After a two-year hiatus, live CrossFit competition is returning to Madison, Wisconsin. From July 27 to August 1, nearly 40 of the fittest men and fittest women on earth, along with dozens of teams, teens, masters, and adaptive athletes, will run, swim, paddle, row, swing, snatch, and squat their way through grueling physical challenges that last from as little as a minute to a couple of hours. The individual winners will each take home $310,000, the largest payout in Games’ history.
For athletes, the road to this year’s Games has been especially long. The competition structure changed yet again this year; there was the Open in March, Quarterfinals in early May, and Semifinals a few weeks later. During such an unusually long season, athletes had to be especially careful of tapering their fitness plans at the right time and taking care of their bodies.
“I hate to say it, but there could be an injury or something else that derails your plan, so you can’t be stuck to one idea. You’ve got to be willing to ebb and flow,” 2019 runner-up Noah Ohlsen said before the Open.
And while some of those competitions were in-person, others were moved from one central location and tracked online, which is a special kind of mental torture, said Pat Vellner, a three-time Games athlete, in a recent interview. “Racing ghost is hard,” he said. “You never know if you’re in first or you’re in last, or if you should dial it up or dial it back.”
Still, Vellner, along with many of the other crowd favorites and presumptive frontrunners, all made it through.
Who to Watch for in the 2021 CrossFit Games
On the women’s side, all eyes are on Tia-Clair Toomey-Orr, the four-time Games champion. A member of Australia’s Olympic team in 2016 for weightlifting (she took 14th) and potentially a 2022 Olympic team member for bobsledding, she’s undeniably the fittest woman the sport has ever seen. Should she make it through the weekend injury-free, she’ll likely end it by standing on top of the podium.
However, don’t be surprised if you see Haley Adams, Bethany Shadburne, or Laura Horvath up there, too— or if that list includes one (or more) moms. Five women, an eighth of the field, have children.
As for the men, the horse race is essentially wide open after the retirement of Mat Fraser, Toomey-Orr’s former training partner and the champion for the past five years. In contention are Games podium veterans, like Pat Vellner, Noah Ohlsen, Cole Sager, and Brent Fikowski, along with recent break-outs like Justin Medeiros and Jayson Hopper.
Ultimately, the winner will likely be determined by a mix of strategy, programming, luck — and whoever is best able to handle the known.
What Events Will Be in the 2021 CrossFit Games
While a few events have already been announced, including a 550-yard sprint and a triad of rope climbs, ski erg, and sandbag carries, others have only been teased, like the first event, which will be “swim distance long, and paddle distance even longer.” Many will remain a mystery until a few hours (or minutes) before the buzzer goes off.
Inevitably, there will be surprises. At last year’s Games, which took place at “The Ranch” in California due to Covid-19 restrictions, athletes finished a three-mile trail run—only to be told they then had to turn around and do it all again in reverse. Another year, athletes weren’t ever told the movements or the rep scheme for the event, called “Chaos.” Instead, they worked until their judge told them they could move on.
After such a long time away from Madison, and after only allowing five men and women to compete last year, the Games will likely be especially challenging by design. That might be due to the number of events (say, anything more than 15), the volume of the workload (like another marathon row), the skills required (a handstand obstacle course again) or the quick succession of events (like the infamous barn-burners, Ringer 1 and Ringer 2).
No matter the programming, though, spectators will almost certainly be relieved to be back in the stands watching the sport of fitness. Want to join them and tune in from home? Here’s how.
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