CrossFit Games

Adaptive Discussion: The Path For All Divisions in 2022 And Beyond

November 17, 2021 by
Photo Credit: CrossFit Games
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The announcement of the 2022 CrossFit Games season schedule more than three months prior to the official kick off of the season was a welcomed sight to the community. The announcement laid out the dates, and structural flow of the season that included some key additions and changes to streamline the calendar for all divisions. 

Not everyone was content with the full extent of the changes however, and despite the addition of an additional qualifying stage, members of the adaptive community were vocal in their disapproval of not including more divisions into the live competition schedule at the CrossFit Games. 

  • As was the case in 2021, three adaptive divisions will compete in-person at the CrossFit Games – Upper Extremity, Lower Extremity, and Neuromuscular – with the remaining divisions gaining an additional competition stage to crown their fittest at the Semifinal level virtually. 

What’s being said: Mike Witous, third place finisher in the men’s short stature division in the 2021 Open and Steph Roach (formerly Hammerman), longtime advocate in the adaptive community and the first level 2 CrossFit trainer with cerebral palsy, took to social media to share their thoughts about the changes

  • Witous: “(Dave Castro and Eric Roza) Do Better if you truly care about adaptive athletes. Learn from them in how they put on events for all adaptives, not just the ones who need the least modifications for equipment. Not including Seated, Visually Impaired, intellectual and short stature is an embarrassment to the sport. Then giving us a “Virtual Semi-Final/Games” just seems like the ultimate cash grab.”
  • (in a separate post) “We aren’t looking for handouts, and never would ask for one. I just want an explanation as to how Crossfit thinks we can grow a division that isn’t in-person at the games or even showcased on their media pages in any way. I don’t know how they expect it to grow past where it is currently without assistance.”

Roach: “I applaud (CrossFit) and its staff for opening there doors to this idea, but if you’re going to give people an opportunity to compete for a spot at your event that opportunity needs to be available for all divisions and not just the divisions it’s easier to setup for, prepare for or navigate equipment around.”

  • To be clear NO ONE is asking for a handout and I certainly would not be at the level to compete but, these RX Seated athletes, visually impaired athletes and short stature athletes should have the opportunity to EARN their spot to compete.”

Alec Zirkenbach, executive director for the Adaptive Training Academy (ATA), wrote the adaptive classification manual for CrossFit and helped run the adaptive division competitions at the Games. Following the season structure announcement, he provided some valuable insight into the present and future status of the adaptive divisions.

  • “CrossFit leadership is dedicated to the inclusion of adaptive athletes at all levels of completion, and they are planning to have an equitable opportunity for every division to compete at the Finals. There are a lot of factors that go into the decisions to expand the adaptive divisions, many of which have nothing to do with the pure desire for inclusion.”
  • “Improvements are being made each year to make the adaptive divisions more inclusive and fair. This year there are additional rounds for everyone with the semifinals and online finals, plus an updated Adaptive Athlete Policy (classification manual). Even the age group divisions are still evolving, and they’ve existed since 2010.”
  • “More participation in every division will most certainly drive the expansion of the competition season and potentially more divisions. CrossFit leadership is aware that the adaptive divisions can’t be compared to the numbers of athletes in the age group divisions, and that each adaptive division will grow at a different rate due to the available population of eligible adaptive athletes.”

In talking with members of the community, the topic of participation growth and competitive athlete pool consistently arises as the linchpin for new adaptive divisions hoping to earn a chance at competing live at the Games. Looking at the broader history of the sport in general, those same metrics have always been a driver of change and representation at all levels of competition. 

  • In 2015, the Regional structure was changed significantly reducing the total number of Regional competitions from 17 down to just eight. The explosion of European and international participation was the impetus for the adjustments that included a reduction in the number of guaranteed spots at the Games for Americas (30 down to 15) and an increase in the number of potential spots for international athletes (13 up to 25).
  • In 2018, the trend continued with yet another realignment favoring international athletes thanks to continued growth. An additional Regional was created for Europe, and Latin America regained their Regional that was originally absorbed into the South Regional back in 2015. The result was the number of international individual athletes at the Games increasing from 27 in 2017 to 36 in 2018. 

The current reality is that for some adaptive divisions the participation numbers and competitive landscape still needs time to develop, and given what goes into the logistics of the Games, the numbers do not warrant a full, in-person competition at the Games just yet. 

  • In the short stature and vision divisions, the participation number will need a significant bump in 2022 to hopefully expand opportunities. Just 12 athletes in the short stature division, and 31 athletes in the vision division submitted all four scores for the Open. 
  • Both seated divisions and the intellectual divisions could be next in line to see inclusion into live competition if their number grow from 2021. Seated with hip (64), seated without hip (72), and intellectual (61) had more athletes completing the Open in its entirety.
  • One competitive hurdle is the fact that in every one of the five divisions listed above, athletes who failed to submit one or more scores in the Open would still be in line to move forward in the competition ahead of athletes who completed all four workouts. 

Generally speaking, it is hard to visualize the expansion of competition when the landscape allows for athletes who straight up don’t submit scores to earn a spot further down the line over those that do. Traditional elements of fairness in sport get murky in these situations. 

  • To Zirkenbach’s point each division should be afforded the opportunity to be graded on different scales given the available population and eligible athletes for their division, and for that the most prudent approach – as difficult as it may be  given the fact that this is year two of the adaptive divisions – will be to have patience. 

It will also require dedicated efforts from CrossFit to highlight and showcase athletes across all adaptive divisions throughout the course of the full competition season, something that is to be expected in 2022 considering the success of year one from the adaptive divisions, particularly at the Games. 

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