A Look Back: What Did We Learn from the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games Men’s Division
Earlier this week we discussed some of the key things we learned from the women’s division at the 2022 CrossFit Games and now we take on the men. We were witness to an exciting race on the men’s side and the podium wasn’t finalized until the final event with Justin Medeiros repeating as the “Fittest Man on Earth” but not before Ricky Garard and Roman Khrennikov made runs for the top spot.
But that’s not all that happened during those five days. Here are some storylines and takeaways:
Jayson Hopper’s Sophomore Season
Last year Jayson Hopper entered the Games with much promise and expectations, both from himself and the community. How could he not? The then 23-year old burst onto the scene with a dominating performance at the Mid-Atlantic CrossFit Challenge against a stacked field which included Medeiros, who would go on to win his first Games title.
He was an early favorite to break out as a rookie at the Games but instead showed signs of struggle adjusting to the programming and the long week of fitness. Despite those factors his talents and fitness helped him survive the cut and he ended up placing a respectable 19th.
This season Hopper took the lessons he learned last year and continued to build on his performance using preseason competitions to gauge his improvement and gain additional high-end competition experience. He also switched over to HWPO to train and receive guidance from five-time “Fittest Man on Earth” Mathew Fraser and his team of coaches including Jake Marconi.
He placed seventh at the Rogue Invitational back in October, showing improvement after just a month of working with HWPO. In January he competed at Wodapalooza, placing 11th, but was not discouraged, showing maturity and continued growth from the experiences.
The progress continued throughout every stage of the Games season leading him to this year’s Games where the expectations this season were more tempered. But not for him, instead he recorded seven top-10 finishes including a runner-up finish in the “Echo Press” setting a new career-high in event placement at the Games.
The most impressive part of Hopper’s performance is how he ended his Games. He averaged a 8th place finish during the final five workouts, a far cry from his average placing of 14.6 during the final five events at last year’s Games.
What stood out besides his performance was how he was visibly relaxed and “in the moment”. Reminiscent of his demeanor at the MACC in 2021, he was having fun and looked like he knew he belonged.
Where does Hopper go from here? At just 24-years old, an improving and relaxed Hopper is a dangerous athlete on the leaderboard. A full-year of training with HWPO could mean another big jump for the former collegiate football player.
The 2021 Games season was not a very memorable one for Samuel Kwant. The Games veteran was coming off a runner-up finish at the 2020 Games and was expected to be one of the names to contend for the title of the “Fittest” after Fraser’s retirement. On paper it looked that way as the Washington native made the move prior to the season to train full-time under his coach Harry Palley in New England at CompTrain.
Unfortunately due to a chronic illness that affected him throughout the 2021 season, eventually resulting in him placing a disappointing 14th place at the MACC and failing to qualify for the Games.
Fast forward to the 2022 season and Kwant went back to what got him to be a perennial Games qualifier, moving back to Washington to train at home surrounded by his family. That change back to familiarity resulted in immediate results as he placed 25th in the Open, ninth in the Quarterfinals and fourth at the Granite Games Semifinals to punch his ticket to the Games for the fifth time in his career.
Kwant wasn’t simply satisfied with being at the Games, he wanted to perform and show himself and the fans that he’s still a threat for the podium. He would do it in the most “Kwant” way possible…quietly, just like he did in 2021. After a slow start, including his worst finish of the week (26th) in the opening event he would settle down and show the consistent nature that he’s known for.
The final day of competition though is when he made a push for the podium placing in the top-five in all three of the day’s events including a runner-up finish in the “Alpaca” workout. Those finishes placed him firmly in fourth place and at one point had him seriously contending for the final podium spot.
It was a long road for Kwant to get back to the Games, a road that led him back home to Washington that eventually led to Madison. I wouldn’t expect any more detours from him for the 2023 season.
New “King in the North”
The unofficial title of “King in the North,” the top Canadian CrossFitter, has been thrown around ever since Game of Thrones became a part of the public’s vernacular. That title often was associated with either Patrick Vellner or Brent Fikowski, the two prominent Canadian men in the sport since the 2016 Games season. Together they have combined for six podium finishes including two Games where they both stood together on the podium.
Last year was one such year as Vellner and Fikowski placed second and third respectively. Heading into this year every indication was that again, they would not only be podium contenders but also fighting for the title of the “Fittest”.
Lost in that shuffle was fellow Canadian Jeffrey Adler, a man who has been on the cusp of being considered in the company of those two athletes but lacked the profile that comes from podium finishes. In fact, in 2020 Adler was the top Canadian at the Games, placing a career-best fifth. Last year he won the Open but that accomplishment was overshadowed by a disappointing 13th place at the Games.
