Do “Wild Cards” Make A Difference in the Open?

January 19, 2021 by
Courtesy of Kay Wiese
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Every year in the Open, elite athletes dominate the top of the leaderboard. But every once in a while, there’s an occasional anomaly. The wild card that comes out of nowhere on a less than traditional CrossFit workout. The strength specialist who wins the one-rep max event or the world-class runner who wins the burpee workout.

One big thing: As CrossFit tries to make the Open more accessible to all and takes away higher-skilled gymnastics movements like ring muscle-ups, the question has been raised as to whether it will make it more difficult for higher-level athletes to separate themselves from the crowd.

Remind me: Over the years, we’ve seen various “wild card” athletes come to the forefront on certain specialty workouts.

  • In 2012, Russian aerobic gymnast Danila Shokin, tied perennial Games athlete Scott Panchik in 12.1 by completing 161 burpees in 7 minutes. Shokin would go on to finish 1,189th in the world in the 2012 Open.
  • In 2017, underdog Scott Cotril dominated the burpee box jump over, dumbbell snatch combination of 17.1, before going on to finish 698th in the world.
  • In 2018, Hinrik Ingri Oskarsson finished second in 18.1 before going on to finish 21,496th in the world.
  • In 2018, Chelsea Sellers cleaned 276 pounds to win 18.2a before going on to finish 1,440th in the world.
  • In 2019, Snorre Fjaagesund dominated the ground to overhead and burpees over the bar of 19.1 before finishing 88,126th in the world.

Shaking up the leaderboard: While typically the top of the Open leaderboard is decorated with the familiar faces. occasionally a specialty workout, such as a one-rep max, or a low skill conditioning workout can cause the leaderboard to shake up.

  • In 2018, 13 athletes outside of the top 200 dominated the top of the leaderboard in the one rep max clean of 18.2a. The first athlete with an overall finish inside the top 200 was Ben Smith, who came in 14th on that event with a 385 pound clean.
  • On the womens’ side in 18.2a, the average overall finish of the top 15 ladies in that event was 5,080. Compared to a more classic CrossFit workout, like 18.3, which featured more high skill movements like muscle-ups and overhead squats, where the average overall finish of the top 15 ladies was 50.
  • In 2015, on the one-rep max clean and jerk, the average overall finish for the top 15 athletes in that workout was 7,379 for the men and 1,902 for women. Comparatively, 15.1, which featured more high-skill movements like toes to bars and snatches, the average overall finish for the top 15 was 63 for the women and 1,219 for the men.

Does it matter?: So does CrossFit eliminating high skill movements like ring muscle-ups and potentially bar muscle-ups, mean that low skill workouts or specialty workouts like 1-rep max lifts will knock potential Games athletes down the leaderboard? The answer is, probably not.

  • While the average overall finish for the top 15 athletes on specialty and low skill workouts is significantly higher than on classic CrossFit and high skill workouts, the impact is not as big as it seems.
  • In 2020, the lowest finish for men in the top ten across all five workouts was 73rd and the lowest finish for women in the top ten across all five workouts was 70th.
  • From these numbers, we can see that despite the wild card finishers in specialty workouts, the top ten still remain on top overall even if they get a small dip from wild card athletes.

The fit get fitter: Not only do wild card finishers not make a significant enough impact to push around the top ten athletes over the years, but they’ve also been making less and less of a difference as the fittest in the world only get fitter and closer in on their weaknesses.

  • In 2015, the lowest finish across any workout for the top ten men and women was 264th and 101st respectively.
  • That number dropped to 73rd and 70th for men and women respectively in 2020.
  • The average finish in each workout dropped by nearly 50 points for men and 23 points for women from 2015 to 2020.

The net gets wider: Not only have the fittest on earth established their dominance on the leaderboard over the years despite the wild cards, but the new qualification system in this year’s Open also widens the number of athletes who move through to the second round.

  • Before the change in 2018 to the sanctionals system, the less than 1% of athletes who qualified for regionals from the Open.
  • Now, in the new system in 2021, 10% of individual athletes will qualify for the quarterfinals, while 25% of teams will qualify.
  • This new expansion means that even athletes impacted by wild card finishers and perhaps even wildcard finishers themselves could move forward into the next stage.

The big picture: As CrossFit continues to create an Open that is more accessible to all, it seems that “less challenging” workouts won’t make as much of an impact on the fittest on earth as they continue to improve and eliminate their weaknesses. Not only that but the new qualification system opens up for more athletes to move on and be less impacted by specialty and low skill workouts.

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