KATRÍN TANJA DAVÍÐSDÓTTIR is an Icelandic CrossFit athlete. She is the 2015 and 2016 CrossFit Games women’s champion, which christened her “Fittest Woman on Earth.” Katrín is the second woman to repeat as champion, following in the footsteps of her countrywoman, Anníe Þórisdóttir).
What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court by John Wooden is one of my absolute favorites. My grandpa was a basketball player back in the day, and he gave me this book a couple years ago. Wooden’s approach to training resonates a lot with me and my coach, Ben Bergeron. Reading the book, I found myself constantly nodding in agreement. His philosophies don’t only apply in the gym or on the competition floor but to life in general. I always feel like sports are a microscopic view of life. The same principles and lessons apply, but they are more apparent in sports. My favorite part about this book, though, might be the foreword from one of Wooden’s former players, Bill Walsh. The way he talks about their relationship and what he learned from his coach is absolutely beautiful and still sits with me.
The other book is The Champion’s Mind: How Champions Think, Train, and Thrive by Jim Afremow. This was the first sports psychology book I ever picked up, and it was the exact right moment for me. It was the summer of 2014, right after I failed to qualify for the ’14 [CrossFit] Games. That summer, I could have easily fallen into a mindset of “I don’t belong, I am not good enough, I
failed . . .” but the book gave me a better perspective. I wasn’t a failure. I had just failed at a certain event. Past tense. What could I do in this exact moment to get better? It got me focusing on giving my absolute best in any given situation without the pressure of constantly stacking myself up to others. The same time I started reading this book, I started working with my coach, Ben, and he really focuses on all of the same things. He would talk to me before training, after workouts, sometimes during, and all of it started coming together. The new mindset allowed me to truly fall in love with the process.
What is a favorite exercise (or a valuable one) that most CrossFitters or athletes neglect?
Definitely the mind. It is so easy to get caught up in the physical, to get a faster mile time or a bigger squat number, faster thrusters or better pull-ups . . . but at the elite level, where everyone is fit and strong, it will be the mind that separates.
If you are asking about an exercise, I would say it is basic “fitness.” It is hanging out around your lactic threshold for an extended period of time—it’s hard. But that’s where the magic happens. It’s not going guns blazing through a workout and it’s not “talking pace.” It’s hanging out right where you might start dropping off soon but you can hold on. Once your general fitness is higher, your recovery is better between lifts and between events; it translates into so many other things.
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
When I started CrossFit, I became “good” right away. Not great, and not one of the best, but good enough to make the CrossFit Games. I made the Games in both 2012 and 2013 and I was very happy with being a CrossFit Games athlete and almost defined myself as just that. I was a full-time student and coach at the same time that I was training for the Games. I have always been a hard worker, but looking back at my training then, it was more of a go-through-the-motions and check-the-boxes approach. Getting the work done for the sole sake of getting the work done.
At the time, I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to do in school, and I didn’t love coaching. Both were things I felt like I should be doing. The CrossFit Games was the only thing I really wanted to be doing, and I failed to qualify in 2014. It was seemingly the biggest failure of my life. It was devastating, but it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me.
Not making it that year showed me how much I truly wanted to be there . . . and how hard I was willing to work for it. I took the summer off, started reading sports psychology, and when I was ready to get back to it, I was really ready. I asked Ben to become my full-time coach, and I later made the decision to put school on hold, stop coaching, and move from Iceland to Boston so I could truly put everything I had into CrossFit alongside my coach. I loved it. This was at the beginning of 2015. We ended up winning the 2015 CrossFit Games that July.
Failing to make the 2014 CrossFit Games was the best thing that ever could have happened to me and a life-altering event.
What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?
My plane ticket from Iceland to Boston in early 2014 to attend a training camp with Ben at CFNE. It was almost all the money I had at the time, but I just wanted so much to work with Ben and his athletes. He wasn’t my coach at the time, but going there for that training camp ultimately led to him becoming my full-time coach, and led to some of my closest relationships.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?
Sometimes, things aren’t easy, or fun, and times get hard. Those are the moments that I tell myself really count! Anyone can go to the gym and work very hard when they want to. But who does it even when they don’t feel like it? Even when they are tired?
In these situations, my “why” helps me. My “why” is my grandma and her light. She was my biggest supporter and best friend. When I moved from Iceland to Boston to train there full-time, we told each other we would still always be together. She passed away in April of 2015, and I still feel and know we will always be together. When things get tough, I know she is right there with me.
In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
The belief that my best is enough. It is so easy to get caught up in the thought that to “win” a competition, a training day, or whatever the task, you must do something extraordinary.
I have found that my absolute best is the best possible outcome. That is a
“win.” To do your best may sound easy, but it is anything but. It requires everything you’ve got . . . and no less. The beauty of it is that it is totally within your control. You can always give your absolute best effort regardless of physical state or circumstances. That, to me, is always a win.