A Look Back: What Did We Learn from the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games Teams Division?
Year two of the new NOBULL CrossFit Games team qualification process resulted in many compelling storylines. With a year of understanding the new rules, the “superteams” started to make a comeback, all with the goal of toppling Mayhem Freedom’s dominance over the division.
Each team had the intention of keeping Rich Froning from earning his record 10th combined Games title and sixth Affiliate Cup. As expected, those intentions and goals were not met but it did make for one of the closest team races in a long while giving hope for the division after Froning steps away.
We discuss the future of Mayhem and Froning as well as discuss some additional storylines and takeaways from the team division.
What’s Next for Mayhem?
Froning made his official announcement that this year’s Games was his last as a team athlete at the post-Games press conference. He’s been the only constant through every iteration of the Mayhem Freedom team and undoubtedly one of the greatest Games athletes of all-time. He leaves with his affiliate’s name engraved on the Affiliate Cup a record six times. That same cup has made Cookeville, TN home since 2018. So that begs the question, “Will Mayhem Freedom return to defend the ‘Cup’ without that constant?”
Andrea Nisler has made her intentions known that she too would be stepping away from competition. Samuel Cournoyer will more than likely dive back into individual competition where he will be considered a top-10 threat in 2023. Taylor Williamson hasn’t announced what her plans will be but she is in the midst of her second year of physician’s assistant school and will be concentrating a lot of her efforts there.
So does that disband the Mayhem Freedom team? I can’t imagine that even though Froning and the rest of the team will not be returning to defend the title, that the team name goes away or a new version, a repackaged version of the team returns to defend the title. Maybe athletes from the Mayhem Independence team, who finished fifth at the Games, move in to take over the name and defend the crown. The Mayhem Justice team also could feed into the new team as well.
Another option is that any number of the Mayhem athletes could make the move to Cookeville and train under the tutelage of Froning and his team of coaches. Froning has not had an issue bringing athletes in much like what he did with Cournoyer, Nisler and Williamson the last couple of seasons. He could convince any number of athletes already in Cookeville training as individuals to take a year off to gain experience, win some money and a championship.
Whatever Froning does with the Mayhem Freedom team will be interesting to keep track of this upcoming season and if a new team does come out of Cookeville it’ll no doubt be one of the teams to beat.
Champions in Waiting
Last season CrossFit Oslo came out of nowhere to finish second at the Games. When they decided to return for the 2022 season with a new name and teammate in three-time “Fittest Man in Norway” Nicolay Billaudel, they became one of the favorites to challenge Mayhem Freedom for the championship.
Billaudel, Ingrid Hodnemyr, Lena Richter and Eivind Dahl Ringard made that known from the start of the Games, winning the opening event and becoming the first team to wear the red and white leaders jersey not named Mayhem Freedom in over five years. Their outfit choice would be short-lived however as Freedom would go on to reclaim the lead the following event and never relinquish it again.
What CrossFit Oslo Navy Blue did do was win two events, the only team not named Mayhem Freedom to do that. They were one of three teams to record all top-10 event finishes with eight top-5 finishes among their accomplishments. They finished 65-points behind Froning and company, the narrowest margin of victory by Mayhem Freedom since 2015.
So what does all of this mean? It means that Oslo could be the next in line to topple Mayhem Freedom from the throne. However, if Mayhem Freedom and more specifically Froning do not return to defend their title (which he has announced he will not) the team from Norway would be the favorite and bring the Affiliate Cup to Europe for the first time ever.
The question that begs to be answered though, what will Oslo’s team look like next year? As with many teams, turnover in athletes could affect the success or failure of their season. Oslo has an accomplished individual athlete in Billaudel. Richter has finished in the top-20 in Europe in the individual Quarterfinals the last two years including tenth this past season and has announced her desire to take a crack at the individual competition this coming season.
