17-Year-Olds Fall Through the Cracks in CrossFit’s Age Group Games Cancellation
When the CrossFit Games announced on April 30 that teenagers and masters would not be included in the 2020 CrossFit Games, keyboard warriors were quick to diminish the surprise, disappointments, and frustration that these athletes were feeling.
“The individual division is open to anyone” and “CrossFit doesn’t owe you anything” were recurring themes in the comments on the Games social media post announcing the change, the same post that informed the athletes themselves that they would not get their own Games this summer.
“There’s always next year” is the natural response of many, but for one group of 15 teens this was likely the last, and maybe only, chance they would have at getting their name on a Games jersey.
One Last Year
The 17-year-old athletes will age out of the teen division for the 2021 season. Dave Castro and the Games have made it clear that the season will completely reset after the still up-in-the-air 2020 Games, and no age group athletes that qualified this year will get a free pass to the ‘21 Games.
While yes, these 17-year-olds will have the opportunity to compete as individuals, only 8 former teen athletes have ever made an appearance at the Games in the individual or team divisions. Furthermore, Haley Adams is the only teen to ever qualify for the individual division the year she aged out of the teen division.
- Adams: “After hearing the news of the age group season ending, I couldn’t help but look back at the division that helped shape the athlete I am today.”
So for these fifteen 17-year-olds, this decision eliminated an extraordinary opportunity in an instant. But when the coronavirus outbreak struck, the reality seemed to set in long before the Games announced the cancelation of their season.
- “I knew that if they were going to have to cut anything it would be us,” three-time Games qualifier Cole Martinez admitted. “Let’s face it, from CrossFit HQ’s perspective age group athletes don’t bring in the same number of spectators nor do they bring the same ‘marketability’ as the individuals do.”
Martinez said his immediate reaction to the Games’ announcement was to be “shocked and livid,” but he has since come to terms with the decision. The 17-year-old out of CrossFit VTG in Tennessee narrowly missed qualification for the Games in 2019 after two consecutive runs at the podium in the 14-15 divison, coming in fifth in 2018. Martinez finished the Qualifier in sixth place worldwide, but was moved up to fourth after the video review process. Now aging up to the daunting individual division, Martinez is unsure of his future in the sport.
- Martinez: “This (coronavirus) down time has really allowed everyone to figure out what really makes them happy and what they really want in their lives moving forward.”
The Teen Community
Martinez’s competitor and 2018 teen Games champion Tudor Magda was emerging on the scene as a clear favorite to win the boy’s competition this year. Magda was aiming high for that top podium spot, but does not seem a bit fazed about moving up to compete with the big names.
- “I’m looking forward to the fierce competition,” Magda said. “I’m excited to put myself to the test against the athletes that have been my role models for so long.”
Just like Martinez, Magda said the thing he’ll miss most about the teen division is the community among athletes.
- Magda: “I think all the teens have a way of relating to each other that the individuals don’t.”
- Martinez: “We stick close because we’re like a band of misfits coming together at the big show. A band of misfits that can rock the boat, that is.”
Gaining Experience in the Individual Division
Another teenager that’s made a splash among the CrossFit fanbase, Paige Powers, was setting herself up with an impressive resume leading up to the AGOQ. Powers competed in the Elite Women’s division at Strength in Depth and the Mayhem Classic, placing 14th and 18th respectively. Undoubtedly having gained valuable experience competing with adults, Powers was fired up and ready to cause a stir in the Individual division. . . she just didn’t think it would come so fast.
- “I was very excited to put in the hours over the summer leading up to the Games, and I believe I had a good shot at becoming the Fittest Teen on Earth this year,” Powers admitted.
Perhaps the most affected by the elimination of the Games are athletes like Anikha Greer, who would have been making her first trip to Madison this summer. Greer has been a long time bubble athlete, missing qualification by just one point in 2018 and being on the wrong side of the infamous 20-to-10 cuts to age group qualifiers in 2019; she finally broke through this year, placing second in the world, behind last year’s 14-15 champ Emma Cary. Greer was the most consistent athlete out of the ten qualifying athletes, the only one to have no events outside of the top ten.
- Greer: “Qualifying this year just felt like everything came together, the countless days of pushing myself over and over and over again all came together for this one weekend and it felt so right. Just pure joy.”
Just when Greer thought the hard work had finally paid off, the Games were pulled out from underneath her. After completely changing her training regimen leading up to the AGOQ in order to secure a place in Madison (she says she cut out heavy lifting, replacing it with rowing and burpees all day every day), Greer was proud and ready to show off her work and how her downfalls in the past had made her stronger.
- “It really hit me hard that I’d been robbed of the experience I have had my heart broken (over) for the past 2 years,” Greer explained about hearing the news that her season was cancelled. “But, this isn’t my first rodeo, I’ve dealt with this pain before, and I know that once again this is just something that’s going to make me tougher, more relentless, and more driven.”
Focus on What You Can Control
Even if their last chance at the Games as a teen was taken away from them, these teens understand that the circumstances are beyond their control. Martinez, Magda, Powers, and Greer all recognize that under the current global situation, a normal Games experience wouldn’t have been feasible.
- Powers: “I was trying to stay positive, (but) I knew in the back of my head that we weren’t going to compete this year. If I’m being completely honest, having all the masters, teens, individuals, and teams in Aromas did not seem logistically possible and the teenagers and masters are not the main show.”
Still, there are some things CrossFit could’ve done better, some ways to gain more understanding.
- “I found out from Instagram just like everyone else did,” Martinez said. The same day that the Games emailed teens and masters informing them that their videos were accepted, they announced publicly on social media that their Games were cancelled. In a Direct Message to Martinez, Dave Castro explained that the Games have announced changes via social media before, so it was logical for this announcement to follow suit.”
What else could the Games have done, in addition to a courtesy email, to handle the situation better, let the teens down easier? The teens suggested a multitude of other things: an online competition to find the definitive fittest within the Top Ten. Conversely, HQ could review all six videos from the AGOQ to definitively decide who deserves to win that title of the Fittest. What about a headband or t-shirt with their name and jersey number? A $500 scholarship for each athlete? All of these things seem doable for the Games, but none will replace the opportunity the teens who are aging out no longer have.
- Greer: “I am not mad or angry at Castro or at CrossFit HQ and although it hurts, I understand and respect his decision. . . in saying that, I hope (Castro) knows how hard we worked.”
17-year-olds who ranked in the Top 10 in the AGOQ:
*first time qualifier