At the beginning of February, the five-time consecutive CrossFit Games champion, Mat Fraser, announced he was retiring from the sport. It was news that shocked the fitness world and took the CrossFit community by surprise. However, in our exclusive interview with Fraser, it would appear those on the inside, and those closest to him, knew the announcement was imminent.
As the dust begins to settle on his retirement, and the world of CrossFit comes to grips with a world without the GOAT, MH UK’s deputy editor Dave Morton spoke to Fraser about why he’s really leaving the sport behind, the pressures he faced during 2020, his inspiring accomplishments and the things he’s most certainly not going to miss…
I actually decided I was going to retire after the 2019 CrossFit Games. A few people around me were like ‘Hey, when does training start back up?’ and I told them ‘Oh no, I’m done!’’ Some good friends told me that I would regret doing it then, they basically coerced me into the idea that one more year was the right decision.
So, I knew the whole of last season that it was my last and I was just trying to get some ducks in a row before announcing it. I wanted to take the time to step away from the space like I do every year. I never want to make a decision when I’m in the middle of it, so I know that it’s not just because I’m sore and tired of all the training. That it was actually what I wanted as the next step in my life. Once it was a sure thing, it was a case of making the calls to the people that I didn’t want to find out on Instagram.
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2020 was far from a typical season. It was brutal. Usually we’ll have a 12-16-week build-up and taper, and when the Games are announced we plan it out. We start building our base then scale things up. Four weeks out from the Games we were told that it was delayed for three more weeks, so we had no other option than to jump back a step in our training and do it again. Only for the Games to get pushed back another three weeks! Then we get told the Games are going to be between this date and this date and then suddenly we don’t have a date. So not only was training really tough, but in the back of my mind was the fact that this is my last year. What if it doesn’t happen? What if this whole year of training was for nothing? Am I going to do another year to have my last year?
You know I’ve done very well in the sport and the story would be very different if it we were all on the NBA- or NFL-type of money. That can persuade someone to stay on the field or on the court longer than they should. Most of those players have to be taken out in a stretcher – the knee finally gives out, or they have debilitating pain. I did it, too, with my weightlifting career and I didn’t go out the way I wanted to.
Thankfully, I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish in CrossFit. I still love it. I’m still going to do my best to be involved as much as the community wants me to be involved. It was just time to stop being so selfish when it comes to my training, my traveling, my nutrition, my recovery…everything.
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I’ve said no to a tonne of opportunities for years because my sole purpose was to train eat, sleep and compete. I just want a change of pace. There’s a lot of opportunities knocking on the door – there’s me thinking I’d have a lot of free time in retirement! I have been going non-stop the last couple of weeks but it’s very gratifying. I’m having a lot of fun doing it. I’m sure there will be some high points and low points, like when I’m watching all my friends compete and when someone else gets crowned the new champion. I’d be naive to think that’s not going be hard in some form or another. I’m using that as motivation to build something that I’m excited about away from the competition floor, so that when somebody else is dubbed The Fittest On Earth, I’m not just sobbing in the corner.
Are there things that I’m not going to miss? I mean, hell – there’s a laundry list. I had an amazing career, but you’ve got to take the good with the bad. There’s a lot of things that you’re almost forced to do. You don’t get to pick your boss really and you often don’t get to pick the people you work with. Over the last couple of years there’s a lot of people that have ill-intent and there’s nothing you can really do about it. You just have to shrug your shoulders and think that, in my books, the pros outweigh the cons and I’m going to go with it. Especially the last three years or so. They’ve changed the structure every time: how you qualify, where you qualify, how many people make it to the Games, cuts to the field, changes to the scoring system…
Every year has been a guessing game, so I’m really looking forward to having my own structure. If I know what the rules I’m playing by are, I can go put together a plan and do the best I can. But if you’re constantly getting the messages of ‘Ah, we don’t know how you get to qualify. Good luck!’, how are you supposed to deal with that?
I won’t miss the fact that if I don’t get in full 10 hours of sleep my day is pooched. Last night I had six hours and then I woke up and I was ready to go, whereas if I was in training and wake up an hour early, or stay up an hour late, it would just snowball into the next day and the day after that.
Train, eat, sleep. That was my day, for the last five-six years. Now I can be a contributing member of my family. I can travel to see friends and take part properly in holidays. I won’t miss being locked in my house for six months of training. But I will miss the simplicity or waking up knowing the task at hand – is this going to better my performance when I go to the Games?