Whatever happens, a team from Oslo–or like this past season, multiple team–will be a contender for the championship. Oslo has the depth of athletes and a system in place where they can field a championship caliber team
Running it Back
To many, CrossFit Invictus finishing on the podium was a surprise. But to team members Joshua Al-Chamaa, Devyn Kim, Brittany Weiss and Jorge Fernandez it was inevitable. The Games put a bow on a 2022 season that saw them overlooked despite all of their accomplishments throughout the three stages of qualification.
Those who were surprised were short-changing them and the accomplishments of the CrossFit Invictus name. Outside of Mayhem, no other camp can claim a more successful Games run both in longevity and success. Invictus has the pedigree, sending a team to every Games since the division was started in 2009. With their third place finish it gives the San Diego-based camp four podium finishes, the second most for an affiliate behind Mayhem, and their first since the 2019 season.
What made this team different from other Invictus teams was they had to bounce back from their worst finish at the previous Games. In 2021 the team finished a disappointing 19th as they struggled with injuries and line-up changes.
This year’s team included holdovers Weiss and Fernandez who gained valuable experience competing in their first Games despite the finish last year. They added teen alum Kim, who was a member of the talented Invictus Unconquerable team that would have made their Games debut in 2021 as well but were disqualified when one of their members tested positive for a banned substance.
Al-Chamaa was the final piece they added which gave them a veteran presence on a team with an average age of 25. The Brit is one of the fittest men in Europe but had never competed at the Games. The team offered him the opportunity to put that feather in his hat.
Combined they were one of three teams to record all top-10 finishes at the Games, showing poise and consistency throughout, finishing with seven top-5 finishes including three runner-ups.
What could stop this team from repeating and improving on their podium finish is that all four athletes could give a legitimate run qualifying for the Games as individuals. All four placed in the top-100 in the Open with Fernandez placing 12th in the North America Quarterfinals. Al-Chamaa placed 8th in the European Quarterfinals. Weiss made huge strides as an individual athlete, placing a career-best 30th in the Open and following that with a 46th in the North American Quarterfinals. The 20-year old Kim competed in just the Open and placed 98th, continuing her huge jumps in performance since aging out of the teen division where she was a perennial podium contender.
These are impressive results for athletes training for a team run in 2022 rather than as individual athletes. Weiss and Fernandez will each turn 28 next season, Al-Chamaa will be 31, meaning their window to compete as individuals will continue to shrink. All indication is that the team will return to attempt to capture a second team title for the Invictus camp. Doing that would make them just the third affiliate with multiple Games titles joining Mayhem and Hack’s Pack UTE.
The Reykjavík Experiment
Since January, the build-up for the battle between Mayhem Freedom and CrossFit Reykjavík for the Affiliate Cup has been frontpage news. How could it not be, two of the greatest CrossFit athletes in the history of the sport in Froning and Annie Thorisdottir would throw their best at each other. Each denying the other’s greatness. A team made specifically to topple Mayhem, a task that has been attempted many times with just the Wasatch team succeeding in 2017. However, that team did not have the star power that Reykjavík possessed.
Thorisdottir went all in by bringing in Tola Morakinyo, Khan Porter and Lauren Fisher to Iceland to train full-time under the guidance of Jami Tikkanen. On paper it seemed like a very formidable team, one that could possibly take out the Mayhem empire.
During the early stages of the season Reykjavík looked up to the task minus some small issues that come from learning how to work as a team. At the Lowlands Throwdown Semifinal, it appeared to be figured out as they dominated the field to win every event, a task that Mayhem matched as well.
On the eve of the Games however some issues arose particularly around the health of Fisher, which led Thorisdottir at one point to call in the team’s alternate, Katrin Davidsdottir, to travel to Michigan a week prior to the Games to train with the team in the event that Fisher was not ready for the Games. Tikkanen, Thorisdottir and Fisher ultimately made the call that she was ready to go and that they would go with the team that got them there.
Whether that injury played a factor in Reykjavík finishing fourth is unknown. The team as whole was disappointed by the end result but not the effort they put forth. What kept the team off the podium was a 30th place in the second workout of the opening day, “Pegs and P-Bars.” That put the team in a hole early, a hole they would spend the next four days clawing out of.
