I want to mention the CFG Analysis Games Pick 'Em, which we'll be doing again this year. Be on the lookout for all the rules to come out in the next 3-4 weeks, along with my predictions, which you will be gambling against. I'm planning to make a few improvements, and I think it should make for another good time. If nothing else, it gives you a few more athletes to root for in Carson. See you in a few weeks!