Katrin Davidsdottir has a well-documented tendency to get squeamish. But the Icelandic Fittest Women on Earth —who has a fear of bugs, startle-scares and getting her blood drawn— was calm and collected for the grueling five-day stretch of the CrossFit Games.
After all, Davidsdottir— now a back-to-back Games champion— has been here before, with Sunday’s crowning the latest accomplishment in her meteoric rise among CrossFit’s upper echelon.
“She has a gymnastics background, she is strong, but I think what separates her more than anyone else is her willingness to suffer,” Davidsdottir’s coach, CrossFit New England founder Ben Bergeron said. “Not just her willingness but her want. She’s like a sled dog without a sled, they are sitting outside the huts just yelping and wanting to do work. When she’s not doing work, she’s not happy. And it’s not the way a lot of people do it, she doesn’t want to throw weights around. She wants to get her heart rate to 200 and hold it for 10 minutes. She wants to out-work people.”
Davidsdottir’s career started by making the Games in 2012 —less than a year after starting the sport —and her win in Carson last July thrust her into the international spotlight. Since then, she’s been on ESPN’s SportsCenter, flown to Paris for a photo shoot and London for an appearance.
Yet the only big splurge in Davidsdottir’s life since winning last year’s Games was relatively economical: a pearl white Nissan Micra. She’s not a big car person and describes the search as just wanting to find something to get her from home to scheduled training.
Katrin’s schedule that is. Davidsdottir is notoriously late to things, even making it one of her non-fitness monthly goals —which she takes part in with the Bergeron family— to start being five minutes early. The morning after she made that vow, she missed her flight home to Iceland.
“Ever since then she’s been better about being on time,” Ben’s wife, Heather, said with a laugh.
But it hasn’t completely dissipated; instead becoming more of a running joke between Davidsdottir and her Iceland training partner, two-time CrossFit Games champion Annie Thorisdottir.
“It’s funny for me to say because I’m known for being late, but she’s more late than I am,” said Thorisdottir, who took to her Twitter account on Jan. 5 to playfully tweet, ‘Where is Katrin’? before one of the duo’s morning sessions. “She will argue about that though.”
It was Thorisdottir who inspired Davidsdottir to get into CrossFit in the first place. After winning the 2011 Games —the first of two consecutive wins— Thorisdottir’s face was all over Iceland that summer.
“My best friend did pole vaulting with her and knew Annie and said, ‘You are kind of like her, you like working out all the time and trying new stuff,” said Davidsdottir, who competed in gymnastics for a decade and was looking for a new challenge.
She was coming off a year of track and field but wasn’t good enough to go anywhere. With her grandmother and mother also urging her, Davidsdottir signed up for bootcamp and CrossFit classes at CrossFit BC Island that September. Who was teaching her foundations class? None other than Thorisdottir.
“I was like ‘Oh my gosh- that’s Annie!’,” Davidsdottir said. “She had just won and it was very cool.”
It was easy to spot Davidsdottir’s gymnastic background and her competitiveness —bred from childhood races to lampposts and contests upside down—set her apart from most CrossFit newbies. Davidsdottir began doing extra work on the side, going home with bloody wrists for months while she tried for a ring muscle-up. Thorisdottir encouraged her to do local competitions, to experience that atmosphere and see if it was a good fit.
And when Thorisdottir opened her own box, CrossFit Reykjavík, Davidsdottir —who missed the Games for the first time in three years in ‘14— made the switch to train with her friend.
“What I look for the most in training partners is someone who enjoys training and has a passion for it. They want to get better and work for it, but don’t take everything too seriously,” Thorisdottir said. “[Katrin is] very energetic, she smiles a lot. She is a little similar to me in that we tend to say things without thinking about them in our head first. There’s a lot of funny moments, you can say that. A lot of spontaneous things happen and that’s a really good quality. She’s able to laugh at herself. I would say she’s a little bit of a space cadet in the best way possible.”
Like the time Davidsdottir confused Libyan revolutionary Muammar Gaddafi with Ghandi during a game of Apples to Apples.
She was like, ‘I love his quotes!” Thorisdottir said laughing.
Or Davidsdottir’s experience at a car wash just after the new year. After Snapchatting Heather that she was at the car wash, the next message Bergeron got was of a drenched backseat: Katrin had left the windows completely open.
“And she’s cracking up about it,” Heather recalled. “She’s not even mad- she’s taking pictures of herself. Everything is always funny with her. She’s just a really warm, positive person.”
Davidsdottir —who recently moved out of her grandparents home in Iceland to the Boston area— is also incredibly loyal.
Last year, Ben took a group of competitors to the Boston Harbor for some training. It was late spring and the water was still fairly cold, with some grumbling coming from a few athletes as soon as they got onto the boat. Then the group looked over the edge and saw jellyfish everywhere, inciting even more complaining. But Katrin didn’t say a word, she simply got in and swam to the beach and back. After all, Ben had told her to.
“When you can fully trust whatever [your coach] says, you see really cool stuff happen” Heather said. “It took her about a year, but Katrin bought in fully.”
It was Davidsdottir who approached Ben about being her coach after failing to qualify for the 2014 Games.
She had come in to CrossFit New England to train before, working with James Hobart, but Hobart had gotten away from programming for competitors to pursue other things. Bergeron had seen the athletic potential, but he’d also seen Davidsdottir’s tantrums: throwing her weight belt on missed lifts, crying after bad workouts.
“At Regionals, the image of her when she doesn’t make it she’s on her knees crying and Sam Briggs is trying to console her, that’s during a workout,” Bergeron said.
“The [legless rope climb] event was still going on. That was Katrin. That was who she was, she felt a lot of pressure, she focused on the wrong things.”
Both athletes persevered through significant setbacks on the road to Olympic stardom. When Bergeron recommended a few more books that fall, including “The Champions Mind,” Davidsdottir started to realize how powerful mental training could be.
“[Ben] saying it at the same time as I was reading it, I feel like it really sunk in,” said Davidsdottir, who lives with the Bergerons for months at a time when she’s in New England. “I didn’t just improve, I transformed mentally.”
Bergeron said he’s never been around an athlete that has taken to the mental component the way Katrin has. Even this past year, with one Games title under her belt, she was constantly reading up on the subject and is considering pursuing a degree in sports psychology when her competitive CrossFit days are over.
“She got mentally a lot tougher from missing that year,” Thorisdottir said. “When something that devastating happens, either you are going to break down and give up or you are going to come back stronger.”
(Pictures used with permission by Katrin Davidsdottir. Photo credits: Chris Walters. Dave Re, Jordan Samuel Photo.)