Boys to Men: Boys Teen Division Still Battling for Legitimacy

November 27, 2020 by
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Two weeks ago we analyzed the impact that 19-year old Haley Adams had on the girl’s teen division. How her success the last two years after aging-out of the division has given a host of young up and coming teenage girls a blueprint for success sooner rather than later. Conversely the boys teen division has not kept up with their female counterparts in terms of impact to the sport.

One big thing: Since the introduction of the teen division at the 2015 CrossFit Games, it was intended to give fans of the sport a sneak peek into the future stars. It was supposed to act as the farm system for teenage athletes as they developed while also serving as a platform to introduce a younger generation to the sport of fitness. 

  • After six years and five Games showcasing the future of the sport, the boys division has yet to produce the next star for the men’s division.

The details: To date only a few of the boys that have competed at the Games in the teen division have moved unto the big stage to compete with their older counterparts.

  • The most well-known division alumni is George Sterner. Sterner competed at the Games as a 20-year-old last year where he finished 32nd overall. 
  • Sterner made it to the Games in 2019 via the Open as he placed an impressive eighth in the world.
  • The American only competed once in the teen division, finishing second in the 16-17 year old division before aging out and then qualifying for Regionals in 2017 and 2018.
  • Most of the success from the division alumni has been through international teens, as they earned their invites to the Games either as their countries national champions or in the case of Haraldur Holgersson as a member of a team.
  • Holgersson competed in the teen division at the 2016 Games, finishing eighth. He then aged-out of the division but then made his Games debut as an athlete on CrossFit XY in 2017. In 2020, the now 22-year old placed 94th in the Open and finished as the second fittest man in Iceland behind Björgvin Karl Guðmundsson.
  • Brazil’s Guilherme Mulheiros challenges Sterner as the most successful teen division alumni. He made headlines in 2017 when he snatched 291 LBs for a one-rep max helping him to a second place finish in the 16-17 division.
  • Mulheiros took advantage of the national champion invitations to earn his first individual Games invite in 2019. He would place 48th overall competing against the best men in Madison, Wisc. as a 20-year old. He once again repeated as his country’s national champion, earning another invite to the Games before the COVID-19 pandemic kept him and the other national champions out of the Games.
  • Bryan Hernandez represented Colombia at the 2019 Games as their national champion, finishing 50th overall. Hernandez competed in the teen division as part of that debut class in 2015, placing seventh.

Why it matters: To date there has not been a boy’s division winner at the Games who has qualified as an individual. 

  • Of the 20 athletes that competed in the debut of the division of the Games in 2015, only four competed in the Open in 2020. Hernandez, James Kapacila (fifth in the 16-17 year old division) Vincent Ramirez (third in the 14-15 year old division) and Anthony Verderaime (ninth in the 14-15 year old division) competed in 2015.
  • The two division winners from 2015, Angelo Dicicco (14-15 year old champion) and Nicholas Paladino (16-17 year old champion) are no longer active after dominating the teen division for years.
  • Dicicco was touted as the next Rich Froning as he added the 16-17 year old title in 2017 while being mentored by the aforementioned Froning. After aging out of the teen division he was selected to become the third male on CrossFit Mayhem Freedom for the 2018 Games. 
  • Disaster struck when at 18-years old, Dicicco had to retire from the sport due to a degenerative back injury that stopped him from lifting heavy weight.
  • Paladino also suffered an injury that setback his career, as he was a victim of the infamous pec injury bug from the 2017 Regionals.
  • Like Dicicco, Paladino’s last effort to qualify for the Games as an individual was the 2018 Open where he placed 157th.

The big picture: A number of factors have played in the failure of the boys teen division in producing the next foreseeable champion.

  • Injuries: As mentioned with Dicicco and Paladino devastating or multiple injuries has affected these young athletes to the point where they are just not healthy enough to compete and train at the level necessary to be a Games athlete.
  • Development: Teenage boys’ bodies mature at a slower rate than their female counterparts. During these formative years, boys are still continuing to fill out their muscle mass. Training with heavy weight and volume has in many instances led to injury as the body has yet to catch up with the progression.
  • Interest: As with the example of the 2015 teen athletes, most of those athletes stop competing after their Games experience. This could be due to all the distractions of being a teenage boy. Whether it be participating in traditional team sports while in high school or putting more emphasis in preparing for college. Training to be a competitive athlete is already hard for the professional in our sport, imagine being a teenage boy and trying to be a full time athlete.
  • Sanctionals: Looking at the earlier class of male competitors most stopped competing in the Open after the 2018 season which coincided with the elimination of Regionals as a pathway to the Games and replaced it with the Sanctionals. The first year of the Sanctional season had many unanswered questions leading up to it and for many teen division alumni they were unclear with the process. Add in travel costs and a schedule that were created more for professional and fulltime athletes, interest waned.
  • Time: The teen division has only been around for six years, so early returns have not produced the next Games champion yet but there are still a number of athletes who have just graduated from those divisions and could change everything. Dallin Pepper is arguably one the greatest teen athletes in CrossFit history after winning three division titles. The 2020 season was his first as an individual athlete and after a Open finish of 628th he had scheduled to compete at multiple Sanctionals. Cole Greashaber, who finished third in the 16-17 division in 2017, was starting to make his mark in the Sanctional circuit this season before the season ended prematurely.

The bottom line: Just like the division itself, the athletes are still young and there’s plenty of time for the boys teen division to start producing top athletes for the men’s division. Comparing Haley Adam’s successes and to expect the same from the boy’s division is premature especially when there are athletes like Sterner, Pepper, Mulheiros, Greashaber who have not had the chance to fully test themselves and compete against top-tier competition. 

  • There are also athletes like Tudor Magda on the horizon who have the tools and a training partner in this year’s Second Fittest Man on Earth Samuel Kwant to be successful. Kwant though not a graduate of the division at the games had plenty of experience as a teen competitor, competing as a 20-year old at his first Games in 2016 and Regionals at 18 years old. His experience, mentorship and knowledge of competing as a teen athlete could be what an athlete like Magda needs to become the next young champion.

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