2022 CrossFit Semifinals Preview: Syndicate Crown
The first Semifinal to take place in North America will actually be a first timer in the CrossFit Games system, the Syndicate Crown will lead things off at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum in Knoxville, Tennessee. After the West Coast Classic postponed their event for the year, the Syndicate Crown team stepped up to the plate to fill the void and will be sending five men, five women, and five teams to the Games as the first representatives from North America.
The first of back-to-back Semifinals in Knoxville, all eyes will be on the Syndicate athletes as they become the standard bearers for North America in week one, with three more North American Semifinals following in their footsteps in subsequent weeks. With two common workouts shared amongst the Semifinal lot, their performance will also serve as valuable data points moving forward.
- A total of eight men and five women in the athlete field enter with individual Games experience. On the men’s side Justin Medeiros, Scott Panchik, Jayson Hopper, Griffin Roelle, Will Moorad, Ben Smith and Alec Smith have qualified via live competition, while Scott Tetlow is the lone athlete to qualify for the Games via an online format.
- Haley Adams, Kristi Eramo O’Connell, Paige Semenza and Arielle Loewen have all qualified through a live competition during their careers while Kristine Best earned her Games bid in 2020 via the Open.
- It should also be noted that a considerable number of former teenage division Games athletes–eight across both divisions–are competing to earn their first bid as an individual. For the men that list includes Cole Greashaber, Tudor Magda and James Sprague, and for the women it includes Alexis Raptis, Olivia Sulek, Sequoia Barrera, Annalise Moore and Paulina Haro.
- In the team division CrossFit Mayhem Freedom leads the way for a group of four Games qualifiers from 2021 that also includes 8th Day CrossFit, TTT CrossFit and Blues City CrossFit.
Anytime you have a reigning CrossFit Games champion in the field it’s going to generate excitement, and the Syndicate Crown has the distinction of leading off the first week with two. What makes the event as a whole even more intriguing is that come August, there’s a definite chance that the Syndicate Crown could lay claim to hosting podium athletes in each division.
The two women in this category are also the two women that I consider to be the frontrunners to win the weekend outright. Both Haley Adams and Kristi Eramo-O’Connell have tremendous resumes that include consistently elite performances at the Games despite being at very different points in their careers. It’s crazy to think that at just 21 years-old Adams already has three consecutive top-10 finishes at the Games under her belt, and has never finished lower than 6th. It’s also crazy that Eramo-O’Connell is the second oldest athlete in the women’s field, and 2021 was the first time she and Adams got to compete against each other in-person at the Games.
|Kristi Eramo O’Connell
They both shine when heavy doses of monostructural work is involved and both excel in the longer time domains. Kristi’s clear advantage is squatting, particularly with heavy cleans, and it’s something they’ll see right off the bat in the first event. Haley is better on her hands and has shown a better capacity to sprint in the shorter time domains. Kristi’s failure to qualify out of the Granite Games was proven to be more of an uncharacteristic misstep by her eventual performance in Madison, and I think we’ll see an exciting race between her and Haley Adams in Knoxville.
Similar to the shoo-ins category there are two women in this section as well. Paige Semenza is an athlete that will stand to benefit from a live competition environment, which is how she managed to qualify for back-to-back Games appearances in 2018 (Atlantic Regional) and 2019 (Brazil CrossFit Championship). The former Ohio State hockey player competed entirely online in 2021 and that included a run at the Last Chance Qualifier. Semenza got a chance to shake the rust off at Wodapalooza where she finished 14th, and all signs point to her being in the mix at the Syndicate after a solid Quarterfinal round where she finished 9th in North America.
What a difference a year makes for Arielle Loewen, a year ago she entered the 2021 Granite Games with nary an expectation beyond collecting her athlete nameplate, and now she’s a bonafide Games athlete who has built her confidence and proven she can hang at the top during the off-season. Her 14th place finish at the Games earned her a spot at the Rogue Invitational (13th) in October, before she came back and podiumed at Wodapalooza. Her third place finish in Miami was the result of her being in contention for the top spot all weekend long, and her general demeanor on the competition floor was that of an athlete much more at home in the competition spotlight than someone just there for a nameplate.