That finish fueled him to work on his weaknesses and he and his coach/fiance Caroline Lambray came up with a plan. They went to work immediately on those weaknesses after the Games and that resulted in a third place finish at the Rogue Invitational as he showcased his new engine, something he lacked in previous years.
That led him to this year’s Games season where he placed 12th in the Open, 3rd in the Quarterfinals and then defeated Vellner and a host of other Canadians to win the Atlas Games Semifinal. That gave him his fourth-straight Games appearance.
Adler and Vellner would go back-and-forth all Games week as they not only battled for a podium spot but the honor of being the top Canadian athlete. Vellner had the advantage early in the week as Adler suffered a disastrous result in “Elizabeth Elevated” finishing 38th. From there his worst finish was 18th as Vellner faltered in the “Rinse ‘N’ Repeat” workout placing 30th. That event finish proved to be the major difference between the two Canadians.
Adler finished with six top-10 placements including two event wins while Vellner had eight top-10s. Adler’s consistency minus the “Elizabeth Elevated” workout resulted in him tying his career-best Games finish with fifth-place overall and the top Canadian spot, 58 points ahead of Vellner.
Bjorgvin Karl Gudmundsson has been considered the top men’s CrossFit athlete from Europe. His resume speaks for itself and he is still the standard-bearer for the European continent. This year he finished ninth, which was a disappointing finish for the Icelander, his worst finish since his rookie campaign back in 2014. It did keep his streak of top-10 finishes at the Games going at eight, though. However even in his worst performance he was still contending for a podium spot for most of the weekend.
What the 2022 Games also introduced is a new contender against BKG as the top European athlete. Serbian Lazar Djukic finished one spot ahead of him, placing eighth. He was just nine points ahead of BKG but for the second time this year he finished ahead of his European counterpart. Djukic won the Lowlands Throwdown Semifinal while BKG placed second at the Games qualifying event.
The 26-year old Djukic continued his upward ascent in the sport. This year’s eighth place finish is his second top-10 in as many trips to the Games. He had six top-10 finishes at the Games including the second event win of his career. That event win was clutch, heading into “Jackie Pro” he was competing in the second heat at 11th place. He went full-send and won his heat and then had to witness the championship heat try to catch his score. His score stood and the 100 points moved him up three spots.
These two athletes will be fun to watch the next few seasons as BKG will attempt to hold on to the mantle of “Europe’s Greatest” with Đukić looking to unseat him and continue to improve. The group of Jonne Koski, Willy Georges, Uldis Upenieks and Henrik Haapalainen are also in the wings to make the men’s European division one to take notice of in the future.
Like we stated above, this was one of the more exciting men’s races we have had in awhile. Three athletes separated themselves over the course of the week as contenders for the title. However only two athletes wore the leader jersey throughout the week, Garard and Medeiros. Those two athletes each had two different Games experiences to attain the coveted red and white jersey.
For Garard, he was impressive during the first seven workouts of the Games starting with an event win in “Bike to Work.” That workout started a stretch for the Australian where his average finish was 3.1 during the first seven workouts including two event wins, a runner-up and two third place finishes.
During those same events Medeiros’ average finish was 7.3 as he was chasing Garard for the top spot.
The “Echo Press” event to close out Friday night was when things changed for both athletes. Garard placed 28th as he struggled with the strict wall-facing handstand push-up standards. Medeiros however placed fifth starting a streak of seven-straight top-7 finishes to close out the Games. His average placing was 4.6 during those events while Garard averaged 13.6 over those same workouts. Medeiros’s finish was reminiscent of last year’s clutch performance as his average placing was 5.4 over the final seven workouts.
Garard’s struggles not only dropped him out of the leader spot but he found himself fighting off a surging Khrennikov for the runner-up position, a battle he would eventually lose. He still found himself still on the podium thanks to his impressive start to the Games.
These three athletes should headline the next competitions inside and outside the CrossFit Games season for years to come. If this Games is any indication of what is in store, expect a lot of leaderboard changes and drama till the final event.
While the women’s division rookies did well to represent themselves at the Games this year, the men’s rookies struggled collectively during the course of the week-long test. The 11 rookies in the men’s field averaged a placing of 29.5, so just below the cut-line.
In fact six of those rookies didn’t survive the cut. The highest placing rookie was Nick Mathew who finished 14th despite winning two events. Dallin Pepper and Spencer Panchik joined Mathew as the only rookies in the top-20 with Pepper finishing 19th and Panchik 20th.
A positive is that the average age of the 11 rookies is 25.5 with Pepper (20 years old), Tudor Magda (19 years old) and Cole Greashaber (22 years old) leading the charge in the rookie youth movement. All three are also alums of the Game’s teen divisions which bodes well for the future of the men’s division.