The triumph of Team World over Team USA at the CrossFit Invitational in Berlin might have come as a surprise to some. With five of six CrossFit Games podium finishers on Team USA, Team World was faced with some of the fittest individual competitors in the world.
Still, individual athlete stats don’t guarantee a win in team competition, and Team World’s athletes all finished in the top 16 at the Games. Sam Briggs, of course, is the world’s fittest woman, and that title hasn’t been held by an American female since Kristan Clever won the Games in 2010.
While international women often do better at the Games than their male counterparts, two men from outside the U.S. have won the Games: Canadian James FitzGerald in 2007 and Finn Mikko Salo in 2009.
At the Invitational, Team World was an assembly of the best athletes from three continents and four countries, including two French Canadians, a Dane, a Brit and two Australians. They banded together as a team that was focused on communication and coordination, and their 24-19 victory served notice that the level of CrossFit athletes outside the United States is improving.
That’s to be expected as CrossFit becomes more popular in other countries. Indeed, many countries outside the United States have witnessed a real CrossFit boom, with boxes popping up in a constantly growing number of cities and countries. CrossFit affiliates now span 100 countries, and affiliates are being added at a rapid but remarkably steady pace. For instance, the number of European affiliates has doubled every year since 2009.
The rapidly growing international affiliate community has sent forth a new horde of CrossFit competitors each year. In 2013, nearly 140,000 people competed in the Open, and roughly one-quarter (about 36,000) of the competitors came from outside of the United States. That may sound small, but it’s a huge increase over the previous year. In the 2012 Open, just over 16,000 competitors came from outside of the U.S.
In fact, the group of international competitors grew at rates unmatched by most of the United States between 2012 and 2013. Open registration more than doubled in Australia (104 percent), Canada East (129 percent), and Europe (104 percent), and it tripled in Africa (237 percent), Asia (210 percent) and Latin America (207 percent).
In 2013, Europe and Australia boasted the fifth and sixth largest numbers of competitors of the 17 regions around the world, fielding roughly the same number of Open competitors as major American regions such as South Central and North Central. The other five international regions were the world’s smallest, but the gap between them and the other small American regions is shrinking fast.
For example, look at Canada East. Participation in the region grew 129 percent between 2012 and 2013, while the region above it in the size rankings, Northern California, grew by 63 percent. If these regions grow by the same percentage in 2014, Canada East will have more competitors than NorCal.
The quickly growing popularity of CrossFit competition shows the CrossFit program appeals to people all over the world. Over 3.5 million people tuned in for the 75-minute Eurosport broadcast of the CrossFit Invitational. Sports like baseball or American football have never truly become global, while the sport of fitness is on track to become a strong member of the family of popular sports in Europe, Australia, Canada and elsewhere.
This international growth makes our sport more colorful, more interesting, and ultimately even greater, and it will be fascinating to see if the trend continues in the 2014 competition season.