Mid-Atlantic CrossFit Challenge Semifinal Features Star-Studded Line-Up, Past Champions
The first of four North America Semifinal events kick-off this weekend, as the Mid-Atlantic CrossFit Challenge hosts 60 individual and 20 team hopefuls looking to secure their invitations to the 2021 NOBULL CrossFit Games. The home of the University of Tennessee basketball teams, Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville will be the battleground for what could be the most star-studded and competitive field in the Semifinal stage.
What’s on the line: Along with a Games invite, the top-five finishers in each division will take home prize money from a total prize purse of $45,000. Male individual athletes who finish 6-8 earn a spot to the Last Chance Qualifier that will be held online June 28-July 4. The women’s division at the MACC received an extra Last Chance Qualifier spot due the backfill process that resulted in Tia-Clair Toomey, Emma Chapman and Carla Henriet competing at the event due to travel restrictions.
- First – $5,000
- Second – $4,000
- Third – $3,000
- Fourth – $2,000
- Fifth – $1,000
Who to watch: The Semifinal features six athletes who have held the title of “The Fittest” at one point during their career, highlighted by the reigning and defending, four-time Games champion Tia-Clair Toomey. Rich Froning has four individual titles and has led Mayhem Freedom to four additional championships. Ben Smith captured the “Fittest” title in 2015, Haley Adams was the “Fittest 16-17 Year Old Girl” in 2018, Olivia Sulek was the “Fittest 14-15 Year Old Girl” in 2018 and Angelo Dicicco was the 2017 “Fittest 16-17 Year Old Boy”.
Individuals (Women): The women’s field was stacked before the inclusion of Toomey and with the champ in the fold now, four of the top seven women from last year’s Games will be sharing the floor. Altogether 12 women have combined for 42 Games appearances across multiple divisions. Another eight women have competed in Regionals.
- Tia-Clair Toomey hasn’t lost in a live competition since finishing 2nd at the Pacific Regional in 2017. Since that time she has asserted herself as the most dominant female athlete in the sport. She has won nine-straight CrossFit sanctioned competitions. This doesn’t include her first worldwide Open victory or her win in the Oceania Quarterfinal this season.
- Amanda Barnhart heads into the MACC with momentum after winning the North America Quarters. The three-time Games veteran has finished in the top-ten in the last two Games and is considered a podium favorite this year. In the Quarters she was one of just two athletes in North America to record multiple top-five finishes.
- Brooke Wells is coming off her best finish at the Games last year, placing fifth. This year she changed training camps, choosing PRVN and Shane Orr as her coach and training with Toomey in the lead up to the two facing each other on the MACC competition floor. Wells finished fifth in the Quarters after a ninth place finish in the Open.
- Haley Adams has made five appearances at the Games, three in the teen division and two as an individual, her worst finish during that time has been sixth. After finishing fourth last year, the 20-year old finished 10th in the Open. She started the Quarters with three-straight top-five finishes including finishing 1st in Test 3. Look for Adams to put on a show in Event 4 and 6 as both play into her skill set.
- Feeroozeh Saghafi was solid in the Quarters, finishing sixth. All of her finishes were in the top-100 including a win in Test 2. The 2019 Games athlete finished 24th in her debut and has been training with Panchik for this moment as she seeks her second Games invite.
- Olivia Sulek and Rebecca Voigt Miller have each already punched their tickets to Madison through the Age Group Online Qualifier. The 17-year old Sulek is one of the youngest competitors competing in the Semifinals while at 40-years old and 12 Games appearances, Voigt Miller is one of the most experienced.
- Darkhorse Pick: Christine Kolenbrander has appeared at the Games twice on a team with CrossFit 417. The last two seasons she has devoted herself to qualifying as an individual. After coming up short last season due to the pandemic, she will make a run at one of the top-five spots. She finished 16th in the Quarters highlighted by her third place finish in Test 4 with a four-rep max front squat of 282 lbs.
Individuals (Men): The men’s field is stacked with contenders to Mathew Fraser’s vacant “Fittest” crown. Ten of the 30 athletes have competed at the Games and an additional 12 have CrossFit Regional appearances. One of those Games athletes has worn the crown of “Fittest on Earth” and two others stood on the podium at the 2020 Games. The fight for a top-five finish and the resulting Games invitations will be close with potentially as many as eight to ten athletes fighting for those spots.
- Scott Panchik is considered the favorite to win the MACC based on his performances this season in the Open (2nd in the world) and in the Quarterfinals (2nd in North America, two points behind the leader). The eight-time Games qualifier looks in great shape after taking a year off from individual competition and is poised to record his first career Games podium finish and perhaps sit on the now-vacant throne as the “Fittest”.
- Travis Mayer held off Panchik to win the North America Quarters thanks in part to four top-40 finishes including two in the top-15. This year the six-time Games athlete looks fitter, stronger and most importantly more driven than ever thanks in part to training partner Noah Ohlsen and the Training Think Tank crew.
- Justin Medeiros burst onto the scene last year as a 21-year old rookie and finished third at the Games. This year he has even bigger goals and his early stage performances show that. His 57th placing in the Open was a career-best and he parlayed that into a sixth place in the Quarters highlighted by recording the best time in North America in Test 2 with a time of 13:46 in the grueling chipper. Medeiros has a unique ability to thrive in long workouts that require a lot of pain and suffering which will help him in the MACC based on its programming. Look for him to be among the top finishers in Event 2, Event 4 and the final event, all of which fall in his wheelhouse.
