CrossFit Games

The 2022 Games Documentary “Fittest on Earth: Retro/Active” Drops this Week, Here’s An Early Review from a Pair of Superfans

June 28, 2023 by and
Photo Credit: CrossFit LLC
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I (Katie) started CrossFit only because of the documentaries.

Within one week of discovering [Froning: The Fittest Man in History, 2015] on Netflix, I had binged every single Fittest on Earth and YouTube recap available on the sport.

By the time I stepped into an affiliate for the first time four years later (shoutout to Hybrid Farm in Rice Lake, WI), I knew quite a bit about the sport of CrossFit, and next to nothing about actually doing CrossFit. #scaledforlife

Here, Joe Genetin-Pilawa and I paired up as self-proclaimed documentary superfans to give our takeaways from “Fittest on Earth: Retro/Active.”

Return to a Familiar Format

Similar to Semifinals making a return to Regionals, this film felt more like a return to the documentaries of old than the last few. We get to know each of the podium athletes on a deeper level, and see their story develop throughout the week. One by one, each test is described through commentary from the athletes, Adrian Bozman, Justin Bergh, media personalities, and audio clips from the live feed. Then, we watch it unfold from the perspective of our main characters: Tia Toomey, Justin Medeiros, Roman Khrennikov, Mallory O’Brien, Laura Horvath, and Ricky Garard.

Early on in the film, Competition Director Adrian Bozman discusses programming presses-to-handstand in Event 2: Skill Speed Medley.

  • Bozman: “It’s part of CrossFit’s DNA, it’s been in the hundred words of fitness for two decades now. It’s one of those things that athletes should be playing around with and practicing. It’s one of those things that, because it hasn’t shown up in competition before, people are starting to get lazy and blow it off. You can’t do that anymore.” 

And with that simple statement, Bozman encapsulates the “Retro” part of the “Retro/Active” title of the film. Of course, the “Active” part is self-explanatory.

  • “Retro/Active” is director Mariah Moore’s third turn at the helm, following up on 2021’s “Fittest on Earth: Next Gen.”
  • Moore also directed “2018: The Ultimate Test” 

Side Note: Justin Bergh is a major part of the film, as he was a major part of the season and event, but I can’t help feeling I know something he doesn’t know. Not that anything should be different, it’s just an odd sense of viewer’s guilt. 

The Humanity of CrossFit

Throughout the film, we see a very human side to each of the athletes. It’s no secret that Tia and Justin were not wearing the Leader’s jerseys after Day 1 in Madison, and hearing them tell that story from their own perspective fed our superfan souls. We also get some never-before-seen interview moments with Roman. The silver medalist holds his newborn son on the podium while his voiceover describes the legacy he wants to leave, and it feels like a very deep and personal moment with one of our newer Games “characters”.

You’ll want to watch this with your tissues nearby. As Tia talks about starting a family and soaking in her final moments on the floor in Event 13, we couldn’t help but tear up. Then, when the camera pans to Mat Fraser and Matt O’Keefe blubbering in the stands, we were full on crying.

Even those who have negative feelings toward Garard will surely feel something when the podium-finisher reflects on his last five years: “If I hadn’t made that choice, what would my life be like?”

Super-Human Feats

Though the “just like us” moments are touching, it’s the moments we see just how “not like us” these athletes are that left us in awe. 

There are several clips of Fraser describing Mal O’Brien’s work ethic, including stories of O’Brien misrepresenting her soreness so Fraser won’t reduce her training volume. We also see a killer side of Laura Horvath, that has always been there, but is less well-known. Reflecting on her mindset entering the final day, the Hungarian said “I just had to win all three of them, basically, to make it on the podium.” That she did.

Our current champ—nicknamed “Mr. Consistency” by media—now has more overall Games wins (2) than event wins (1) at the Games, and through an event-by-event lens, we really see a picture of the awareness and micro-decisions that add up to Justin Medeiros winning the Games. As fans, we liked having Medeiros’ happy-go-lucky persona broadened in the post-event interviews. Seeing his edge made the All American Mullet Man even more likable, if that’s possible.

Finally, we couldn’t help but smile as Roman Khrennikov, his translator, and Patrick Vellner all described Khrennikov’s domination of the swim and ski-erg event, Rinse N’ Repeat. Vellner put it simply, “That was savage.”

Stories That Didn’t Make the Cut: Understandably, not everything can be shown in a 60-120 minute film. Here were some of the major storylines we missed.

  • Rebecca Fuselier gutting it out up The Capitol stairs with the community behind her
  • Brooke Wells’ comeback after her devastating elbow injury the year prior
  • Jacqueline Dahlstrom lifting a sandbag twice her weight (taking second in the event)
  • Nick Mathew’s backfill invitation to event win and 14th place overall
  • Nick Mathew and Gui Malheiros’ tiebreak tie
  • Gui Malheiros’ marriage proposal during the Awards Ceremony
  • Don Faul named CEO the week of the Games
  • Rich Froning’s final year competing on a team
  • Annie Thorisdottir’s first year competing on a team
  • Spencer and Saxon Panchik competing together at the Games for the first time

We Were Happy to See

  • Adrian Bozman explaining the rope climb decision in Alpaca
  • The delivery of the white Leader’s jersey: This was a cool moment between Medeiros and his team that we get to witness
  • The amount of live commentary included in the film: A lot goes into clipping and cleaning that audio and matching it to the footage. A lot of great work was done by Moore’s team to make it seamless.
  • Emma Lawson’s interviews, including the gutsy decision to draft off of Toomey in Bike to Work
  • Pat Vellner’s commentary on Ricky Garard’s comeback, as the athlete that had his podium place “stolen” in 2017
  • A funny moment between Bozman and Khrennikov during the Event 10 Briefing
  • Medeiros’ growth from 2020 Games to now
  • The note about about Toomey’s pregnancy at the end of the film

What Was Missing

  • Commentary from female voices: Niki Brazier, Kiki Dickson, and Annie Sakamoto all play a significant role in the on-site media coverage of the CrossFit Games, yet we hear from Chase Ingraham, Sean Woodland, and Tommy Marquez exclusively.
  • 4th and 5th place Athletes: Danielle Brandon, Brooke Wells, Sam Kwant, and Jeff Adler
  • Commentary from Justin Cotler and Ben Smith
  • Brent Fikowski and Kara Saunders: Two fan favorites, who received precious little screen time

Final Thoughts

Overall, “Fittest on Earth: Retro/Active” has a very familiar feel to the Games documentaries we have come to know and love. Sure, there are things that could be improved, and someone will likely be offended at least twice, but the film was very well done as a whole. We were left inspired and in awe of the athletes, and pumped to see many of them compete again in 2023. 

Those interested in watching the movie can preorder now, or purchase on Apple, Vimeo, and Amazon after the official release on June 30, 2023. Here’s a guide to help you find the best way to stream the film from wherever you are in the world.

Lastly, the most recent films and where you can find them:

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