The Syndicate Crown bubble scenario has huge potential as there is an interesting cross-section of athletes on the rise coming off solid season in 2021:
- Alexis Raptis: 6th West Coast Classic 2021, 2nd North America Quarterfinals 2022
- Olivia Sulek: 2nd 2021 CrossFit Games 16-17 division, 16th MACC 2021
- Christine Kolenbrander: 6th MACC 2021, 9th Last Chance Qualifier 2021
- Madison McElhaney: 10th Granite Games 2021
- Kristine Best: 16th 2020 CrossFit Games
In this grouping we have podium athletes from teenage divisions, two powerhouse athletes in Kolenbrander and McElhaney that snatched 210 pounds at Semifinals last season, and a former Games individual in Best that thrived in the online format. Expect at least one of these women to qualify and all five of them to shake things up with some stellar individual event performances.
In the first event keep your eyes on 18 year-old Paulina Haro. The lone representative of Mexico in the women’s field was also a podium athlete at the Games last year when she finished third in the 16-17 division behind Emma Lawson and Olivia Sulek. She’s insanely strong and recently posted a portion of the opening event lift complex on Instagram where she makes what appears to be 225 pounds look like a toy. She’s still got a ways to go in some of the other areas of her game, in particular her endurance and monostructural work (being 5’1” doesn’t help), but she’s been training with the PRVN Fitness team and has the benefit of being around some of the sport’s best on a regular basis.
There are two clear athletes in this category based on their body of work and there should be no doubt that Justin Medeiros is the first name that comes to mind. His magical title run at the Games was reinforced by an equally impressive win at the Rogue Invitational. The Games and Rogue are the two most talented athlete fields around, which makes his average event finish of 4.9 over the span of 22 events shine brighter considering it’s against the best in the world. Excluding stage 2 of the 2020 Games where the athlete field was trimmed to five, Medeiros has competed in 37 live events and has finished outside the top 10 only three times and has never finished lower than 16th. That’s the consistency it takes to win the Games.
Scott Panchik is the other athlete deserving of this moniker thanks to a body of work that spans a decade at the top of the sport and includes nine finishes of 11th or better at the Games, seven finishes of 6th or better, and three 4th place finishes. Switching his focus in “retirement,” has led to Panchik training less, and spending more time with family, but it hasn’t stopped his ability to compete at a high level, at least through the Quarterfinals where he finished 6th on the worldwide leaderboard. He’s hinted at upping his training preparation for Semifinals, but the big question around his current fitness lies with the status of his volume and strength work preparation, two things he excelled with over his career. Still, Panchik has earned the right to be held in such high regard and the competitive fire in him is clearly still smoldering, and come Sunday he’ll be in a familiar place inside the top five.
The line between this designation and our bubble athletes on the men’s is pretty blurry considering the broad spectrum of athletes competing, but two athletes best fit this scenario given their recent history.
Jayson Hopper took the Semifinals season by storm in 2021 as the breakout athlete when he won three events and took down the top spot at the MACC, beating both Panchik and Medeiros in the process. Expectations have tempered to a more reasonable level after his finishes at the Games (19th), the Rogue Invitational (7th), and Wodapalooza (11th), and after this season he could very well be grouped into the shoo-in category next year. There are some aspects of this fitness that stand-out amongst the best such as his capacity on the machines, especially the echo bike, and his event wins at Rogue and Wodapalooza both came in events that included it. Look for him to make some moves in the Oregon Trail, Skiing With Karen, and Jackie Style events to cement his place in a qualifying position.
Will Moorad has had an eventful 10 months to put it lightly. His wife has been battling breast cancer, which she detected during the Games last August, and it would be understandable if his performance in the 2022 season was placed on the back burner. Despite that, Moorad was able to improve upon his placements in the Open and Quarterfinals (55th in North America to 14th) from the previous season and is the fourth highest ranked athlete coming into the weekend. Moorad is sneaky-strong and has solid gymnastics but his consistency allows him to stay in contention if not slightly under the radar at times. Through two days of competition at the West Coast Classic Moorad held an average finish of 8.4, and the delta between his best finish and worst finish was only five placings. That level of consistency is what keeps him in the game until he has prime opportunities. In the case of the WCC he was five points back of qualifying on the bubble and responded with an event win to open Sunday and boost him back to the Games.
