Days after the final weekend of the 2016 CrossFit Regionals, we’re already looking ahead to the Games. The internet is abuzz with Games predictions, and like last year, Mat Fraser tops many lists.
As the most dominant athlete of the 2016 Regionals season, Fraser will walk into the Games as the favorite to win…again. But this year, something seems different.
I first met Mat in 2014 during the inaugural NPGL season when he was drafted to be part of the New York Rhinos. I was the team gopher and photographer, which meant the athletes had to put up with me while I followed them around with a camera and bugged them about paperwork.
This was just after Mat’s first second place finish at the Games, and before the second second place finish…basically, before Mat Fraser was “Mat Fraser.” At that point he was just “full of potential,” anointed as the “next Rich Froning,” but with a slight air of skepticism. In just a few months, Mat had gone from someone who realized he could use CrossFit to maybe buy a house and have some financial stability, to someone who almost took the throne from Rich Froning. He had accidentally became who he was meant to be, and everyone — including Mat Fraser — seemed a little surprised by “Mat Fraser.”
That’s one hell of a shift for a guy who doesn’t thrive on the limelight and gets so nervous that he (reportedly) pukes before some events.
Here we are, two years later, and comparing 2014 Mat Fraser to 2016 Mat Fraser is like pitting a scrappy alley cat against an African lion. Based on the athlete we saw this past weekend, second place is no longer an option. The Mat we saw was on a mission — if he wasn’t winning, he looked pissed, and even when he was winning, he was rarely smiling.
I asked Pip Malone — Fraser’s teammate from 2014 and two time CrossFit Games athlete — if she also noticed a shift in Mat’s energy:
“I feel like he wanted to win back then, but now he needs to win. There’s a massive difference. Everyone wants to win, but only very few are brave enough to put it all out there for their need to win.”
Fraser’s intensity was a stark contrast to the calm, just-the-champ-going-for-a-little-exercise Ben Smith and the work-hard-look-good nature of Noah Ohlsen. Fraser’s energy was demanding, unforgiving, and urgent.
Not that Smith and Ohlsen don’t have drive — clearly they have more mettle and mental fortitude than 99.9% of humans, but neither one of them looked like they were ready take someone’s head after winning an event.
Pip added, “I think he’s ruthless. He not only wants to win, he wants to dominate. He’s not going to settle for anything other than first because anything other than first is losing in his mind, and he’s not afraid to show that. It’s not arrogance. It’s confidence and a winner’s attitude.”
During his victory sprint after Regional Nate, Fraser gestured a “number 1” to the crowd, and then pointed back at himself. He wasn’t asking for the crowd to get behind him as Number 1 — he was announcing his arrival. Whatever happened in the weekends and years before was irrelevant.
The famed “Mat Fraser” has finally arrived. It’s time to start the show.
Featured image by Shaun Cleary.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.