Gold, silver, bronze, then nothing. Fourth is the toughest place in sports.
No medal. No place on the podium. A praiseworthy performance reduced to a forgotten footnote.
For Noah Ohlsen at the 2017 CrossFit Games, this was only half the story. Having climbed from finishing 15th at the 2016 Games to fourth, his season can be justifiably considered a great success.
However, finishing just four points from the podium — 788 to Patrick Vellner’s 792 — the agonizing realization of how close he came changes his perspective on his otherwise impressive achievement.
“If I had sprinted to the finish instead of kind of running to the end and getting past somebody at the last second … that was four points right there. I would have been on the podium,” Ohlsen reflects.
The 2017 CrossFit Games are composed of 13 events over four brutal days, with 100 points available to the winner of each event and incrementally fewer as you fall down the leaderboard.
With such small margins, a single mistake during any one of these events could be the difference between a podium place and a footnote — as Ohlsen is all too aware.
“There are these small moments throughout the competition that you need to capitalize on, that you don’t realize in the moment. But, when you look back you’re like, man, it was that, it was this, it was that, it was all these little moments.”
To better prepare for these “little moments” at this year’s Games, Ohlsen and his four-year-old golden retriever Max moved 1,000 kilometers north from Miami to the northern suburbs of Atlanta to work directly with his coach (coincidentally also named Max — Ohlsen jokes it was his coach who was named after his dog, and not the other way around).
For the 2017 season, Max El-Hag had directed Ohlsen’s training remotely from his gym — Training Think Tank, in Alpharetta, Georgia — while Noah followed along from Miami.
“Going from 15th to fourth and just working with Max from afar … and it made that much of a drastic change. I decided that I would move up to be able to work with Max in person for the entire 2018 season. And I would have to imagine it’s going to pay off.”
The move came with the added benefit of being able to train side by side with four-time CrossFit Games athlete Travis Mayer (who fell shy of making a fifth Games this year), allowing simulation of Games-level competition on a daily basis.
Ohlsen’s adopted the mantra “Happy but Hungry,” to emphasize his desire to always improve, but he’s is enjoying the journey.
One senses he’ll be happier if he makes it to the podium, and happiest of all if he’s on top.