They would string together an impressive nine-straight top-5 finishes, the only team outside of Mayhem to accomplish that, but it wasn’t enough to get them on the podium.
So at the end of the day, Thorisdottir’s attempt at toppling Froning did not come to fruition and failing to make the podium also came up short but it did offer some compelling storylines and brought eyes on the division. Will she give it another run with a team in 2023, using the lessons learned? The answer to that question is up in the air right now but we can say with certainty that the seven-month journey Reykjavík went through was fun to watch and we hope we see another team wearing the Reykjavík jersey in 2023.
Blueprint for “Superteams”
As stated in the intro, year two of the new season format brought a better understanding of the team eligibility and qualification process. This brought back the “superteams,” as affiliates looked to cash in on the opportunity to make a name for themselves. Teams like the aforementioned Reykjavík as well as OBA, CrossFit Selwyn and Move Fast Lift Heavy are notables that were formed with members not from their typical affiliate membership or training camp.
The intention of “superteams” is to compete at the highest level, to give athletes who were possibly close to competing at the Games as individuals an opportunity to finally appear at the “big show.” This isn’t a new occurrence, it has happened through almost every iteration of the Games season. The 2019 season was the most notable season for this as almost every team was considered a “superteam.”
Expect to see even more of these teams to appear for the 2023 season. The benefits of going this route are many including the chance to compete at the Games. For athletes who are looking to take a season off from individual competition to let their body heal, the lower training volume for a team is attractive. It also allows athletes to extend their competitive career a few more seasons as they still get to compete at the highest level.
This season the Games extended the payouts to the top-10 teams, giving a financial incentive to compete. The top team gets $100,000 and if they split that equally amongst team members that is $25,000 apiece, which is the same amount of money the 10th best individual athlete gets from the Games.
If Reebok continues their highly successful “Bonus Program” for the 2023 Games that gives an additional $12,000 for each team that wins an event while wearing their shoes. This past Games that program paid out an additional $60,000 to Mayhem Freedom for their six event wins. The odds of winning an event at the Games at the team level will be higher if Froning and this year’s Mayhem Freedom team elect not to return as they have hinted.
I would also expect affiliates to offer additional incentives for athletes to move to their location and train full-time, much like Reykjavík did, covering their expenses and providing some sort of stipend.
The negative of the “superteam” concept is that it takes away from the true meaning of the Affiliate Cup, which was to celebrate the regular affiliate and its members by having their best athletes who train there represent the gym at the Games. Teams like CrossFit Omnia Black, Pro1 Montreal and 8th Day CrossFit Black who all finished in the top-10 are examples of this. In those teams’ cases they have members who have been a part of their gyms culture for multiple years and work at those affiliates.
The positives outweigh the negatives when it comes to team competition leaving the door open for even more individual athletes to switch over to the team division and giving the fans more reason to follow in 2023.
US Affiliates Step Up Their Game
The final 2021 leaderboard for the team division was an international affair, which is very uncommon as the United States often dominated as the top teams in the world in season’s past. A record seven non-US based teams finished in the top-10 including two on the podium. For the first time ever a European team finished on the podium with CrossFit Oslo placing second. French team CrossFit Genas placed third as well to highlight that the rest of the world has caught up with the US.
This season the US affiliates made an effort to change that potential trend, with six teams in the top-10 including two on the podium with Mayhem Freedom and Invictus.
Europe, which has shown dramatic growth in affiliation over the last two years, had just two teams in the top-10 and the Oceania region, who had two in the top-10 last year, had just one this year.
This shouldn’t be a surprise though as North America does have more qualifying spots than other regions with the US taking a bulk of those spots. This makes what happened last year even more impressive for European and Oceania teams.
The US teams were able to return to the top of the division by taking advantage of a better understanding of the rulebook to form “superteams” while the other regions went with what got them success last year with the lone exception being CrossFit Reykjavík and CrossFit Selwyn.
Don’t be surprised if the European countries follow the lead from the US formula and make the top of the leaderboard more balanced.