2020 Games: The Highs and Lows of Stage 1

October 12, 2020

Nicole Peyton

Relive the best and the worst moments of Stage 1 of the 2020 CrossFit Games.

The 2020 CrossFit Games are underway, and Stage 1 is in the rearview mirror. Before we look ahead to the finals, let’s take a look back at the highs and lows of the first stage of competition.

The top five men and women from Stage 1 will compete at the historic Ranch in Aromas, California, the home of the first CrossFit Games, beginning Oct. 23. Get all the details on how to watch here

High: Mat and Tia Make History

Reigning four-time Fittest Man on Earth Mathew Fraser, and reigning three-time Fittest Woman on Earth Tia-Clair Toomey came into Stage 1 guns blazing, ready to defend their titles. The athletes completed Stage 1 at Calfkiller CrossFit in Sparta, Tennessee. And oh yeah, in case you hadn’t you heard: They’re training partners. 

In true champion fashion, Fraser and Toomey set the bar high in Event 1, Friendly Fran, when both nabbed a first-place finish, building momentum for the rest of the online competition. Toomey continued the trend for the next two events, taking first in 1RM Front Squat and Damn Diane, while Fraser logged a fourth- and a first-place finish, respectively. 

When all was said and done, both athletes made history, setting new records for most CrossFit Games event wins — Toomey bested previous record holder Annie Thorisdottir with 15 event wins, and Fraser beat out Rich Froning with 19 event wins. 

Low: Chandler Smith Misses Finals by 2 Points

Chandler Smith has been a fan favorite for some time. The 27-year-old Army officer has demonstrated grit, dedication, and character during his CrossFit Games career. After taking 15th in 2019, his rookie Games year, fans were excited to see him back in 2020. 

Following a disappointing finish (20th) in Friendly Fran, Smith rebounded well in 1RM Front Squat and Damn Diane with fifth- and sixth-place finishes, respectively. But the 1,000-m Row and Handstand Hold gave him some trouble, and Smith logged 17th- and 20th-place finishes, hurting his chances at making the top five and earning his spot at the Ranch. 

When the dust settled on the leaderboard, Smith had missed out on a qualifying spot by a mere 2 points. But something in this post tells me he’ll be back. 

“Getting knocked down isn’t a choice, but staying down is.” —Chandler Smith

High: Griffin Roelle’s 490-lb. Front Squat

Former collegiate football player Griffin Roelle is well known for his strength. All you have to do is check out his Instagram to see enormous feats like 385-lb. cleans, and 355-lb. clean and jerks

So it was no big surprise when the 2020 Norwegian CrossFit Championship winner crushed the second event of Stage 1, 1RM Front Squat. What was a surprise was just how much weight he lifted to earn the victory. Roelle lifted a monstrous 490 lb., besting second-placed Tyler Christophel by 33 lb.  

Roelle landed in 25th overall when Stage 1 was complete, outside of qualification for the finals, but his front-squat effort will go down in Games history. 

Low: Laura Horvath Rediscovers Achilles' Heel

Laura Horvath showed great promise in 2018, her rookie year at the Games, when she took second place overall. Her impressive performance gave reigning Games champion Tia-Clair Toomey a run for her money as Horvath logged 12 top-10 finishes throughout the competition. 

But at the 2019 Rogue Invitational, Horvath’s weakness was exposed: handstand push-ups. In the event called Individual Snatch and Press, Horvath was unable to complete even one of the strict parallette handstand push-ups at a 2-in. deficit.

In Stage 1 of the 2020 Games, the weakness continued to haunt Horvath as she failed to complete Event 3, Damn Diane, which involved strict handstand push-ups at the same deficit. She was 7 reps short of finishing the workout when the time expired. 

High: Katrin’s Comeback 

Two-time fittest woman on Earth Katrin Davidsdottir is a self-professed sled dog. After a less-than-stellar start in Stage 1, with 12th-, 27th-, and 11th-place finishes in the first three events, Davidsdottir bounced back with style, earning a fourth, two firsts, and a seventh-place finish in the remaining events. The rebound earned her a spot at the Ranch for the finals. 

Of note was her impressive performance in Handstand Hold, where she bested second-placed Kari Pearce by 41 seconds. Davidsdottir opted for a split-legged stance in the handstand, and other than a back-and-forth bobble to balance, she was perfectly still for over a minute before she took a hand-driven step inside the box to maintain her inversion. From there, it was small bobbles here and there to find her center of balance. She held for a total time of 2:54. 

For a minute it looked like the finals might be missing a household name in Davidsdottir, but she was determined not to let that happen, and we will be seeing her at the Ranch later this month. 

Low: Patrick Vellner’s Slow Start


It’s been a long year! Obviously not the way I wanted my weekend to go, but I’m proud of my effort and amazed by all the athletes who competed this weekend. Huge congrats to everyone advancing to the #FinalFive . It’s exciting to see some new blood pushing at the top on the men’s side! I’m so grateful for all of the support both locally and all over the world. Thanks to the @crossfitgames for giving us a chance to compete in yet another unique competition format. For now i need a lot of rest, a lot of food, and a lot of friends and family time. ✌🏼 📷 @trainingdaymedia @tamanephotography #crossfitgames #crossfit #alldone #reebok #reebokcanada #foodspring #romwod #tydaxfit #championsandlegends

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Patrick Vellner has a reputation for bombing the first event of the CrossFit Games. In 2018, Vellner earned his best Games finish, taking second place behind Mat Fraser. But that weekend started with a 35th-place finish in Crit. At the 2017 Games, where Vellner eventually finished third, he took 36th in Event 1, Run Swim Run. 

