Street Workout London event: my thoughts

The weekend before last was a big street workout event here in London. There were a couple of disappointing things about the day, which this post is mostly about, but before I go off on a negative spin, I would just like to say how utterly awesome it is to see calisthenics getting more popular with the finer species that inhabits this planet! There was a great turnout by the girls (and ladies!) – I finally got to meet Vanna, who had come over from Holland especially, I got to speak a bit more to Jasmine and Maisy, and see the lovely Katt, Megan and Layla from the Compound again, whose positive attitude never fails to make me smile :) There were loads of other faces I didn’t recognise, and a few that I did, and the vibe was really good – everyone supporting each other and trying their best.

Anyhow, the event was marred for me by a few things, which I will run through in order of their significance (to be honest, there is only one worth reading – the first is a whine, the second a bit of a rant!).

Let’s start off with the weather. Ugh! WTF London?! People wait all year for this and you’ve got to rain on our heads. Not even good rain, but shittyass drizzly rain. I blame those Dutchies – that’s the kind of rain they get and they obviously brought it over with them. On the up-side, the fact I live a five minute’s bike ride from the park did mean that I could watch out of my window and make a break for it when it let up a bit!

Onto the next thing… The weeks before the event the hype came thick and fast on the events Facebook page – photos, announcements of judges and general excitement building. Awesome. There were going to be competitions – freestyle and reps, as well as demonstrations. I’m not a big one for competitions myself (something for another post) but Vanna persuaded me to enter, and I figured it would be a fun challenge if nothing else. Vanna and I actually went head-to-head in the ladies dips, which I amazingly won with 34 in a minute (even more amazing given that I didn’t actually realise it was timed and went maxed out – when I stopped I went to hug and congratulate Vanna who then told me we had a minute!).

Before the event there was this picture posted on Facebook:

See that one on the right…? How funny would it have been to get a trophy for doing dips?! I’ve only ever won one other trophy outside of school – for kumite in a karate competition – and the idea of taking that home made me smile. Wouldn’t my mum be proud? (Actually no – she and Dad think I should “stop all this” as it’s making my arms too big :/ ).

After the event was the prize giving, for which the dip comp got no mention. I wondered what had happened so pulled the picture above up on my phone and asked one of the three organisers (who I won’t name here because this isn’t exactly going to be complimentary) “what’s this about then?”. He obviously didn’t detect the amused tone in my voice, because he suddenly became incredibly aggressive, in his words as well as his stance, telling me my “attitude” was unwarranted, and generally ranting on at me. He walked away, at which point I turned to Megan and Vanna, who were with me, and were all like “what the F^%* was that about?!” and then came back, pointing his finger at me and saying “you don’t know me, I don’t know you, so don’t be giving me attitude”.

This is funny for two reasons: firstly that I go out of my way to be polite, treat people gently and respectfully and avoid confrontation. The last time I had (or at least tried) to assert my authoritah, the lady I was working for chastised me saying “you’re not fierce enough!” (I shit you not). Secondly, and more amusingly, a few weeks prior this dude had actually tagged me in a video of himself he’d put on Facebook, something people do when they want you to watch it, often (if they’re trying to get publicity and bump up their view count) they tag people who are “big” in the scene who they think might comment on it or share it further (something I often do with things I rate to support my friends). So those “I don’t know you” claims kind of fall down a bit – suits when you want to know me, not when you don’t.

It turned out that the reason they struck it off the competitions list is that there weren’t enough prizes – a set of parallettes. Bit of a fuck up on their part, and a shame as I have my own, and was more bothered about the principle, especially after the reaction I got after bringing it up.

