Opinion: The Affiliate Cup: Europe Has Arrived, the Brits are Coming
With the 2022 CrossFit Games season dates announced and the Affiliate Cup remaining in play, let’s take a look back at the top of the 2021 Games leaderboard. It’s looking significantly more international, with a strong showing from Europe. Looking closer it seems teams from the UK are making significant gains on the European Leaderboards.
For the 2021 CrossFit Games season, we saw the return of the Affiliate Cup and with it we’ve seen a break in the long-time dominance of North American teams in the upper echelons of the Games leaderboard.
Yes, CrossFit Mayhem topped the podium for a fifth time, but if we look at the flags of the top-10 teams this year, it’s distinctly more international than it has been in the past.
During Sanctionals, the 2019 and the ill-fated 2020 season, teams were geographically free to both construct and compete as they wish, and one could argue the strength of North America in the sport of fitness would allow more teams from this region to both make it to the Games and excel once there.
However, even in 2017 and 2018, when the Teams were expected to “primarily train at the same gym” we saw near if not total dominance by North America in the top-10 final placing.
Fast-forward to 2021 and it’s looking very different. Europe placed four of its 10 teams in the top-10 and three in the top-5. CrossFit Nordic were back in the top 10 for the first time since 2016, joined by fellow Scandinavian team CrossFit Oslo in 2nd. France debuted on the podium with CrossFit Genas whilst Motion Training (CrossFit Surbiton) finished in 4th. Oceania managed an impressive conversion of its three teams into two top-10 finishes – Plus64 CrossFit (6th) and CrossFit Urban Energy (7th); CrossFit Awaside were just outside in 11th.
There’s a reasonable hypothesis that the long-acknowledged strength of the European field is forging strong teams as well as individuals; but the author, who’d want to support that with data, will take a more general look at Europe and more specifically a surge of teams from the UK, who sent three of the 10 European teams to the Games and had an even stronger presence at Semifinals.
The Golden Age of CrossFit
In the “golden age” of Regionals (2014-2018) UK representation at Regionals was ever-present and come 2018, at the European Regional, the UK had an impressive 10 teams on the floor in Berlin. Despite this, no UK team made the trip to Madison that year and CrossFit JST remained the only team to have made it all the way to the pinnacle of the sport.
Fans and competitors alike would not be amiss for seeing this 2018 up-tick in Regional representation as the imminent dawn of more UK Teams at the Games. However, with the imminent season structure shake-up, the rulebook was re-written and the UK Team scene went somewhat backwards.
There were still some UK-based teams out there fighting for the hallowed top spots at Sanctionals. The Athlete Program, led by long-time captain Mike Catris had at least 4 podium finishes across the two seasons and JST Compete managed to grab a qualifying spot at Reykjavik in 2019. However, we can’t ignore that whilst the Sanctionals circuit offered exciting opportunity to travel and compete in amazing places around the world, the single qualifying spot, likely inclusion of international super-teams and increased travel costs potentially deterred, and even excluded, the more traditional affiliate-based UK teams.
2021 Games Restructure and Beyond
Fast-forward to the end of the 2021 CrossFit Games Open and things were looking mighty different on the Team front for the UK, and only set to continue as Quarterfinals approached.
Now back under the Affiliate Cup structure and with the top 10% of teams in Europe eligible to progress to the Quarterfinals, UK Affiliate teams made up 24% of the eligible teams; even overshadowing Sweden with 11 teams who have a long-time presence on the Regionals podiums with the likes of CrossFit Fabriken.
Teams from Denmark (6) and Norway (5) all qualified for Semifinals whilst the UK saw 12 teams progress, further increasing their dominance on the competiton roster. The European teams would then be split between the CrossFit Lowlands Throwdown and CrossFit German Throwdown – both delivered virtually.
Norway and Sweden would both go on to send two teams to the Games, whilst Denmark, Finland and France a team each.
Three UK teams made it to the Games, by far the strongest showing to-date. The Athlete Program from CrossFit Aylesbury, allowed Catris and Charlotte Spence to convert their multiple podium finishes from Sanctionals with the help of Maddy Harris and Owen Roberts. AOD Fitness, consisting of Harry Kean, Michael Allen, Helen Nutter and Georgia Radley, all training out of BluePrint CrossFit put on a strong showcase throughout the season with promising individual performances in the domestic circuit suggesting the future is bright in the West Midlands also.
Motion, of CrossFit Surbiton, formed as a team back in the 2020 season. A match made at the Swiss Apline Battle, Games Vetrans Jeremy Reijnders and Nienke van Overveld from Vondlegym moved to live and train in London with Harrison Bell and Grace Lilley of Motion. Delivering eight top-10 finishes across the 13 events at the Games, including a win in Event 10 (pegboard and worm squats) showing both no individual holes and refined teamwork even Mayhem couldn’t match!
To close, we must acknowledge that the 2021 season remained hampered by lockdowns and gym closures of varying levels depending on country. Here’s hoping we see teams from across the globe regaining strength and plenty taking part in the 2022 season, progressing to the Games and vying for those podium spots!