With Stage 1 taking place online, many thought Vellner might be able to break the curse of the slow start. But despite being a favorite to challenge reigning Games champion Mat Fraser, Vellner started Stage 1 with 16th- and 21st-place finishes in the first two events. He went on to log four top-10 finishes in the remaining events, but his slow start, paired with a 19th-place finish in Event 5, Nasty Nancy, ruined his chance at the top five. He landed in ninth place overall when the leaderboard shook out. 

High: Haley Adams’ Celebration

At just 19 years old, Haley Adams has a ton of Games experience under her belt. Adams competed in the teenage girls division in 2016, 2017, and 2018, taking two seconds and one first-place finish overall. In 2019, she joined the individual women’s field and took sixth overall — a very impressive finish for an individual rookie. 

This year looked promising for Adams as she qualified for Stage 1 of the Games out of the CrossFit-sanctioned event CrossFit Strength in Depth in January. With training partners including Rich Froning and Tasia Percevecz, Adams was surrounded by some of the best as she prepared for the 2020 Games — and it showed. 

Adams logged four top-five finishes in Stage 1, securing her spot in third place overall at the end of the weekend. Her worst finish of the weekend was in 1RM Front Squat, where she lifted 230 lb. for 26th place. But her remaining finishes more than made up for that deficit, and she’ll be heading to Aromas, California, later this month to compete in the finals at the historic Ranch. 

When she found out she had qualified, her celebration brought smiles to the faces of CrossFit enthusiasts around the world. Although, Froning did declare: “We need to work on your celebration,” chuckling at Adams’ giddy reaction. 

High: Kara Saunders Gets Back on the Floor


Sometimes I don’t meet my own expectations of myself and I’m sad for a minute, but then I remember that I also want it all, not just this, and that takes time and balance. I’m not just working on getting back to being one of the fittest women on earth after having a baby, I’m working on a booming business (with a toddler), raising a cool as little lady, a rock solid marriage with my best friend, financial stability and a ton of good experiences and stories to tell in the end. So many cool things that I’m not willing to sacrifice, and that trump my disappointment in my ability to exercise this time. Also, try and find a minute where this guy isn’t my shadow making sure I’m all good, and you won’t. Thank you to him and my entire support crew for making it happen. —@karasaundo 🇦🇺, 8th at the 2020 CrossFit Games #nobaddays🌴 Video by @wykieetsebeth #CrossFitGames #Fitness #Workout #CrossFitMoms #FIttestonEarth #CrossFitTraining #Mothers #Inspiration #Australia

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We’ve all been waiting to see Kara Saunders’ comeback. The Aussie took second place at the 2017 Games, just 2 points short of first. She followed that up with a fourth-place finish at the 2018 Games and then took the 2019 season off to start a family. 

Saunders qualified for the 2020 Games by way of the Open, when she took 12th place overall — a very impressive performance for a woman who gave birth not long before. 

Fans were excited to see her return to the competition floor, and boy did she put on a show! The first day of Stage 1 saw Saunders score a second- and a third-place finish in Friendly Fran and 1 RM Front Squat. She lost a little steam in the middle four events, logging 20th-, 13th-, 13th-, and 22nd-place finishes before finishing strong with a second-place finish in the final event, just behind Tia-Clair Toomey. 

Unfortunately, her performance wasn’t enough for the top five, but it was incredible to see her compete again, and it’s safe to say she’ll be back.

“Sometimes I don’t meet my own expectations of myself and I’m sad for a minute,” she wrote in a post just a week after Stage 1 wrapped, “ but then I remember that I also want it all, not just this, and that takes time and balance.”

Low: Sigmundsdottir Misses the Top Five 

After back-to-back third-place Games finishes in 2015 and 2016, expectations were high for Sara Sigmundsdottir. But the past two years have been tough for the Icelandic athlete. She finished in 37th in 2018, and followed that up with 19th in 2019. 

Sigmundsdottir’s training and mindset seem to improve with time, and it seems we’re always asking, “Is this her year?” So in 2020, big things were expected from the athlete who seems to be as fit as ever. But things didn’t go quite as planned for Sigmundsdottir, who finished outside the top 10 — in some cases way outside — on all but one event in Stage 1. 

Sigmundsdottir finished Stage 1 on a high note, logging a fifth-place finish in Awful Annie, but unfortunately, she landed in 21st overall, well outside qualification range for the finals. 

Sigmundsdottir posted this quote on her Instagram account when Stage 1 was complete, letting the world know she’s not done yet: “There is always going to be adversity. ⁣There are always going to be challenges.⁣ And those are all opportunities to rise above.⁣” ⁣—Kobe Bryant⁣