CrossFit Games

Oh Canada: How Canadian Athletes Outperformed Country’s Population, Open Registration at the 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games

August 10, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Jonathan Ortega
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The 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games were a historic one for Canada, as the country from the north with a total population that is just 11 percent of the United States, managed to snag three out of six individual medals in Madison, WI last week, as compared to the United States whose only podium finisher was bronze medalist Arielle Loewen.

On top of Jeff Adler’s gold and Pat Vellner and Emma Lawson’s silvers, Brent Fikowski and Emily Rolfe—fourth and 12th respectively—also had impressive showings. Further, Canada picked up six additional medals in the age group division, including 64-year-old Susan Clarke, who won her sixth title.

Remind me: Canada has always been a force at the Games, especially on the men’s side, however, this is only the third time in history they have won gold in the individual division. The other two Canadians to stand atop the podium are James FitzGerald in 2007 and Camille-Leblanc Bazinet in 2014.

  • Further, the only other times Canada has had multiple athletes on the podium was in 2021, when Vellner and Fikowski were second and third respectively, and at the first Games in 2007, when FitzGerald won and Brett Marshall was second.

What they’re saying: Vellner and Rolfe both said they felt Canadian pride all week in Madison as Canada had what can only be considered their best performance in history. 

  • “I think we all want to succeed, but I want those guys right behind me. And if it can’t be me, I want it to be them. We have a lot of national pride and have a lot of fun together, especially the PB&J crew,” said Vellner about Adler and Fikowski, who he competed with on the team that won this year’s Wodapalooza in Miami, FL.
  • Rolfe added: “I think we (Canadian athletes) feel connected because we are always lesser in numbers than the USA. But we hold our own even though we were fewer.”

Vellner’s long-time coach Michele Letendre, a six-time Canadian Games athlete herself, said she couldn’t have been more proud watching all of the Canadian athletes excel against the world last week: “With Brent (Fikowski) leading the PFAA and Patrick (Vellner) being heavily involved, their legacy will go way beyond just Canadian athletes. Emma (Lawson) is level headed, focused and so so talented. The future is really bright,” Letendre said.

Worth noting: What makes this especially impressive for Canada is when we consider open registration. 

  • 121,584 individual men and women from the United States registered for the 2023 Open, versus 12,362 Canadians, meaning Canada’s representation in the Open was just 10 percent that of the United States.
  • Another comparison: Australia, a country with a slightly smaller overall population than Canada, had a similar number of Open registrants as Canada only higher—15,560 individual men and women—and they were shut out of the medals at the Games this summer. 

The big picture: There’s something powerful about seeing athletes from your country, possibly even your hometown, winning medals on the world stage. It has the potential to instill inspiration and belief in the next generation, and grow the sport in general, something Vellner, Letendre and Rolfe hope might be the case after Canada’s showing at this summer’s Games.

  • “We’re not that big a country in terms of participation so that just shows the competitive spirit here is thriving and hopefully the community can continue to grow and maybe we can get more large competitive events in Canada as our athletes take off,” Vellner said. 
  • “I think these athletes will renew a sense of pride in the Canadian community, whether people compete or not. They’re all great representatives that people are more than happy to stand behind,” Letendre said. 

And as Rolfe put it, seeing the success of other Canadians will hopefully spark a feeling of, “If she can do it, maybe I can, too.”

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