CrossFit Games

A Case for Changing the Scoring Table: Haley Adams and the Rogue Invitational

November 10, 2021 by
Photo Credit: Haley Adams
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After this weekend’s competition in Round Rock, Texas, it’s hard to walk away critical. Rogue put on a fantastic show. Filled with characters old and new, tests of fitness and super strength, all with that family reunion feel. It was the off-season event we had all been waiting for. But… I’d be lying if I said I couldn’t nitpick. This is sports writing, after all. 

So let me start here by defending Rogue; it’s not totally their fault. Nor is it any privately run fitness competition; they are simply following an example set forth by the big dog, the CrossFit Games. The problem is with the scoring system and how it has the potential to keep athletes away from prize money, the podium, and even the crown. As the title eludes, this story is about Haley Adams and what I think is her rightful place of 3rd.

The Setup:

Dave Castro’s famous tagline for the CrossFit Games is, “we are looking to find the fittest on earth.” But the CrossFit Games have become about more than that now hasn’t it? In a time when we want athletes to be paid for their hard work, all year and funds are hard to find, the order behind the fittest matters. When we are talking about $10,000, $40,000, $100,000 drops in pay per place, I think we can all appreciate how scoring matters and exactly how much fitter someone is compared to another. So now that we have clarified that the order of who is fittest is a priority, let’s look at what I have always believed to be the crux of the matter… measuring fitness. 

Rogue used a 5 point differential per placementor the Invitational. 1st place gets 100 points, 2nd gets 95, 3rd gets 90, and so on down the line. So, to put in famous words, “it doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning is winning.” WRONG!!!! I offer that it matters exactly how much more fit you are than the next person. Let’s look at an example, and then I will show you how this is figured out. 

Event 1:

In this event, Cole Sager placed 4th, walking away with 85 points. This put him 15 points behind Pat Vellner in 1st. Yet, when we look at his performance, he finished merely 4 seconds behind Mederios, who earned 95 points. Compare this to Hopper’s finish in relation to Sager. Hopper was awarded 80 points for finishing 5th, but his performance was 39 seconds slower than that of Sager. Questioning the obvious, if every second counts, how is it that 4 seconds slower is worth 5 less points than 39 seconds slower? Easy, every second doesn’t count, placement counts. 

How could we score this differently? The answer is simple, use a Z-score system. This is what is used in things like standardized test show much babies weigh. When a teacher says, “you finished in the 80th percentile,” they are using a z-score system. They are saying we have scored millions of students and compared to all of those other scores; you are in the top 20%. Simplifying this further, we took a population, measured its averages, and applied it to an individual to see where it stood. 

Let’s apply this to event 1. Examining the scores, Pat Vellner remains at 100 points. Medeiros walks away with 95.92 points, not that dissimilar from normal scoring. Here’s where it gets interesting. BKG walked away with 95.56, Cole Sager with 95.19, and Hopper with 86.86 points. This shows that essentially Medeiros, BKG, and Sager had near equivalent performances in event 1. Their finishes were 08:01, 08:26, 08:28, 08:30, and 09:09 respectively. (*note all scores can be seen at the end in the men’s chart or the link:Alternate Scoring)

It’s easy to see how Pat Vellner’s almost 5 point difference from Justin Medeiros, in this case, is justified in relation to BKG and Sager’s less than 1 point from Medeiros. Likewise, the difference of around 8 points between Hopper and Cole Sager in this event makes more sense than Cole Sager being docked nearly the same amount for a 2-second difference behind BKG. If that’s not enough, let’s take another example. 

Event 2:

Let’s talk about the women. This example will be easier to see. In the final lift of the complex, Tia Toomey hit 260 lbs, Laura Horvath hit 257 lbs, and Amanda Barnhart hit 240 lbs. Each awarded with 100, 95, and 90 points, respectively. Yet, the differences were 3 lbs between Toomey and Horvath and a whopping 17 lbs between Horvath and Barnhart. Again, how is 3 lbs worth 5 points with 17 lbs being worth the same? 

So, if we look at this with a Z-scoring system Toomey would be awarded with 100 points, Horvath with 98.94 points, and Barnhart with 82.82 points. The differences would now be 1.06 points and 16.12 points. Seems a bit more fair right?

Putting It All Together:

The cumulative effects of scoring this way can keep athletes much closer together, as the tangible differences in their fitness are slight. So how does this all apply to Haley Adams? Let’s get into that with the tables below.

Women’s Final Results

Women’s Final Results when scored with both outcomes

Point Difference per Event (Z Score – Normal Score)

Point Change when changed from normal to Z-Score system

In the “Women’s Final Results” table, you can see the weekend’s outcome when scored with both systems. The chart directly above labeled “Point Difference Per Event” shows the point change when changed from the normal score system to the Z-Score system. In Event 1, Migala picked up an extra 2.13 points because her marginal performance was better in relation to the field. Likewise, in Event 6, Migala lost 13.94 points because, in relation to the field of athletes, her performance was farther away from the average than her awarded points show. 

As these score differences are added up when Haley Adams lost, she lost small. When she won, she won big. This is most notable in the clean and jerk complex. The average weight lifted amongst the entire women’s field was 224.75 lbs. Now, this is a weakness for Adams, but in the field, her 212 lbs was in the 23rd percentile, more deserving than the 10 points she was awarded. Thus, this is why she gained 13.54 points through the use of the Z-score system. (Again, all of the data can be found at: Alternative Scoring)

On the Contrary, when Migala won, she only won marginally more. Whereas, when she lost, she lost huge. The best example of this, as you can see, is during event 6 when she struggled on the return muscle-ups and handstand pushups. Migala came in 13th place during this event earning 35 points. If we put this normal score in Z-Score terms, this is equivalent to her being in the 35th percentile of the field. In reality, she was in the 21st percentile in the field. This loses her almost 14 points. 

When all the beans are counted, Adams would have picked up 30.47 more points, pushing her total up to 490.47 points. Migala lost a total of 17.81 points, taking her from 490 normal points to 472.19 Z-Score Points. This jumps Adams into 3rd and drops Migala into 6th. These small changes per event equate to huge sums in the end. 

Summary and  Close:

So to Ms. Haley Adams, I say I’m sorry. I see your hard work. You battled back; you fought hard. Though you were rewarded, you deserved more, $20,813.00 more, to be exact. I wish I could say you were the only one that has been negatively affected by this, but I can not (I’m lookin at you, Saxon Panchik, see: 2021 Games). I am working to change this. 

To the rest of us, the viewers, the fans, the event holders there is much more to be said for a performance-based scoring model. It would set up a system to push more impressive feats of fitness, more interesting finishes and help the sport evolve as a whole. That’s a conversation for another day. 

Let me leave you with this final thought. In the beginning, I said that I didn’t blame Rogue or any other event-holders. So am I okay with a straight scoring system for this event? Yes, because Rogue is not claiming to attempt to “find the fittest on earth.” Rogue is simply hosting a game, an exhibition of fitness. The athletes have entered this game understanding the rules. My issue is with CrossFit and the CrossFit Games, as they are claiming to “find the fittest on earth.” This is a scientific claim, a quantifiable claim, and it’s a claim that can be better substantiated.

I can hear a few naysayers now, “but the current scoring system has never crowned the wrong person!” Oh no? I’ll tell you that the 2017 games between Tia Toomey and Kara Saunders deserve a second look, as well as the final showdown between Rich Froning and Mat Fraser in 2014. Again, a conversation for another day. 

Thank you!

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