Competing to Win: How Henrik Haapalainen Quietly Qualified for the 2023 CrossFit Games
Throughout the European Semifinals, Lazar Djukic commanded headlines. The two-time Games athlete took first in the competition, dominating from start to finish.
But as Djukic dominated, another athlete quietly followed behind: Henrik Haapalainen.
Almost silently, the Finnish athlete sat in a qualifying position all weekend, fighting not for a spot at the Games — but to win.
Competing to win: After seven tests, Haapalainen finished the European Semifinal in second place. This is not Haapalainen’s first time on the podium at a Semifinal event — in 2022, he finished second at CrossFit Strength in Depth. But it is, he said, the first year he “really felt like [he] could win.”
And throughout the weekend — with his worst finish an 11th place in Semifinals Linda — Haapalainen proved just that.
- “It was a shift in mindset. Training has been going really well, and I liked the events… I think it was more the mindset,” he said, noting he felt a shift in mentality before the competition. “I felt like I was going [to the European Semifinals] to win, not just get to the Games.”
- “I’ve been competing a bit more in high-level competitions and been doing well in high-level events, it’s been building up a bit by bit. It somehow clicked before Semis that now, I could really make it.”
Even on Saturday, as Djukic started to gain a point lead and Moritz Fiebig overtook him in second place, Haapalainen kept his newfound mindset, focusing on the podium.
- “The biggest pressure during the weekend was being close to Lazar and trying to beat him, but then he got away with points, then I couldn’t catch him anymore,” he said. “So it felt more like trying to stay on the podium.”
On the final day of competition, Haapalainen finished eighth and third in the last two events respectively, gaining back his second-place spot from Fiebig.
- “I had a good battle with Moritz. I wasn’t thinking, ‘Do I qualify,’ it was more about the podium battle,” Haapalainen said.
Looking to the Games: Coming off of Semifinals and with this changed mindset, Happalenin feels ready to prepare for his third Games appearance.
- “I made some stupid mistakes [at Semifinals]… that cost me. I just need to focus on my own game and not rush too much to get stupid no reps,” he said.
- “Somehow, making mistakes in Semifinals gives me the motivation to be perfect in the Games.”
In the next few weeks before the Games, Haapalainen, who trains with The Training Plan, will work with a new running coach and plans to refine his skills and hone his strengths.
His plan at the Games? Approach events with the mindset that he can win, with hopes of being at the top of the leaderboard.
As he says: “Last year, I said ‘I want to be top 20, or top 10.’ But [this year], I’m not going to put a specific target. I just want to do as well as I can, and it will show on the leaderboard.”