CrossFit Games

How Does 2021’s Qualifying Format Compare to Past Seasons?

September 14, 2021 by
Photo Credit: John Newby
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CrossFit Home Office revealed in December 2020 that the season format would change yet again. No longer would athletes head to Sanctionals around the world with the goal of qualifying for the CrossFit Games. They would follow a similar format to the Regionals era, albeit with the introduction of a new stage: Quarterfinals. 

Remind me: From 2011 until 2018, the athletes competed in the Open and then their respective Regionals with the goal of reaching the CrossFit Games. The format changed in 2019 and 2020 to give athletes the ability to punch their ticket to Madison by becoming a national champion in the Open or by winning Sanctioned events, such as the Dubai CrossFit Championship, the Rogue Invitational, and Wodapalooza

  • The 2021 season followed a similar format to the Regionals era. The athletes started with a shortened version of the Open and then competed in the online Quarterfinals. The top athletes from this portion headed to Semifinals for one final weekend of competition before the CrossFit Games. 
  • CrossFit also brought back the Last Chance Qualifier that originally debuted during the 2009 season, providing four athletes (two men, two women) with one final opportunity to head to Madison by completing four final online workouts. 

What they’re saying: “I was happy with how the season qualification format played out. It obviously mirrored the old Regional format, which I thought was good for the community as it brought familiarity and was easier to follow,” said Cole Sager.  

  • “I preferred the shorter Open and the Quarterfinals aspect this year, as opposed to the past Open structure. I felt that it made the Open more community-focused. I do think there is room for growth and improvement upon how the season is structured to find the fittest individuals and bring even more economic fairness to the field at large.” 
  • Patrick Vellner: “I would consider the old Regionals format and the most recent format to be roughly the same since they qualify through a similar linear process. Both that and the Sanctionals system worked for different reasons. 
  • “The current format is definitely easier to follow, but the Sanctional system, in my opinion, provided greater opportunities for athletes both financially and in terms of experience.”

Opportunity awaits: The short-lived Sanctionals format offered a total of 15 competitions in 2019 that athletes could use to secure a spot at the CrossFit Games. The 2020 season only featured five before COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the rest. 

  • The Regionals era offered a range of eight to 17 competitions, depending on the year. 2011-2014 had 17 Regionals, including three in Canada. 2015-2017 whittled the number down to eight while 2018 featured nine total.
  • The 2021 season relied on ten Semifinals, as well as the LCQ, to fill out the roster of athletes. Some sent five people in each division to the games while others sent only three. 

The Sanctionals format sparked numerous discussions due to only the winner locking up a spot at the CrossFit Games. Some people found the format confusing, especially with athletes qualifying in other ways and prompting CrossFit to backfill spots. However, some Games veterans expressed appreciation for the added opportunities to earn money at the independently-hosted events.  

To Vellner’s point, the athlete that won Wodapalooza walked away with $25,000. Second place took home $15,000 while third locked up $10,000. Even the 10th place finisher won $1,000 as part of the $100,000 purse.

  • The Rogue Invitational awarded $50,000 to the first-place finishers in the male and female divisions. Second and third place finishers won $35,000 and $25,000, respectively. 
  • The Dubai CrossFit Championship was a special case. Mat Fraser won seven events throughout the competition, earning $3,000 in six of them. He added a $30,000 bonus for winning the final event, as well as another $50,000 for the entire competition. 

Regionals featured smaller prize purses. First took home $5,000 while second walked away with $4,000. Third, fourth, and fifth earned $3,000, $2,000, and $1,000. The Open originally did not pay out prize money, but CrossFit reversed course in 2021 by awarding larger cash prizes during the Open. 

  • The Regionals format, while easy to understand, did little to offset the travel costs for the athletes as they headed to Ohio, California, or any of the other competition sites. 

The bottom line: The 2021 CrossFit Games season marked a return to more familiar territory, helping athletes and fans alike better understand how each competitor secured their spot in the big show. It’s very possible that the format will change in the future based on CrossFit’s past, but the current iteration showed that it could help a wide variety of athletes showcase their skills. 

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