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A Tale of Two Opens

Jan 14, 2020 by

The 2019 calendar year is one that will go down as a turning point in the history of the sport of fitness. From a logistical perspective, the inclusion of the Open as a direct qualifier for the CrossFit Games has arguably been the biggest change the sport has ever seen. With the announcement last Monday that the 2020 Open leaderboard is finalized, we now have our second batch of official Games qualifiers under the new, direct qualification pipeline. Taking a look at the qualifiers from year one to year two, there are some interesting comparisons that shine light on the evolution of the Open in this new system.

But first, some caveats: There are some obvious contextual differences between year one and year two that ultimately factor into who ended up with the Games invites in their inboxes.

  • In year one, the flow in terms of what would get priority — an Open qualification spot or a Sanctionals invite — was unknown until well after the season was underway. This season it wasn’t an issue and athletes had a clearer understanding of the season structure.
  • The turnaround from the end of last season’s Games to the beginning of this season’s Open was only 67 days, compared to the 200 days that separated the 2018 Games and the 2019 Open. The periodization of training and the eventual outcome looks vastly different when there are nine weeks separating “peaks,” versus 28.
  • The increase to 28 total Sanctionals (27 after Cape Town’s unfortunate postponement) this season also plays a factor. With the Open leading the season off in October, there’s a little more wiggle room mentally knowing that there are two dozen or so more chances to earn your spot to the Games. Example: Lukas Hogberg.

National Champions

 In 2019 a total of 236 athletes were crowned national champions from 122 different countries. 122 men, and 114 women were bestowed the honor, and this year the total increased slightly to 239 athletes.

  • This season there are 125 countries – three more than last year – that will have the chance to have their flag waved at the CrossFit Games in Madison.
  • The gender percentage is still slightly skewed towards the men’s side, as male athletes make up 51.9 % of the field, compared to 48.1% for women. For comparison, women made up 48.3% of the field last season.
  • In 2019, five countries only crowned one champion, all of them men. In 2020 the number of single-champion countries jumped to 11, with only one of the solo champs being a woman.
  • 45.9% of the men, and 52.6% of the women were able to repeat as champions from last season, which leaves us with a combined turnover rate of 50.8% meaning roughly half the field national champion field will be new this year. This is on par with the typical turnover rate for the Games under the old system which usually sat between 45-55%.
  • Only 27 countries are returning both champions from 2019, 21 of them (42 athletes) had previously never sent an athlete to the Games prior to this new system. Only two of those 42 athletes – Chile’s Simona Quintana and Paraguay’s Carole Colling-Romero – made it through the first day of competition.
  • 10 more national champions (5 men and 5 women), were able to finish within the top 1,000 worldwide in 2020 than in 2019. 13 more were able to crack the top 500 worldwide in 2020 than in 2019.

Analysis: The turnover rate suggests that even in developing countries that are new to the Games, there is still significant parity at least at the national level, which is a good sign for growth and athlete development because too much dominance from a select few can sometimes be a deterrent for up and comers. For the countries that do have established elite athletes in both genders, there’s still a significant gap in performance between them, and what was considered objectively elite under the old system (top 40). The hope would be that with time and experience at the Games, the performance gap would begin to decrease along with the gender gap that exists due to some geopolitical restraints. There is an improvement by the national champions from year one to year two in the Open, but it’s happening slowly.

Top 20 Worldwide

The blue cut line for the top 20 spots worldwide ended up in near-identical places both years. The men’s cut line settled at 28th place in both seasons, while the women’s line finished at 32nd place in 2019, and 33rd place in 2020.

  • Turnover rate comparison: 62.5% of the women that finished above the blue line in 2019 repeated in 2020, while just 46.4% of the men did. All of the top 15 women worldwide from 2019 qualified again in 2020 with the exception of Mekenzie Riley (pregnancy). On the other hand, six of the top 15 men in 2019 missed the boat this year.
  • Travis Mayer was oddly consistent, finishing 14th worldwide in both Opens to earn his spot to the Games.
  • 11 male athletes and 15 female athletes in 2019 had no prior individual Games experience. This year 10 males and 18 females that qualified had no Games experience under the old system pre-2019.
  • Using that same experience filter, the top 20 field from 2019 and 2020 had an identical number of years worth of Games experience under their belt with 118. The men’s field had 54 years of experience in 2019 compared to 64 in 2020, while the women were the inverse with 64 years of experience in 2019, and 54 years in 2020.

Analysis: For the most part, the women’s field in recent years has been more solidified at the top both at the Games and the Open. This includes some of the rookies from 2019, and the turnover rate numbers across the board support that so far. There are still the usual suspects on the men’s side but they are more subject to fluctuations based on the caveats listed above, best exemplified by Patrick Vellner winning the Open a year after finishing below the blue line.

  • The bullet points highlighting the experience level of the qualifiers really point to what type of athlete this new system’s Open has filtered for, compared to the old system – which is important given qualification implications.
  • More Games veterans on the men’s side took advantage of the direct qualification in year two than on the women’s side despite the women’s Games elite remaining consistent in the top 20 both years. In fact, the men’s numbers would have been identical both years if it weren’t for Ben Smith and his 10 years of experience pre-2019 finishing in the final spot above the cut line.
  • The fact that there were more women (mainly in the bottom 10 spots) and fewer men with no Games experience under the old system in 2020 supports this as well.


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