December 08, 2008
Robert Novy-Marx, an Associate Professor of Finance at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business and former professional triathlete, offers an in-depth statistical analysis of the rankings and relative importance of the various events of the 2008 CrossFit Games. He offers some interesting, if not controversial, conclusions.
It is no exaggeration to say that the 2008 CrossFit Games tested who could do the fastest high-pull Fran and heavy Grace. This is somewhat surprising, as the deadlift and run events constituted roughly 40% of the average competitor’s total time. Nevertheless, these events were largely irrelevant with respect to the Games’ final outcome. Fran-plus-Grace times alone explain 94% of the variation in overall times, for both men and women, and ranking the athletes on the basis of Fran and Grace alone would have yielded outcomes very similar to the actual results.
This analysis gives some guidance on how one could construct a multi-event competition, scored using cumulative time, in which every event “matters.” It would require designing the events in a manner that roughly equates the standard deviations, not the averages, of times across events. This generally demands that strength-limited events are shorter than endurance-limited events. Events that some athletes struggle to just complete, like the relatively heavy clean and jerk in this year’s Grace, generate far more time dispersion per average duration (i.e., standard deviation relative to the mean) than events that are easy when you're not “on the clock,” like the run.