The Great White North Rises: Canada’s Men 23 Percent of Games Field
Few people likely recall or ever knew that a Canadian, James Fitzgerald, won the first CrossFit Games in 2007. Standing next to him in second, Brett Marshall, was also Canadian. Despite the bright start, it would be another nine CrossFit Games until little known rookie phenom Patrick Vellner would enter the Tennis Stadium in 2016, take third and end the drought.
Another rookie that year, Brent Fikowski, came in fourth just two points behind Vellner.
Fast forward to the 2020 Games season, where it seems that no one’s spot is safe, and seven of the 30 men competing at next week’s CrossFit Games hail from Canada; the most they’ve ever had. Two of those athletes are rookies: Adam Davidsson and Pete Shaw.
- Considering 16 others are American, Canada’s seven might not seem that impressive; however, the United States’ population is ten times that of its northern neighbor.
- Australia is the only other country to qualify more than one male athlete. They have three.
How we got here:
- From 2011-2014, regional competitions were designed in a way that guaranteed four spots for Canadian men—two from Canada West and two from Canada East. During those years, the highest finishes by Canadian men were Albert-Dominic Larouche’s 12th place finish in 2013 and Lucas Parker’s 15th place finish in 2012. 2014 was the ultimate low point for Canadian men at the Games: Paul Tramblay was the highest ranking Canadian man. He was 31st.
- In 2015, the rules changed: Canada West and Canada East were turned into West and East regions, which now included American states, meaning there was not a single guaranteed spot for Canadians at the Games. In this new sink or swim formula, so to speak, Canadian men proved they could swim. Of the 10 berths available in 2015, Canadian men snagged four of them. Alex Vigneault qualified from the East, and Lucas Parker, Tyson Takasaki and Joe Scali took three of the five spots from the west. Things were looking up.
- Enter Vellner and Fikowski in 2016: Patrick Vellner and Brent Fikowski burst onto the scene their rookie seasons, placing third and fourth respectively. The following year, they proved they were not one-hit wonders when both wound up on the podium—Fikowski second and Vellner third. And in 2018, Vellner continued his podium streak, placing second only to Mat Fraser.
- Beyond an increase in podium finishes in recent years, the depth of talent in Canada has also been on the undeniable rise In 2019, with only one guaranteed spot for a Canadian man—the national champion from the CrossFit Open—six Canadian men managed to qualify for Madison. And this year, in a much smaller field than 2019, as mentioned, an unprecedented seven of 30 men punched their tickets.
Also notable: Four Canadian men found themselves in the top 12 in the 2020 CrossFit Open: Vellner, 1st, Jeffrey Adler, 5th, Jean-Simon Roy-Lemaire, 8th, and Samuel Cournoyer, 12th.
A Canadian OG: Parker, a five-time Canadian CrossFit Games athlete and fan favorite known for his prominent red beard, said the strong Canadian lineup this year is evidence that “the gap between the USA powerhouse athletes and the international field is narrowing.”
- “Canadians, Aussies, and Vikings are all capable of winning workouts and standing on the podium. Especially this year, where our Canadian boys can compete from the comfort of their home gyms,” he added.
Canadian woman on the podium: While Canada boasts seven podium finishes since the first Games in 2007, only one of them has been a woman.
- Camille Leblanc-Bazinet took the title on the women’s side in 2014. That same year, Canadian Michele Letendre missed the podium by just six points, placing fourth.
Meet the 2020 Canadian Men:
- Veterans Patrick Vellner and Brent Fikowski: Heading into his fifth straight Games, Vellner said he’s proud of how many Canadian men are competing this year, but admitted 2020 has been a “a long haul.”
- “At this point, people are just trying to stay healthy, I think,” Vellner added.
- Rookies Adam Davidson and Pete Shaw: Both Davidson and Shaw will be competing in their first CrossFit Games next week. Though a rookie, Shaw has lofty goals: “My goal right now is to come top five and get to the in-person competition. I think that is everyone’s goal here and it’s going to be a battle for those spots,” Shaw said. Meanwhile, Davidson is looking forward to the online-competition: “I’m really just excited to do it and then take time off to sit by the water and eat scones and donuts all day,” said Davidson. Earlier this week, during his “active recovery,” Davidson drove 90 minutes to Vellner’s hometown of Nanaimo, British Columbia to help him set up a rig at his home gym.
- Second-year Games athletes Jeffrey Adler, Samuel Cournoyer and Alexandre Caron: All three are making their second CrossFit Games appearances next week. Cournoyer and Adler have spent some time training together in preparation. Most recently, however, Cournoyer has been training with the Mayhem crew in Cookeville, TN, where he intends to complete all of the Games workouts. Adler, who said he chats with both Caron and Cournoyer — sometimes sharing their times on workouts to “reassure us of where we are” — explained the rivalry among the men is a friendly one. “Even on the competition floor, we want the best performance for our fellow Canadians,” Adler said.
Canadian Pride: Although he’s not competing, Parker feels a strong sense of Canadian pride, especially in today’s climate.
- “Canada has responded relatively well to the pandemic, which means that the middle class athletes may be able to continue training and developing without fear of becoming unemployed, homeless or dead,” Parker said.
Next week, the seven Canadian men will become “temporary enemies,” Shaw joked.
- “I am in touch with most of the other Canadian men…During COVID, we obviously were chatting mostly about the big question mark of the season, but since the date (was) set, it has pretty much been normal banter among friends,” Shaw said.
- He added: “Right now since everyone is scattered across the country, we aren’t really helping each other in the classical sense. But we definitely push each other. We all pride ourselves on being Canadian and being gritty competitors. We want to represent our country and ourselves as best we can, and that starts with trying to one-up our countrymen.”