CrossFit Games

The Most Difficult Road Back to the Games

May 6, 2021 by
Photo courtesy of CrossFit Italian Showdown.
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Now that all the Semifinal draws are known, which athlete appears to have the most difficult road back to the Games this season? 

  • Note: It is always possible that a situation out of CrossFit’s control could force more competitions online, but we are projecting this article under the assumption of five live and five virtual Semifinals.

European men: The landscape for the men in European is changing, and it has the potential to make things very interesting. As things currently stand, with both European Semifinals being online competitions, we really only see three men in Europe with clear paths to the Games: Jonne Koski at the German Throwdown, and Bjorgvin Karl Gudmundsson and Frederik Aegidius at the Lowlands Throwdown. Not only do these three men have great resumes in terms of Games experience and performance, they have consistently also done well in online formats. 

  • Aegidius (along with Scott Panchik and Ben Smith) trails only Rich Froning in top 100 Open finishes (Aegidius suffered a penalty in 2019 that took him outside the top 100 otherwise he would joining Froning alone atop this list)
  • Since 2015, Koski has finished inside the top 50 every year in the Open (he was 51st in 2014) and just placed 3rd in the Quarterfinals
  • Gudmundsson had his worst Open finish this year (73rd) since 2013. During that span he’s accumulated four top ten Open finishes including second in 2019. He likely hasn’t come close to peaking yet, and still managed 5th in the Quarterfinals also.

There are certainly other veterans in Europe who will be looking to add to their legacies, but the path for these men to get back to the Games will likely not be as easy. Switzerland’s Adrian Mundwiler and Lukas Esslinger, along with the UK’s Elliot Simmonds are the headliners in this group as the only other men in the European Semifinals with at least two years of Games experience. 

Mundwiler will be competing at the Lowlands Throwdown, and it seems his path to the Games will be more straightforward than Esslinger and Simmonds who are both in Germany. Besides Mundwiler the other major players in Lowlands are online sensations Simon Mantyla and Reggie Fasa along with Latvia’s five-time fittest man (who is still only 23 years old) Uldis Upenieks and the biggest wildcard in almost any field he enters, Poland’s Bronislaw Olencowicz. 

Esslinger and Simmonds will have their hands full with several well established athletes from Regionals/Sanctionals who are all looking to make their first CrossFit Games. Andre Houdet, Lazar Dukic, Giorgos Karavis, Joshua Al-Chamaa, Alex Kotoulas, Fabian Beneito, and Haraldur Holgersson all have certain attributes and results which suggest that a top five finish in this competition is not out of the question, making both Esslinger and Simmonds candidates for the most difficult path back to the Games. 

North American men: First of all, when ranking the North American men prior to seeing their Semifinal draw we considered there to be at least 40, and arguably as many as 50 athletes who would not be out of place at the Games. Seeing as they only get 20 spots, it felt likely that a couple of these would have had the potential to be the most competitive Semifinals anywhere on the planet, producing some of the most difficult results for Games veterans to return to the biggest stage this summer.

Of the 20 men ranked highest in our power rankings prior to seeing the draws for each competition the distribution was:

  • Mid Atlantic CrossFit Championship: six.
  • Granite Games: three.
  • West Coast Classic: five.
  • Atlas Games: six. 

Granite Games: Immediately this jumps off the page as the perceived “weakest” men’s field in North America. This should bode really well for Chandler Smith, Tim Paulson, and Saxon Panchik. It may also Open the door for five time individual Games athlete Rogelio Gamboa to earn another trip to the Games, and pave the way for potential breakthrough years for several other men.

West Coast Classic: Although exactly five men we projected as top 20 find themselves in this competition, this field is incredibly deep. Noah Ohlsen and Cole Sager are the headliners here, but Sager has often relied on come from behind efforts in this format to get to the Games. With this field, that might not work out if he does find himself too far outside the top five heading into the last day. 

Other Games veterans like Sean Sweeney, Will Moorad, Brandon Luckett, Mitchel Stevenson, and John Coltey bolster this field. However, several Games hopefuls including Cedric Lapointe, Dallin Pepper, Tola Morakinyo, Tudor Magda, Jake Berman, Kyle Bernier, Spencer Panchik, and James Sprague make this field incredibly volatile and immediately propel everyone who isn’t named Noah Ohlsen into the conversation of most difficult return path to the Games.

Mid Atlantic CrossFit Challenge: The first of two of these events with six men we had projected into the top 20 will kick action off for Semifinals in North America on May 28. Veterans Ben Smith and Scott Panchik should have enough experience to secure a top five spot. Top five finishers from last year, Justin Medeiros and Samuel Kwant, are also strong candidates to do well. The final spot is going to likely be tough to come by, but Quarterfinals winner Travis Mayer will likely be the pick of most, but Mayer, like Sager, is one of those guys who has historically had to fight for his place at the Games (before ultimately doing pretty well there once making it).

Standing in his way are Games veterans Connor Duddy, Travis Williams and Marquan Jones along with Games hopefuls Jayson Hopper, Josh Woodhull, Adam Klink, Angelo DiCicco, and Luke Parker who could all pose legitimate threats over a weekend long competition. Mayer must be considered one of the athletes whose path back is amongst the most challenging.

Atlas Games: The only virtual competition in North America features primarily Canadian men, but the handful of Americans who have been added to the mix here are actually fairly formidable competition. Most notably amongst the Americans are Logan Collins, Tyler Christophel, Dane Smith, and Griffin Roelle. Considering Collins’ overall impressive consistency in any format (six  straight top 50 Open finishes and three top 15 finishes in his last three years at the Games)  and Christophel’s impressive recent performances in online competitions (9th in the Open, 8th in North America at Quarterfinals), this is not welcome news for the Canadian men who were hoping to get a top five finish. 

The standout Canadians are Patrick Vellner, Jeffrey Adler, Samuel Cournoyer, Alexandre Caron, but they are by no means the only exceptional Canadians in this field. In addition to these men, Alex Vigneault, Stephane Cossette, and Adam Davidson also all finished ahead of the one name you are still looking for in this section during Quarterfinals: Brent Fikowski. 

If Fikowski were able to compete live, we have no doubt that he would handily find his way to the Games, possibly even winning a Semifinal in convincing fashion (as we’ve seen before). However, the online format of this competition is the absolute last thing Fikowski wants to see, especially with so many incredible online performers in this group. 

Fikowski did finish 22nd this year in the worldwide Open, which is tied for his best ever Open finish (2017), but against this field that still would have only been sixth best. For the sake of competition at the Games, everyone should be hoping Fikowski makes it because in a full weekend of live competition he is undoubtedly a podium threat. 

So, who has the toughest road back?: Based exclusively on the fact one of the best live competitors in the sport is going to be forced to try to qualify via a process of three (or four, should he have to do the Last Chance Qualifier) online competitions, the most difficult road back to the Games this year is Brent Fikowski’s. 

The big picture: Fikowski is by no means the only multi-year Games veteran who has a mountain to climb to earn a trip to Madison though. Travis Mayer, Lukas Esslinger, Elliot Simmonds, and Cole Sager all also find themselves in a position heading into Semis which appears precarious. The depth of the competitive fields on the men’s side of the house is only getting deeper. There is little room for error for most of the men in this next stage of competition, and that’s exactly how it should be. 

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