- Samuel Kwant, as always, didn’t make much noise in his 2021 performance, similar to his 2020 season which saw him finish as the second “Fittest Man on Earth.” Kwant bounced back from a disappointing Open (224th, his worst Open finish since 2015) to place 16th in the Quarters. The 25-year old Games veteran is seeking his fifth Games invitation and a run to the vacated spot atop the podium.
- Travis Williams had a roller coaster 2020 both professionally and personally but has responded well this season in his return to individual competition after competing the last three years on a team in an attempt to topple Mayhem Freedom. His return resulted in a 20th place finish in the Quarters and among the field of favorites for a top-5 finish at the MACC.
- Ben Smith saw his streak of 11-straight Games appearances snapped last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He took that time to recover from injuries that plagued him during the 2019 season and based on his social media posts it appears that he’s hitting those strength numbers that we were used to seeing when he was one of the top athletes in the world. In the Quarters he recorded four top-100 finishes including a four-rep max front squat of 387 lbs.
- Connor Duddy, at just 28 years old, is a veteran of three Regionals and one Games appearance in 2019 where he placed an impressive 22nd highlighted by a 5th place finish in the Sprint Couplet. The last four seasons he has placed in the top-50 worldwide in the Open including finishing 44th this year. In the Quarters he finished 32nd in North America.
- Darkhorse Pick: Jayson Hopper shouldn’t be hard to spot on the MACC floor, standing 6’1” and weighing 215 pounds, he is one of the bigger athletes in the field as well as one of the youngest at 23 years old. Despite his age, the former Clemson wide receiver (joining Games veteran Marquan Jones as former Tiger wide receivers competing at the MACC), has competed in five Opens, making huge strides along the way. This year he placed 19th, an improvement from 172nd in 2020 and a huge jump from 15,007 when he started in 2017. As with most tall athletes he thrives in workouts that involve wall balls and rowing which was coincidentally what the workout he won in the Quarters included, finishing Test 3 in 7:45, the top time in the world.
Teams: Twenty teams from throughout the United States will be fighting for one of the five Games spots in the new team division format. Gone is the “Super Team” format which was prevalent the last few seasons. The Games have gone back to the affiliate model with only athletes who train at the actual affiliate location eligible to compete. All of the top five teams competing in this Semifinal finished in the top 20 in Quarterfinals and in the top 40 in the world during the Open.
- Mayhem Freedom is technically the defending Games champion after having their opportunity to compete taken away when the team competition was cancelled due to the pandemic. Despite the new rules discouraging the assembly of the “Super Teams” Froning has gathered a team that seems nearly impossible to beat even under the old rules. Taylor Williamson and Andrea Nisler were mainstays of the OC3 teams that were always battling for podium spots at the Games. Chase Hill moved over from Mayhem Independence to fill the spot that Panchik once held. Freedom so far has dominated the team competitions winning the Open and the Quarters. They have won six of the nine events through the first two stages.
- CrossFit Westchase out of the Tampa area finished 7th in the Quarters. They recorded three top-15 finishes including tenth in Test 2. The team features Aaron Hanna who competed at the 2015 Games as an individual, finishing 12th. This is one of two teams that Westchase has competing in the Semifinals, Westchase Largo will compete at next week’s Granite Games.
- On Track placed 9th in North America in the Quarters. The team has never appeared at the Games but the two female athletes are no strangers to Games and Regional competitions. 22-year old Adison Balderston came in 7th place in the 16-17 year old teenage girls division in 2016. Janelle Stites has four Regional appearances including three with On Track. In the Quarters they recorded two top-five finishes including finishing second in Test 5.
- Lone Star CrossFit made an appearance at the 2018 Games where they finished 25th. The team will be one of the stronger teams at the MACC based on their performance in Test 4 of the Quarters, finishing 12th with a combined weight lifted of 1,213 pounds. They also recorded top-ten finishes in Test 3 and 5.
- Training Think Tank is a widely known name due to their stable of individual athletes but Max El Hag has pulled together a strong team that has a good chance to represent the camp at the Games. Their roster includes some impressive athletes, including four time regionals competitor Kyle Ruth and five-time regionals competitor Brandi McGoldrick.
- Darkhorse Picks: CrossFit Omaha and Gambit CrossFit are two teams that feature Games and Regional athletes on their rosters. CrossFit Omaha is the affiliate the Stacie Tovar runs but will not be competing with at the MACC. Aaron Kersigo and Madison Dunning each competed on a team at the 2018 Central Regionals, Kersigo for Omaha placing 22nd and Dunning with CrossFit Kilo 2, placing 10th. Gambit features Games veteran Kelley Jackson who is one of a handful of athletes who has competed in the Open, Individual Quarterfinals, Team Quarterfinals and AGOQ. It was through the AGOQ this year that Jackson qualified for her fourth trip to the Games. She is joined by Joel Laney, Ian Cox and Cori Clark.
What to watch for: For the individuals the programming appears to favor those athletes who know how to suffer as three of the six events can be classified as long chippers with the three each having time caps at or above 15 minutes. The programming has a great balance of strength, gymnastics and cardiovascular capacity. The Semifinal will have the look and feel of a Regional and the star power competing will make for some compelling and exciting races.
- The MACC will be live-streamed on CrossFit’s official website and social media platforms.
- The Morning Chalk Up crew will be on site to deliver updates throughout. You can follow our coverage on our MACC event page and on Instagram and YouTube.