A Brief History of CrossFit Games Special Invites and “Wildcards”
One of the many changes to the 2019 CrossFit Games Season was the advent of four individual “at-large bid” invites to compete at the Games.
- Per Section 4.06 in the 2019 Rulebook: “CrossFit Inc. reserves the right to invite four individual athletes to compete at the Games. The means by which an athlete can earn one of the four at-large bids is solely up to CrossFit Inc.’s discretion.”
The first of these bids was offered to professional obstacle course racer Hunter McIntyre. This has brought a robust debate in the CrossFit Games community on how these at-large bids should be handed out.
The history: Special invites and “wildcard” spots to compete at the CrossFit Games are not a new phenomenon. Here is a look back at how they have been allocated in the past.
- 2007 and 2008 Games: There was not a qualification process for the first two CrossFit Games. Athletes just had to show up and compete.
- 2009 Games: Regionals were instituted after the large number of competitors in 2008 (119 men and 36 women competing Rx). The 18 Regionals allocated a differing number of Games spots per Regional. A “last chance online qualifier” for those who did not qualify at Regionals offered additional spots. Also, 2009 saw the first “special games invites” (bypass Regionals) given to the top 5 men and women from the 2008 Games along with special invites for the 2007 Games men’s and women’s Champions.
- 2010 Games: The top 5 men and women from the 2009 Games were offered special invites as well as the 2007 and 2008 Games Champions. Additionally, the 2009 Affiliate Cup Champions, Northwest CrossFit, were given a special invite.
- 2011 Games: The top 5 men and women from the 2010 Games were offered special invites along with the past Games Individual Champions. The 2010 Affiliate Cup Champions, CrossFit Fort Vancouver, were given a special invite. If one of the special invited athletes competed at Regionals and earned a qualifying spot, then an additional qualifying spot would be available in that Regional. This happened with Jason Khalipa and Annie Thorisdottir competing and winning their Regionals, thus opening up spots for Neal Maddox and Helga Torfadottir respectively.
- 2012 Games: The special invites were removed for the previous year’s Games Top 5 individuals and any past Games Champions or previous year Affiliate Cup Champion. Everyone had to compete at Regionals to qualify for the Games. However, CrossFit did provide for additional qualifying spots at Regionals where a past Games Champion earned one of the qualifying spots. Thus, with Rich Froning, Graham Holmberg, and Jason Khalipa all qualifying, additional Games spots were offered to Marcus Hendren, Scott Panchik, and Joey Warren respectively. For the Women with Annie Thorisdottir and Kristan Clever qualifying, Caroline Fryklund and Lindsey Valenzuela were respectively offered Games spots.
- 2013 Games: The same rules were in play as in 2012. Jason Khalipa, Mikko Salo, and Rich Froning earned qualifying spots in their Regionals, thereby extending Games spots to Marcus Filly, Mikko Aronpää, and Graham Holmberg respectively. Interestingly, this brought up a debate if then 5th Place Marcus Hendren in the Central East Regional (where Froning and Holmberg competed) should be offered a Games spot given that Homberg in 4th Place was a past Games Champion. Ultimately a Games invite was offered to Hendren. Per the rulebook at the time – “CrossFit Inc. reserves the right, in its sole and absolute discretion, to invite past winners, guest athletes, Teams or others, to participate in any stage of competition.” It also helped that Hendren set the Regionals’ world record in the final event. Also this year, Kristan Clever took 4th Place in the Southern California Regional. However, none of the three qualifying women at the Regional were past Games Champions. Clever competed in the Regional with a shoulder injury which visibly hindered her performance. CrossFit exercised its right to also offer Clever a Games invite similar to Hendren.
- 2014 – 2018 Games: The rule to provide additional Games spots at a Regional if a past Games Champion earned a qualifying spot was removed. CrossFit still reserved the right to offer special invites to any stage of the Games season, however, no special invite spots were given out during these years.
- 2019 Games: As outlined earlier, four “at-large bids” can be offered at CrossFit’s sole discretion. When Greg Glassman discussed these at-large bids at the beginning of the 2019 Games Season, he suggested that they could go to “blowhard” athletes in other athletic fields.
The “blowhard” invite: Although some in the community are not fans of this, it is not a new idea. Back at the 2009 CrossFit Games, Glassman made this statement about athletes from other training programs claiming to be fitter than CrossFit Games athletes –
- Flashback to 2019: Greg Glassman talking about athletes from other training programs claiming to be fitter than CrossFit Games athletes, “There are people that say this isn’t a test, that there are people out there fitter than people competing here today. Great. Prove it. I’ll give you the opportunity, the forum to make that point perfectly clear. Bring your athletes down, let’s see what they can do.”