Tola Joins a New Roster
ATHLETE INTERVIEW: TOLA MORAKINYO
For 23 men and women, this year marks their first at the CrossFit Games. For Tola Morakinyo, it marks half a decade. A milestone anniversary in the books, and yet there’s another reason 2023 is shaping up to be so special.
The 27-year-old makes up a quarter of CrossFit East Nashville PRVN’s inaugural team—a star-studded ensemble run by none other than Shane Orr, coach and husband to six-time Fittest Woman on Earth Tia-Clair Toomey. This is Morakinyo’s third go with a new group, having also competed on behalf of Invictus Boston (from 2017 to 2019) and CrossFit Reykjavík (in 2022).
“I’m with a new team, a new program, and new coaches, so [there have been] little changes here and there [in terms of training]. The meat and potatoes are pretty much the same. It’s definitely different being in Nashville as opposed to Iceland. It is much hotter and much more humid, so I just have to take that into account on long days.”
With a 1st place finish at the North America East Semifinal, CrossFit East Nashville PRVN sits at the top of the leaderboard going into this week’s events. The team poses a serious challenge to their opponents at CrossFit Mayhem, who have enjoyed a five-year winning streak.
Not that we’re surprised. Morakinyo is no stranger to success in the field, after all. His team rank has climbed steadily since his debut appearance at the Games in 2017; he earned a record 4th finish last year with CrossFit Reykjavík. Being part of something larger than himself is what Tola finds most exhilarating.
“I love competing on a team. This is going to be my fifth time competing on [one.]…You’re always learning something new. You have to adapt to your teammates, especially if you have new ones from year to year. I like that challenge. I’m excited for our team to showcase all our hard work this year.”
The former wrestler/gymnast hybrid-athlete has solidified himself as a standalone powerhouse as well. This season, Morakinyo came in 2nd worldwide in the Open. (He now boasts three Top 5 finishes in the Open.) Many are curious if this is the start of a new chapter for him—a solo one.
“I’ve gone back and forth between whether I want to compete individually or not. It’s just going to have to strike me one of these years, and I’ll really have to be dedicated and locked in for that. For now, I am quite content competing on my team.”
To those looking to make it competitively—individually or with a team—the advice is the same. It’s something, he cautions, people may not like.
“You have to set realistic expectations and goals based on where you’re at [and where your competition is]—strength-wise, conditioning-wise, skill-wise. And you have to be realistic with how you compare to those people. If you’re not close in all of those domains to at least a Semifinals athlete, you probably don’t have a chance of making the Games. You should most likely make a long-term plan that can get you there over two or three years versus setting an unrealistic goal that you’re going to end up being disappointed in after whatever stage you make it to comes to an end.”
Morakinyo also adds that, as a general rule, the first day of competition doesn’t have to set the course for the rest of the weekend. It’s never too late, he promises: “Staying in [the zone] gives you a great chance to make a comeback or still showcase the hard work that you’ve put in throughout the season—even if the points don’t reflect on that.”
When it comes to being on a team, however, he does mention an added factor: compatibility.
“Having the right teammates can make or break your season—not only obviously in the competition, but also in your enjoyment of the year. Having hardworking, dedicated teammates who have the same goals you do is really the hardest piece of the puzzle.”
He may be on a new team, but there’s one thing Morakinyo is adamant about year over year. (And it happens outside the gym.)
“Nutrition and recovery are as important, if not more important, than actual training. I take it pretty seriously. I’m a big fan of yoga and I do it quite frequently. I’m also a fan of sleeping, which I also do quite frequently. I try to take a break in the middle of the day, make sure I get enough to eat, and usually take a quick power nap. It keeps me fresh for round two.”
After that, it’s all about leaving it on the competition floor, physically and mentally. “Survival mode,” Tola calls it.
“Mid-workout at the Games, there’s not much self-talk going on…You’re trying to keep up with the team, trying to make sure you’re not pulling behind. [It’s about] staying locked in, in the moment—making sure you know your reps and who you’re partnered with and what’s coming next.”
If all else fails? “My hype song is ‘Movin’ Bass’ by Rick Ross. The GTA remix. It’s a banger.”