CrossFit Games Preview: Masters Men’s Battles to Watch in Madison
Like the women, seventy men across seven age-groups will be on hand in Madison, WI at the 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games fighting for the title of Fittest on Earth in their respective divisions.
And also like the women, the field is jam-packed with new contenders, former champions, and past individual athletes who have aged into the masters division.
Here are some of the key battles we anticipate.
Men’s 35-39 Division
Though the community breathed a collective sigh of disappointment when four-time Fittest Man on Earth Rich Froning declined his invite to compete this summer, the division is still bustling with big-name athletes sure to draw a crowd.
Leading the way is nine-time individual Games athlete Scott Panchik, who led all athletes at the Age Group Semifinals, and former team and individual athlete known for his pure strength, Sam Dancer, who will be looking for revenge this season.
Remind me: Dancer was one of the favorites last season before tearing his bicep a few days before the Games, forcing him to withdraw. He underwent surgery, has been on the mend, and has been vocal about his hope this season to “stand on top of the podium and (be) crowned the fittest (35-39-year-old) athlete on the planet.”
Both Panchik and Dancer, however, are sure to be challenged by last year’s champion Bryan Wong, who competed at three Regional competitions as an individual (2016, 2017 and 2018) but never punched his ticket to the Games, but has come into his own as a masters athlete.
Two more to watch: Former individual athlete, Greece’s Ioannis Papadopoulos, who missed qualifying to the Games as an individual by one spot in 2021—and was fifth in the 35-39 division at the Games last season—is another to keep an eye on, as is Australia’s Lars Kristensen, who was third at the Age Group Semifinals, finishing just ahead of Dancer.
Men’s 40-44 Division
After a close battle last season, the top two men from the 2022 Games, Rudolph Berger and Caine Hayes, are back to battle it out once again (Berger topped Hayes by just 20 points last year) this year.
Worth Noting: Lebanon’s Samer Zaarour, the winner of this year’s Semifinals, will not be competing in Madison because he wasn’t able to secure a travel VISA. He also qualified last year after placing second at the Age Group Semifinals and wasn’t able to travel to the US for the Games.
One more to watch: Canadian Michael Laverriere—fourth at the Games last year and fifth at this year’s Age Group Semifinals—is another we expect to contend.
Men’s 45-49 Division
If the last three years are any indication of what’s to come this summer, then this division is likely to be all about Jason Grubb. Grubb, who lives and trains out of an RV, will be going for his fourth consecutive title this year. And although he’s now in the middle of the age group (he will be 47 this year), he easily won the Age Group Semifinals.
That being said, another man to keep an eye on in the Men’s 45-49 division is Mike Kern, who has placed second to Grubb the last two seasons at the Games.
Two more to watch: Christopher Anderson—second at Semifinals and in his first year in the division—and Vlad Liashkevich—third at the Games last year—will also be looking to make waves.
Men’s 50-54 Division
Like Grubb, Sean Patrick will be looking to defend his title this season, but one man who might challenge him include recent Semifinals winner, Italian Giulio Silvino, who just aged up this year. Though he has never been on the podium, Silvino is a five-time masters Games athlete.
Two more to watch: Eric Smith, third at the Games last year, is another athlete to keep an eye on, as is Bob Ruano, third at the Age Group Semifinals, who will be competing at his sixth Games and looking for his first podium finish.
Men’s 55-59 Division
None of the podium finishers from last year’s Games—Mike Egan, Leonardo Wernersbach Lima and Antonio Boldrini—will be competing in Madison this summer, so the obvious favorite is three-time Games champion Kevin Koester.
Koester has aged into the 55-59-year-old division this season, and already made a big splash at Semifinals, winning by 116 points over Dion Walmsley.
One more to watch: Two-time Games competitor Jody Hendrix, who just aged into the division this season and was fourth at the Age Group Semifinals, is another athlete we expect could challenge for the podium.
Men’s 60-64 Division
Unlike the 55-59 division, the top three from the 60-64-year-olds from 2022—Shannon Aiken, Tony Turski and Tom Fameree—will all be competing again this year.
Aiken was second at Age Group Semifinals this season, while Fameree qualified fourth and Turski, who returned to the Games last year after serving a four-year ban for testing positive for Anastrozole after placing second at the 2017 Games, was sixth.
One more to watch: Three-time Games athlete Stuart Swanson, new to the division this season, beat all of the podium finishers from last year at the Age Group Semifinals and can’t be ignored as an obvious podium favorite.
Men’s 65-Plus Division
Only one podium finisher from the men’s 65-plus division returns this summer: John Mariotti.
Second last season, Mariotti will likely be challenged by the likes of eight-time Games athlete and three-time champion David Hipensteel, who withdrew last year after some controversy surrounding some of his repetitions during Quarterfinals.
Two more to watch: Four-time Games veteran Tom Muhlbeier—second at Age Group Semifinals—and Daniel Miller—fourth at the Games last season and this year’s Age Group Semifinals’ winner—are two others with obvious podium potential.