If you take a look back at the early stages of any sport, there are a handful of formative years one could point to that have shaped and steered the sport towards its current status. On all levels, 2020 will certainly stand out in the history of the CrossFit Games, but for the age group divisions, the significance lies in their nonexistence.
How we got here: The cancellation of the remainder of the season for them has left many wondering about the future, as well as their significance and the purpose they serve in CrossFit Inc.’s eyes. Barring any future hindrance from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s safe to assume things will return to “normal,” for the 2021 season but what will the lasting impact be of a season lost to history for a growing demographic?
To quote Maya Angelou, “If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going,” and it is probably a fair assessment to say that many don’t know the history of the age group divisions and their role in the sport up until now. So we’ve laid out in detail the history of the age groups divisions, as they’ve grown and morphed over time.
The early years: Before teenagers became a formal part of the CrossFit Games season, there was only the masters division, and what is now a multi-stage, six division competition began humbly as the Games made their first move outside their home in Aromas.
- In 2010, moving the Games to what was then known as the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, also brought on the inception of the masters competition. There was one age division for both men and women and athletes took on three tests: Nancy, 1-rep max deadlift, and Fran as a finale. Fran was done on the tennis stadium floor before the individual finals.
- In 2011, inclusivity and growth was the focus of the sport, so with the advent of the CrossFit Games Open, the masters division was split into four age categories starting with the 45-50 division and ending with the 60+ age group. In lieu of a Regional competition, the Open was used as a direct qualifier and the test at the Games grew to five events over three days.
- In 2014, there was a significant change and improvement in the masters competition, as the 40-44 division was added to the mix after it became apparent that there was too large of a gap between the individual competition and the masters that left an aging cohort of longtime athletes and fans in limbo. The Masters Qualifier was also added to the mix as an additional competition step to better filter for the Games as division participation grew.
Picking up steam: The humble beginnings of the competition coincided with the explosion of the sport and methodology on a worldwide scale. CrossFit was at a peak in its history in terms of growth, and suddenly a competition that for multiple years was held in a parking lot next to the soccer stadium gained momentum enough to provide increased opportunities for wider demographics .
The modern era: While the individual and team competition were experiencing a competitive contraction in the form of a condensed new regional format (unofficially dubbed “Super Regionals” by many), the opposite was happening for the age groups, and a whole new class of athletes entered the fray.
- In 2015, the teenage divisions were formally added to the season, boosting youth participation, which from an optics standpoint counterbalanced some of the complaints about fewer spots at Regionals following the format adjustment. A new demographic was now formally recognized, creating an applied youth program for the sport and methodology beyond the established CrossFit Kids programs. Only ten teenagers qualified for the Games and did so directly through the Open.
- In 2017, the age group competition as it looks today took shape as the Games moved to Madison. Both the 35-39 division and the Age Group Online Qualifier (AGOQ) were added to the season. The latter allowed the teenagers to have an extra stage of competition, as they were included in the AGOQ and ten more qualifying spots to the Games were opened up to them as well. The 35-39 demographic as a whole was growing rapidly, and with the sport now in its second decade, the individual division was increasingly becoming the territory of younger athletes. Many of the core demographic was in limbo once again, so the division made sense from an inclusivity standpoint.
That brings us to today, where the age group divisions have been omitted for 2020 due to an unforeseen and unprecedented dilemma faced by CrossFit HQ just a year after all age group divisions had their representation at the Games cut in half. Many have speculated that the shrinking of the Games and waning participation could mean a step back from the age groups entirely going forward.
One look at this history highlights how the CrossFit Games team has really only added to the breadth of the age groups over time, and that the lone cutback came when the company as a whole shrank. It’s entirely possible that without the pandemic, the age group divisions would have overtaken the lion’s share of Open registration in 2021, and that’s a trend that simply cannot be ignored.
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