2022 Quarterfinal Rundown: North America
The Quarterfinal stage of competition officially came to a close for individuals last weekend , and even though the leaderboard is still in the process of being finalized, some bigger picture storylines in North America have emerged that should factor into the season discussion moving forward.
Even with increased focus globally on athletes and growth outside of the sport’s home continent, North America is still the leader in terms of participation and representation, keeping it in the driver’s seat for many of the discussions that surround the sport at each stage of competition.
The inclusion of a worldwide leaderboard for Quarterfinals this year provided us an easy tool for comparison of athlete cohorts across the globe. Given the potential for reallocation of Games spots, and Semifinal events, tools like this are helpful in understanding the broader impact each continent has on the leaderboard.
- The popular sentiment is that Europe needs more of everything, and naturally the focus turns to North America as the place to concede spots to make it happen. But the performance from the continent during Quarterfinals may say otherwise.
- Looking at the top 300 men and women worldwide, remember 300 each move on to Semifinals, North America still rules the roost occupying 49.5% of the field which percentage-wise is above their allocated amount of spots for Semifinals (40%), and nearly identical to the amount of the Games field they currently occupy (50%).
Taking that a step further, North America occupies 52.5% of the top 40 athletes worldwide (the cutoff for Games spots) which falls in line with the previous numbers as far as allocations go. Expected top performers like Justin Medeiros, Mal O’Brien, Noah Ohlsen, Chandler Smith, Amanda Barnhardt, and Danielle Brandon have anchored things while newcomers have emerged to bolster the numbers that suggest that North America handing over spots isn’t necessarily a guarantee.
The Women’s Youth Movement Grows
One of the season-long storylines in 2021 was the trailblazing done by Mal O’Brien and Emma Cary as they became the first athletes since the creation of the teenage divisions to qualify as individuals while still eligible to compete as teens. Beyond that there was a significant bump in the number of athletes still in their teenage years (19 and below) that were showing up on the leaderboard at Quarterfinals and Semifinals.
- That trend has continued in 2022, and much like Roger Bannister proved to others that a sub-four minute mile was possible–prompting others to believe and achieve it in what is a phenomenon now known as the “Bannister effect,”–the accomplishments of O’Brien and Cary last season have bolstered the belief in others resulting in another uptick this season.
- 13 total women 19 or younger currently sit above the cut line for Semifinals, a 44.4% increase from 2021. That’s without the presence of Cary (injury) and Anikha Greer (score submission issue), who would only add to this number.
Consider that 16 year-old Olivia Kerstetter’s impressive 8th place finish is accompanied by Trista Smith–who is the same age–also qualifying for Semifinals and it seems like the 2022 season is continuing to build on the breakthroughs seen just a season ago.
Three For One Special
For a man that is supposedly retired, Scott Panchik seems still to have a lot of fitness that he’s willing to use in competition. In fact, he beat out both of his brothers–Saxon and Spencer–in North America during Quarterfinals despite signing up with no real goals of trying to compete further down the line.
- The thing is, Scott has an invite to Semifinals if he wants it, and even with a shift in focus to his family, his gym, and things outside of trying to be the fittest on earth, Scott is still one of the fittest dudes walking this planet. His body of work and performance over the years have provided him a solid enough foundation to stand on.
- Scott hasn’t committed one way or another to the possibility of showing up to Semifinals, but one seemingly tasty carrot that could lure him out is the chance to compete alongside both Spencer and Saxon at the Games. Something they’ve all been chasing for the past half decade or so.
Saxon is already a perennial Games athlete and has catapulted himself recently into the podium conversation. It feels like it is only a matter of time before Spencer breaks through and after missing by just two spots last year, 2022 seems like it could be the year. That alone could bring Scott out of a “soft retirement,” to maybe compete again at Semifinals to at least keep a “three Panchiks, one Games,” dream alive. Either way, having all of them inside the top 11 in North America is nothing to sneeze at.
A New Player Has Entered The Game(s)
The attrition rate at the Games each year is such that there is never too early a time to start looking for potential newcomers on the leaderboard. With the added layer of Quarterfinals, it gives us more data points to evaluate potential rookies who could finally make their Games dream come true. Two-thirds of the Games field in North America came from the top 20 in Quarterfinals last season, which is a good metric to start looking for some newcomers this year.
- The men’s side: Phil Toon, Jorge Fernandez, Jack Farlow, Dallin Pepper.
- The big surprises here are Fernandez and Farlow, with both Pepper and Toon having been at the forefront of discussions during the Open. Farlow is a former teenage division Games athlete hoping to break through alongside the likes of Pepper, James Sprague, Cole Greashaber. Fernandez was a member of the Invictus team that won the West Coast Classic and finished 19th at the Games. It appears he’s making a serious run at the individual side and his result in the Quarterfinals is promising.
- The women’s side: Alexis Raptis, Olivia Kerstetter, Emma Lawson, Alex Willis, Freya Moosbrugger, Shaylin Laure, Kloie Wilson, Paige Powers, Kelly Clark.
- Most of these women have been covered in the media at some point, given that Raptis, Kerstetter, Lawson, and Powers were Games athletes (and reigning champions in Kerstetter and Lawson’s case) as teenagers. Between Willis (formerly Gazan), Laure, Wilson, and Clark don’t be surprised if one of them makes it through. All four were at Semifinals last year, and Clark (10th, MACC) and Wilson (7th, WCC) were on the cusp by cracking the top 10 in Semifinals deep with talent.
A quarter of the Games field last year was made up of rookies, which combined with the previous stats all but guarantee that names from this list will end up in Madison. It’s important to highlight them now because one minute you think you have a handle on the podium race, and the next some newcomer named Tia-Clair Toomey ends up finishing second. Imagine that.