CrossFit Games

Athletes Withdraw and Upset the Balance of the CrossFit Games

July 30, 2021 by
Photo Credit: John Newby
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As spectators look up at the jumbotron to see who is in each heat at the start of the event, an increasing number of “WD’s” are appearing next to athletes names. History is being made but not in a way that anyone wants to see as more and more athletes withdraw from the competition.

One big thing: Seven individual athletes and one masters athlete have withdrawn from the 2021 NOBULL CrossFit Games after two days of competition. Kari Pearce, Bethany Shadburne, and Dan Bailey (35-39) did not hit the competition floor after testing positive for COVID-19 prior to the first event. Kara Saunders completed the first day of competition and then withdrew while revealing that she had previously contracted COVID-19 and was now suffering from the after-effects.

  • Kara’s husband Matt Saunders said on Instagram, she had “mild symptoms” but was able to continue in the competition after testing negative for COVID-19.
  • Matt continued to explain, the Games veteran had a post-viral syndrome that drastically limited her lung capacity. Saunders could only manage roughly 10 seconds of intensity before having to stop and recover.

The stream of athletes withdrawing continued on Friday afternoon. Sean Sweeney completed the first event of the day but did not head to the Coliseum with his peers. Instead, CrossFit released a statement saying he withdrew for medical reasons, but confirmed he didn’t have COVID-19. 

  • Sweeney posted a long message on Instagram saying he had an allergic reaction to something on Monday night. He struggled through Wednesday before waking up in rough shape on Thursday. 
  • The veteran Games athlete took steps to recover during the rest day, but he woke up on Friday and “felt like shit.” Sweeney tried to power through the workouts on adrenaline, but he couldn’t continue after Event 5.

Dani Speegle, Sam Stewart, and Adrian Mundwiler all withdrew from the competition on Friday due to medical issues. Speegle landed wrong on a rope climb in Event 4, suffering what CrossFit Invictus called potential sprained ankle ligaments and a bone contusion. The event staff did not provide a reason why Mundwiler or Stewart withdrew from the competition. Finally, Aleksandar Ilin withdrew after two events, ending the weekend 38th. 

Historic numbers: Athletes withdrawing from the competition is nothing new for the CrossFit Games. At least one athlete pulled out in 2007, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, primarily due to injuries.

Saunders was one of five athletes that withdrew in 2014, doing so amid a strong performance. She was in contention for the title of Fittest on Earth entering the final day, but she had to withdraw after failing to complete Midline March. She missed the final two events while Camille Leblanc-Bazinet won her sole gold medal. 

However, the 2021 season is the only year in CrossFit Games history where athletes had to withdraw for such a wide variety of medical reasons and in such large numbers. These losses disrupted the field and took some contenders off the board with a large variety of events remaining. Instead of seeing Pearce fight for her second consecutive podium finish, the fans could only wonder what would have happened in the coliseum. 

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