Coaches Rudy Nielson, James FitzGerald and Seth Page talk steroids...and Fraser versus Froning?
What is the fundamental piece of your personal philosophy? What makes it different and unique compared to other top coaches and programs?
Rudy Nielson: I think what set us apart initially—and what we became known for—was how we adopted Olympic lifting into training every single day. We put it into our daily programming to make sure people were as as high of a level there as possible.
Seth Page: Our cycles are based on the sport of CrossFit specifically. We’re preparing people for the Open specifically, and then for Regionals, and then for the Games. We’re big believers in working on the classic CrossFit stuff. A lot of people work with experts in specific areas, like gymnastics or weightlifting, but then sometimes these athletes end up neglecting other areas of the sport. So we really focus on things that you’ll be tested on in competition.
James FitzGerald: I'd say our foundation is more of a holistic approach. We take a look at the entire person on multiple levels, and offer the sport of fitness to difference people at various levels of fitness.
Soon, the conversation shifted toward more controversial topics. Such as, "Is Mat Fraser really the fittest man on earth?"
Surprisingly, all three coaches were reluctant to flat-out say yes, though, Nielson did make the bold assertion that Fraser is more fit than Rich Froning.
“Rich can’t run. Rich can’t swim. Mat Fraser can run. He can swim. He can lift. And he can do all the CrossFitty stuff,” Nielson said.
While FitzGerald said he does think the CrossFit Games is currently the best option for CrossFit athletes to test their fitness, he's not so sure the Games can truly find the world's fittest man and woman.
“I was never the fittest man on the planet, but what you're finding is the fittest CrossFitter, and that’s fine,” he said.
For FitzGerald, it comes down to semantics—in other words, it comes down to the definition of fitness. FitzGerald likes using a different definition than the CrossFit definition: A person’s ability to reproduce and to create longevity.
“If you tell me Mat Fraser is going to reproduce better compared to other men, and will live longer, the you’re fuckin crazy,” he said. “I always thought the fittest person comes down to survival. That’s one fit mother fucker who shows up to the UFC to fight. So until Matt Fraser has to fight someone to the death, then you’re not testing the fittest on earth.”
Nielson agreed. “There’s no possible way we can define fitness (in a way that makes everyone happy),” he said.
But to FitzGerald’s point, he turned and asked: “Who do you want on your team if the ship's going down?”
FtizGerald replied: “Conor McGregor. With a gun.”
On the question of performance enhancing substances:
First, in typical scientist fashion, FitzGerald replied with another question.
“First we have to ask: What do we consider to be performance enhancement?”
“If we’re talking about steroids and injecting steroids, you need two things for that: Money and smarts. And I’m not picking on CrossFit athletes, but they’re not necessarily the best in either of those categories.”
Page more or less agreed with FitzGerald.
“I don’t think (CrossFit athletes) are injecting anything with syringes. But are people using things? Yes, they are. Is there money to be made? If there’s money to be made, then people will break the rules. I couldn’t tell you by looking at them who, but people are using, I just don’t know who they are,” he said.
Nielson, looking eager to make a point, then turned to CrossFit Games athlete Marcus Filly, who was present at the discussion, and asked him about his best snatch and clean and jerk.
Filly's numbers: A 280 lb. snatch and a 355 lb. clean and jerk.
Nielson then compared Filly’s bodyweight and his lifting numbers to Olympic-level Olympic weightlifters of the same bodyweight, who he said “are all on steroids,” to make the point that Filly just isn’t that good in comparison.
“And I’ve seen you lift. Your technique is really good,” Nielson said, suggesting Filly’s technical abilities aren’t that different from top-level Olympic weightlifters, yet his lifting numbers are significantly worse than the best in the world.
If Marcus Filly were on steroids, he would add 80 kg to his Olympic total, Nielson asserted.
“Put Marcus Filly on steroids and he would be as good as Jared Fleming (US weightlifter) and much better looking."
Nielson concluded: “The CrossFit steroid debate is a joke if you ask me. It's a joke that people think they're on steroids. Do you know how strong this guy (pointing to Filly) would be if he was on steroids? Do you know how strong Emily (pointing to Emily Abbott) would be on steroids? Our (CrossFit) athletes are weak (compared to Olympic lifters). Marcus Filly is weak. Joe Scali is weak.”
This isn’t to say Nielson doesn’t think steroids are happening in CrossFit. He just thinks it's happening with lesser known athletes.
Page nodded in agreement.
“People are going to use (steroids) to play catch-up,” Page said.
“Emily Abbott, when was the last time you PR’ed your clean and jerk?” he asked Abbott.
“Pre-regionals,” Abbott replied.
"By how much? 5 lb.?" Nielson asked.
"Yeah, 5 lb.," Abbott said.
To this, Nielson made the point that Regionals and Games-level athletes have slowly been getting better in recent years, but their steady, and usually small gains, don't suggest steroids.
“Froning snatched 300 lb. in 2012 and hasn’t snatched more than that since,” Nielson said. “If Rich snatches 375 lb. next week, then we have reason to be suspicious.”
It's the people who suddenly improve by a huge margin out of the blue that we need to be suspicious about, he explained.
“When someone who has experience in the sport and is already good technically, and their numbers go through the roof, that’s the thing you have to watch out for,” he said.
Without mentioning her name directly, everyone knew he was talking about Natalie Newhart (CrossFit Games athlete who tested positive and received a ban from the sport in 2016)
“That person,” he called Newhart, “couldn’t deadlift 255 lb. in the Games in 2013, and then 6 months later she was on Instagram pulling 335 lb. for reps and all of a sudden had gigantic muscles. She tested positive two weeks later.”
Nielson took a sip of water. End of rant.
Tune back in later this week to hear about what FitzGerald thinks separates Games athletes from the masses!