CrossFit Games

A Look Back: What Did We Learn From the 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games Men’s Division

August 16, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Georgia Bayliss-Brown
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Now that we have had some time to digest the fitness we witnessed at the 2023 CrossFit Games, we can start to analyze it in greater detail. Here are some storylines and takeaways from the Men’s Division.

The Strong Can Still Stumble

Even with his uncharacteristic performance at the North America West Semifinal, we still saw moments of classic Justin Medeiros; we remembered him coming out to smash Test 6 in Pasadena and finish it up with a fifth place in the final test, his two best finishes of the weekend. 

Most people still picked Medeiros to finish first at the Games or, at the very least, get on the podium. But we saw for the first time a champ struggle.

  • He opened his weekend with the two worst test finishes of his career, and even though he managed to redeem himself slightly with a second-place finish in “Inverted Medley,” he never seemed to look quite like himself, and the other men took advantage. CrossFit has never seen a champ return to the top of the podium after a year of not standing there, so will Medeiros be the first (the last to try on the men’s side was Ben Smith–Rich Froning and Mat Fraser both retired atop the podium)? Or has the door been kicked open, giving athletes the realization that champions are beatable?

Weather Wreaks Havoc

Athletes always say they try to focus only on what they can control, but this weekend we saw the impact of something out of anyone’s control – the weather. Anyone on the ground in Madison said it was the hottest Games yet, with the turf at North Park coming in at over 120 degrees at one point. It was reminiscent of some of the early years in Carson, with humidity. And we saw the effect it had on the athletes. 

  • Jack Farlow could barely walk his bike during the transition period of “Ride,” and Colten Mertens had to be almost carried off the field after “Pig Chipper.” Athletes were cramping so badly that we saw them seize up, and people got heatstroke during the Team’s “5K.”

The Question of Training Camps

Training Camps have been the big topic of conversation in CrossFit circles over the last couple of years. Whether you are in Vermont training with HWPO or down in Florida with the Brute crew, athletes have begun to cluster together, hoping to push each other to improve. But was there proof in the pudding? 

  • The big camps did not dominate the results at the Games as we thought they would. Roman represented Mayhem, but besides that, on the men’s side, two men that usually train alone and have one coach–Michele Letendre for Pat Vellner and Caroline Lambray for Jeff Adler–rounded out the podium. Athletes expected to excel, like Jayson Hopper from HWPO and Samuel Cournoyer and Luke Parker from Mayhem, did not have the weekend that was anticipated. It is left to be seen if this result was a fluke because training camps no doubt produce incredible athletes. Only time will tell.

The Future Looks Bright

There has been a lot of talk on the female side about young athletes rising, but the young men also brought it. There were six men at the Games this year, aged 23 or younger, and two especially stood out. Of course, we remember 21-year-old Jack Farlow’s record-breaking 396-pound clean and jerk, and although he had a quiet weekend beyond that event, he demonstrated the next level of weightlifting strength that the CrossFit community will see in the coming years from these young men.

  • The biggest young standout was 21-year-old Dallin Pepper, who finished fifth place and was the fittest American man. This was a vast improvement from the 19th place he received last year, and you could see everything Pepper had been working on in the off-season. Pepper was much more consistent in 2023, with only two finishes outside the top 20, whereas he had seven finishes outside the top 20 in 2022. He even won the final test this year. Eyes will be on him next season to see if he can make it to the podium.

The Elder Statesmen Still Got It

Even with youth on the rise, older athletes were not giving it up without a fight. Seasoned veterans like Patrick Vellner, Brent Fikowski, and Will Moorad all showed that being over 30 years old was not a hindrance; instead, it gave them years of experience and the ability to pivot and genuinely understand the length and volume that the weekend brought. 

  • Three ten-time qualifying men also succeeded at the Games; Cole Sager, Bjorgvin Karl Gudmundsson, and Noah Ohlsen all had solid performances, with Sager being the only one cut before the weekend’s conclusion. Gudmundsson finished in 11th and Ohlson in 16th place.

Roman Dominates and the Battle to Come

Midway through Friday, most people–fans, and analysts alike–said Roman Khrennikov would run away with the title of Fittest on Earth. Placing in the top ten of the first seven tests, with two test wins, Roman mirrored the consistency of past champions of the sport. His demeanor had started to change as well. Last season was his first year on US soil and although he competed strong and finished in second place, there was a quietness to him. This year Roman embraced the role of the leader, the one being chased, and wore the leader’s jersey and carried himself in a way that told us he believed he deserved it. 

  • With his fitness domination and his determination to battle until the very end, even with an injury, Roman Khrennikov showed over the weekend that he planned to be a force at the CrossFit Games for years to come. 

Jeff Adler Finally Makes the Leap

It had been a long road for Jeff Adler and those who believed in him. A CrossFit Games volunteer in 2016 with his now coach Caroline Lambray, people have been pounding the Adler drum for a long time.

There was something similar in Adler’s attitude and presence this year to Tia Toomey’s 2016 season, where she got second place, losing by a mere eleven points to Katrin Davidsdottir. That year at the Games, you saw a quieter Tia, still doubting herself and her ability but starting to break through. We saw it with Adler this year as well. 

  • After “Muscle-Up Logs,” and when he unofficially was going to move into first place and slide into the white leader jersey, he said the leader’s jersey was “heavy,” and it was “scary to wear.” It was an incredibly honest moment coming from a future champion. 

But it wasn’t too heavy for Adler. He completed the Games donning the white jersey, finished the last two tests in seventh and fifth, and only had one test finish outside the top fifteen the entire weekend. The man who started his CrossFit Games career in 2019 being cut after four tests and then experienced three years where he couldn’t get past fifth place, the man who won the Open and his Semifinal twice, finally found a way to break through and win it all.

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