The credentials of Schwartz’s CrossFit Melbourne speak for themselves. Affiliated in 2006 and with an enormous community, the box has produced some of the nation’s best athletes, such as Chris Hogan, who competed back at the 2009 Games at Aromas.
Ben Schwartz, the owner of the eponymous Melbourne box and captain of this year’s Games team, is an impressive athlete in his own right (he can squat 30kg more than Froning). But it is as a coach that “Benji” really shines: along with Hogan and his brother Kieran, Amy Dracup is another athlete who reached elite level training at the box in Caulfield.
After narrowly missing out on qualifying for the Games last year, the Schwartz’s CrossFit team led from the front at the 2012 Regional and is now in the US, ready to show the Home Depot Centre crowds what Aussies are made of.
A welcome addition to their Games team is Dracup, Australia’s most successful female CrossFitter. After winning the 2011 Australia Regional and going on to place 11th overall at the Games, Dracup smashed the 2012 Open, claiming the number one spot going into this year’s Regional. But a disappointing performance in Wollongong meant she missed out on a berth in the solo competition. Her individual loss is the team’s gain and Dracup is now set to tear it up as part of the Schwartz’s CrossFit crew.
With a 30-strong entourage heading to Carson and a huge community barracking from Melbourne, we thought Australian CrossFitters would like to know what’s going on behind the scenes in the Schwartz’s camp. So on the eve of the Games, Ben Schwartz spoke to The Rx Review about bar muscle-ups, basketball, babies and “beasthood”…
The Rx Review: Schwartz’s CrossFit Melbourne is known for producing world-class individual athletes such as Chris Hogan and Amy Dracup. Did you change things up over the past year to develop such a strong team?
Ben Schwartz: No, we’ve always had a really strong team of athletes even though we were known for our elite individuals. I think that goes back to my early days were I always believed in developing every athlete to the point where they could compete if they chose to.
I would often do this without them actually knowing I was turning them into a beast. By training everyone like this, you don’t where tomorrow’s next gun or team member will come from. That is what I enjoy most.
If you only train a couple of the elite a certain way and everyone else differently, you will only get a mediocre gym of athletes, whereas I am proud of both our top, top guys as well as our guys just starting out on their way to “beasthood”.
How big is the Schwartz’s contingent going to LA?
There will be about 30 in our crew from Melbourne.
Will Chris Hogan and Amy Dracup be in the audience?
Amy is competing in the team with her husband Bjorn [Albrecht-Walker], while Chris unfortunately is no longer with us.
Schwartz’s CrossFit Melbourne came fourth at the 2011 Regional and just missed a spot at the Games. What did you learn from the experience?
I wouldn’t say we learned anything from our experience, it’s just this year our team was made up of three individual girls who placed extremely high in the Open. I think two were top 10 and one was in the top 20 [Penny Kemp came eightand Ali Murdoch came ninth in the Open]. But they decided they wanted to get a team to the Games rather than compete individually.
We also had Bjorn competing in the team. He competed in the 2010 CrossFit Games. So it was not a bad starting line-up.
How have you balanced running a huge box while also coaching games-worthy athletes and doing your own training for the team comp?
By having a very loving and understanding wife, especially since we just had our first baby boy six weeks ago. His name is Sam. He arrived a week before I left to compete in the Regional and now my wife is supporting me from Melbourne while I’m away with the team for three weeks.
Furthermore, I have some fantastic coaches back home who have been a great help in understanding what we are trying to achieve and the standards we are trying to adhere to at our box. I am running a 24/7 operation; it never stops.
How does the training in the lead-up to the Games compare with the Regional?
I think everyone has enjoyed the training more for the Games compared with the Regional because we haven’t know the workouts. I think training is more fun like that.
The individual events have always been a major focus for CrossFit. Do you think the team competition is becoming better recognized?
The individuals will always be the main focus because that is where everyone’s heroes come from. However, when you look at the audience, I’m going to guess that there is a larger percentage of fans who have come out to watch their team, friends or family competing in the teams events.
The Games famously like to throw a few oddball things into the workouts. Have you done any unusual things in team training?
We played some basketball at LAX CrossFit the other day.
What are the strengths of Team Schwartz?
We’ve all got various strengths but I’d say our strength would be the talent of our three girls.
What exercise would you love to see come up at the Games?
Now that we know some of the individual workouts, I would like to see bar muscle-ups for every athlete in the team events. We all go OK on those. [The team workouts have since been released. Lucky for the Schwartz’s team, bar muscle-ups are on Saturday afternoon.]
What are your expectations for the team?
Hopefully we can make it to the last workout. If we do that, then who knows from there?
Which are the teams to beat in LA?
CrossFit New England looks extremely strong as do Invictus.
UPDATE: Since this interview Schwartz’s CrossFit Melbourne went on to finish 9th at the 2012 CrossFit Games.
Steven Kiernan is a magazine editor and runs the social media for the Australian CrossFit Region. He trains out of Inner West CrossFit in Sydney.
Photos: Stephen Bullock www.bullockphotos.com