I almost considered placing Ben Smith in the bubble athlete category but out of respect for everything he’s done in his career he gets the bump. After 11 trips to the Games, four podium finishes, and a CrossFit Games title, it’s fair to assume that his name on the leaderboard carries Games-level expectations even if his prime years are behind him. Smith still carries the top-end strength and skill that has been a hallmark of his career–evidenced by his two best finishes at the MACC coming in the max snatch event (2nd – 300 pounds), and the Kratos finale that was high skill, high load, and low reps. Smith has not qualified for the Games outright since 2018–-a stat that doesn’t make sense when you say it aloud–but he’s still got some left in the tank to put up some big numbers in the lift event and maybe recapture some of his old magic.
The biggest collection of athletes at the Syndicate Crown on the men’s side fall into the bubble category, and for a variety of reasons. There are some heavy hitters in this group with Games experience, and some athletes with specific talents capable of playing spoiler.
- Griffin Roelle: 15th Atlas Games 2021
- Cole Greashaber: 7th Atlas Games 2021
- Mark Hutchinson: 9th MACC 2021
- Tudor Magda: 21st West Coast Classic 2021
- Matt Poulin: 13th West Coast Classic 2021
- Alec Smith: 15th West Coast Classic 2021
- James Sprague: 22nd West Coast Classic 2021
- Jacob Pfaff: 10th West Coast Classic 2021
- Scott Tetlow: 11th Granite Games 2021
There’s an eclectic mix of former teenage Games athletes, athletes with past individual Games experience (Roelle, Tetlow, Smith), and athletes just on the periphery of the Last Chance Qualifier in 2021. It’s fitting that the Preakness Stakes are also taking place this weekend, cause there are a ton of horses in the Syndicate Crown race that could make some noise.
I’ve been hearing some rumblings about Garret Clark following his win at the The Fittest Experience (TFX) in Austin where he beat out a handful of experienced Semifinals caliber athletes. Unfortunately he had to withdraw from the Granite Games last year but his 33rd place finish in the Quarterfinals in ‘22 was a 20+ place improvement from 2021. The event he won at TFX was nasty mixture of squatting and upper body pulling on the pull-up bar, so if he’s in contention come Sunday the Jackie Style workout could be a prime chance for him to make a move.
You could put enough words to page about CrossFit Mayhem Freedom and their history to make George R.R. Martin blush, but a few major points are all that’s needed for the reigning Affiliate Cup champions. It’s Rich Froning’s final year, a 2022 title would be the team’s 6th (Rich’s 10th), and following a record setting performance that saw Mayhem win eight of 13 events, they’ve upgraded their roster with three-time individual Games qualifier Samuel Cournoyer. The big question is can Mayhem Freedom run the table this weekend?
Rich and company won’t be the only team sporting the Mayhem banner, Anniston Sudhoff, Jessica Kalagian, Ben Davidson, and Seth Stovall of the Mayhem Justice team enter the weekend as the next highest seed coming out of the team Quarterfinals. They actually beat the Mayhem Freedom team in the dumbbell, handstand walk medley of event 1, and will have the full benefit of the training environment at CrossFit Mayhem alongside the Freedom team to strategize accordingly.
8th Day CrossFit, TTT CrossFit, and Blues City CrossFit Gold are all coming off 2021 campaigns where they qualified for the Games while returning members from those rosters this year and should be considered contenders to return in 2022. CrossFit Overtake Team Density is also a past Games qualifier that should be back in the mix after missing out by a few spots at the Granite Games last year. Keep an eye out for Stephen Wallace from Blues City in the snatch ladder in event 1, he’s a prime candidate to clear the ladder, make it to the eleventh platform and call his shot.
Tommy’s Picks for the Syndicate Crown:
|Kristi Eramo O’Connell
|CrossFit Mayhem Freedom
|8th Day CrossFit
|CrossFit Mayhem Justice
|Blues City CrossFit Gold
|CrossFit Overtake Team Density