Alex Gazan: An Underdog(s) Story

August 14, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Ava Kitzi
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In 2022, a young Alex Gazan competed at the CrossFit Games as a rookie, finishing in 24th place. As the field was cut to the top 30 athletes for the final day of competition, Gazan edged close to that line, but was able to finish out the weekend, and complete all 14 tests. 

Her first year with Justin Cotler’s Underdogs Athletics training camp, she was elated to even qualify for a ticket to Madison, let alone finish out the entire event. She was grateful to be given the opportunity to experience all that is the CrossFit Games. 

One big thing: After winning the North America West Semifinal this spring, beating out veterans Katrin Davidsdottir and Arielle Loewen, Gazan made a big statement at the 2023 CrossFit Games by finishing 5th overall, with six top-ten finishes. 

Two vastly different years, showing major growth, she earned the CrossFit Games Most Improved Athlete Award for 2023. Gazan credits the improvement not to a defined difference in training, but rather the experience she gained over that time period. 

  • “Honestly, it was just time. In 2022, it had been one full year for me and it was just a goal to make it to the Games. I feel like I’ve just needed time to understand everything that it takes to compete at that level and time to understand myself as an athlete.”
  • “I’ve been with Underdogs for two years now. Last year, I followed the older athletes around like a puppy dog–Kari (Pearce), Danielle (Brandon), Bethany (Flores), I learned so much from them. And this year, I’ve been working so much closer with Justin,” said Gazan. “And the goal was more than just ‘qualifying for the Games.’”

Justin Cotler shared his premonition for her jump in the leaderboard from one year to the next. 

  • “Honestly, I felt very confident she would. She has made the fastest progression over the last two years of any athlete I’ve ever worked with,” said Cotler.  

2023 Games highs and lows: All eyes were on Gazan on Test 4: The Alpaca Redux, as the athlete slipped out of her shoes, while in 1st place, pushing the sled. 

  • “The turf was so hot, there was no friction, and I felt my shoe come off, so I thought just go barefoot… I train barefoot all the time. So I took them off and started to go, and a judge (Chuck Carswell) came over and told me that I had to put my shoes back on. And my grip was so shot, my shoes were triple knotted, there was no way I could get them back on.” 
  • “I looked at my judge like, ‘can you help me,’ which I’m sure they couldn’t.  And I’m seeing girls finish ahead of me, Emma (Tall), Laura (Horvath), and I knew Emma (Lawson) and Alexis (Raptis), were right behind me, so I just shoved my toes in and went for it,” recalled Gazan. 

Gazan ultimately took 3rd place in the test, one of only five women to finish under the time cap, and in her dramatic finish gave spectators a powerful display of her grit and determination to complete the test at all costs. 

Heading into the next test, Test 5: Ski-Bag, Gazan was completely spent. She gave everything she had to finish Test 4, and felt that she had nothing left for Test 5. She started slow, controlled, resigned to a low finish, but as the test wore on, while relaxed and calm, she felt a surge of energy as she saw that she was contending for a top finish. She ultimately took 2nd in the test, which ended up as a major highlight of the weekend for the young athlete. 

A 5th place finish overall filled Gazan with gratitude, but over the course of the entire event, her toe grazing the podium, she realized what she truly wanted, and of what she is fully capable. 

  • “If you told me on Monday that I’d finish in 5th, I’d be sooo excited, but after Friday I was in 3rd, and I realized I really want this,” said Gazan. 

Looking ahead: Over the next year, Cotler and Gazan plan to put in some major work. Her goal is the podium. And in order to achieve that, they have a checklist for her training this season.

  • “…running, biking, swimming, along with her snatch. But more important is her growth and belief when it comes to mindset. She has all the physical tools to finish on the podium. Now it’s a matter of the growth in mindset matching the physical ability,” said Cotler. 

When asked what sets Gazan apart from other athletes, Colter shared the following sentiment:

  • “Aside from her immense talent, she’s just a wonderful person. I can’t stress that enough. She’s someone everyone loves to be around and everyone roots for. It’s truly special to see such good things happen to such a good person.”

The bottom line: For some, Gazan flew under the radar and was an unexpected candidate as a 2023 top contender, but that is no longer the case. She showed drastic improvement from 2022 to 2023 and in the upcoming season, she and her team plan to see the same advancement in skills, strength, speed and mental fortitude. Gazan is a force and gunning for the podium in 2024.

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