Anyhow, that’s just a minor rant about something that’s pretty insignificant compared to the total fucking travesty that was the freestyle competition…

As I mentioned, the organisers had made a big deal about the judges they’d got on for the competitions – Arleigh from UK BarTenderz, Stephen Hughes-Landers (who’s repsresenting the UK at the Street Workout World Cup) and ChakaBars. Freestyle events and the judging of them are always tricky – the last bar jam I had picked up Māris Šlēziņš, chairman of the World Street Workout and Calisthenics Federation, from his hotel and brought him to the park, and we spent much of the time talking about politics within the street workout scene – the way the judging’s done, the difference between displays of strength and displays that will please a crowd and so on, and I know at that same event there were a few issues too – it’s sadly a common thing in street workout, but now, with it getting bigger and athletes entering world-level competitions, this kind of stuff shouldn’t still be happening.

When you have a freestyle competition, there should be clear judging criteria. I don’t know what they were in this case, but often the different judges are responsible for different elements – strength moves, innovation etc. – things that tie into their own speciality, and points are awarded for how well athletes execute those aspects of their performance. Judging should be applied consistently, and without bias. Just like in every respectable and reputable sport. If it were me, I would also insist, as at the last big competition here, that judges have a pen and paper and tick off the judging criteria as they’re hit and make any other relevant notes on each competitor as they go up.

This might have been the case up until the finals (although in all the videos I don’t see any note-taking, which given there were tens of competitors must mean they have incredible memories), however what happened then was staggering in that it not only undid any previous credibility the judging system had, but pulled its pants down and spanked its arse till it cried like a little girl.

There were two finalists, both with the same score. How that even happened was beyond me, since in my opinion one was clearly superior to the other – stronger, cleaner, tighter – but there you go. Both guys went up against each other, doing one last set. After they had dropped off the bar, one of the organisers announced through the megaphone, which didn’t actually work so only those standing nearby would have heard, that the winner would be decided by… the crowd’s cheers!

Seriously?! A whole competition, everyone’s hard work, and that of the judges, and it basically came down to how many friends a dude had there supporting him? A popularity contest. Are you fucking kidding me?! Um, no, sadly not. And that was how the guy who won it (whose hard work I don’t want to do down, it’s just that he was not the better of the two), and the second place athlete, Andrei Dreyan, who had come along from Spain with one friend, was robbed of the first place he so obviously deserved.

The funny thing was that I went up to him afterwards and said “You were robbed – you should’ve got first place!” at which point he looked frightened, waved his hands in a “no, no” gesture and said “no English!”. A few people came up to him and said the same thing and I think via that, and some slow and careful explanations, we got the point across to him.

I understand that these things are hard, and that a decision need to be made on the spot, but there were alternatives, in my mind: either sitting down and talking about it between the judges or appointing an external judge (for example Anton Guidera or Jay Anthony, both of whom are hugely experienced). It’s frustrating that the scene is maturing yet completely stupid things like this still happen. It’s a very sociable sport, and everyone wants to support their friends, but that should never come at the expense of someone’s talent.

Since writing this post and looking for videos of both athletes sets, the only one I can find (that’s not a compilation) is this one, the description of which echoes my feelings! I don’t actually think it’s his final set, and I also don’t know the name of the guy he went up against, so feel free to send me some links to the videos for both their sets and I’ll add them.

Whilst I’m here, saying how I think things should be done (ah the joys of having a blog to write what you think…!), people running future events (nah – not volunteering myself!) may also want to consider a way of limiting competitors. There were people up there that couldn’t do proper muscle ups (one arm over first doesn’t count, having your legs straight out in front – a bar kip in gymnastics – doesn’t either) when there were guys who had travelled over from Holland, some of whom are world class, who couldn’t do their sets because there wasn’t enough time.  How that’s done doesn’t really matter – either by submitting a video or by actually paying entry (which would require transparency on the part of the organisers too – that could be interesting!) – but it would not only keep the level of competition high but make the whole thing more enjoyable for competitors.

OK, that’s it from me. I’m sure that some people won’t like this post, but frankly they can bite me ;)

I’ll leave you with a photo from the day, which actually saw a great turnout and it’s really cool to see so many people on the scene now, and so many faces at the park, as well as seeing the epic progression of guys like Jay, who seem to get better by the week. This sport is maturing fast and it’s down to people organising these events to set standards and live up to them, lest it just dissolves into a popularity contest between groups.

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