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Interview with Daniel Chaffey, founder of French Throwdown : "This competition is a good pretext to celebrate CrossFit®"

Daniel Chaffey, Directeur international de CrossFit®, et fondateur du French Throwdown, lors de l'édition 2022 du French. Photo Anaïs Fayola

Northern Spirit: You are now the International Director at CrossFit®. What exactly is your role?
Daniel Chaffey: My role is to make CrossFit® accessible outside of the United States. We have 23 country directors, and we work in 19 languages. We have four regional directors: Latin America and Brazil; Western Europe and Canada; Eastern Europe with Africa Middle East; Oceania and Asia. The aim is to internationalize CrossFit® and make it available all over the world.

You also are the creator of the French Throwdown, which is celebrating its tenth edition this year...
Yes, tenth edition and twelfth year of existence. We celebrate the fact that we've managed to organize this competition, because every year we think that it's going to be the last. There are always risks associated with it, financial risks in particular, which leave uncertainty hanging. There are lots of quicksand and pitfalls to avoid when organizing an event like the French Throwdown. It's already great to have reached the tenth edition. It feels like we've walked through a minefield.

Especially now, as the French Throwdown has established itself as a major competition in France and Europe, bringing together athletes from all over the world...
We are very lucky. The French Throwdown has become a big event, with over 6,000 people taking part in the qualifying round. But it's not the size of the event that counts, it's above all the fact of preserving the quality of the Fitness test because there are lots of competitions that are good competitions, but which are 'intro' competitions where there isn't necessarily a variety in time domains and in the use of space. They are good gatherings of people, but they are limited in terms of Fitness testing.

We try to create a good gathering of people, but with a Fitness test up to the challenge, with movement, weights, and time variety. The goal is to test the athletes’ physical capacities for 3 days.

As the tenth edition approaches, how would you sum up the French ?
I've made a lot of friends. When I think of the event, I think of the dozens, perhaps hundreds of people who get together once a year for the French Throwdown. It's a pretext for a moment of contact, connection, and socialization. It's an excuse to celebrate CrossFit®.

What is your best memory ?
There are lots. The first I can think of is about my friend Julian Festor, who is the CrossFit® France director. He organized the French for several years. He's a very stoic, very shy person; he doesn't show much emotion. When I thanked him for organizing the event and for all the good memories, I saw tears streaming down his face.

After each edition of French, there's a duty done feeling...
We've never organized French to make money. We organize it to have a good time with our friends. French brings together a community that was underground in the early years, kind of like Fight Club. To see that those who were at the beginning are still there, that they are even better surrounded, that the community is growing… We're trying to stay in tune with that. We want to professionalize French, but above all we mustn't lose our roots, we mustn't lose the desire to connect. It's an event that revolves around people.

So how can you professionalize the French Throwdown without losing the human dimension you mentioned ?
If we lose the right people, those who are aware of the values we want to pass on, we'll lose our qualities. It's by keeping these people that we'll be able to pass on to the younger people, those who are coming for the first time. These young people will feel things that they may never have felt before, they will turn into a community, and they will be able to pass on their experience. The old-timers who have been here for more than ten years must still be present.

We can still raise the level of French. The bigger the event, the more we'll be able to attract national television, for example, and that will give us new impulsions and more resources. But we must never forget that this is an event for the athletes, so that they can express themselves. It's an event made for spectators, so they can thrill. It's an event for the volunteers, who get involved and make themselves useful. And it's also an event for our partners to share their expertise. But we mustn't forget the reasons why we created French. It's not about money, it's not about fame. It's a human adventure, an event made by people, for people.

Perhaps it's also a way of giving back to CrossFit® what it has given to you, because of what you told me about CrossFit® saving your life ?
CrossFit® attracts the eye because it's aesthetic, it's beautiful to see. CrossFit® sometimes has an image of an inaccessible sport because we see these extraordinary athletes who achieve superhuman performances. It doesn't necessarily speak to people in their everyday lives. We use French to attract people, by emphasizing that CrossFit® is accessible to everyone, in a good box, with a good coach who knows how to observe, correct and help you progress.

It's a message we need to get across at French to share CrossFit® with people who never thought they'd be able to do general Fitness training. CrossFit® can benefit everyone. I'm going to be 50 years old this year and CrossFit has saved my life. I'm in better shape at almost 50 than I was at 30.

When you're young, you're fit, you practice sports. Then you get a job, you move around a bit less. You get married, you move around even less. Then you buy a house, you have responsibilities, you do less sport. At 30, you put on a little weight. At 40, you go to the doctor because you have problems. At 50, you go back to the doctor because you have developed pathologies that require treatment. For me, French is helping to democratize CrossFit® in France.