We’re three-quarters of the way to a full 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games roster.
Week 3 of Semifinals featured athletes from around the world competing out of the Granite Games in Eagan, Minnesota, and the Far East Throwdown in Busan, South Korea — where a total of 31 countries were represented.
Five men, women, and teams from the Granite Games earned spots in the world’s definitive test of fitness; the Far East sent two from each division.
Here’s how it all unfolded.
The Granite Games opened with barbells and feet in the air.
Teams were the first to hit the plastic grass for Handstand Isabel Relay, and CrossFit Invictus wasted no time showing why it’s sent a team to the Games for the last 12 consecutive team competitions. With unbroken snatches all around, it was all “go out hot and stay hot,” as team member Devyn Kim said afterward. The California team won the opening event and followed with a third-place Team Snatch Ladder finish to cap Day 1 in first, CrossFit OBA a stone’s throw behind by five points (while CrossFit OBA has yet to appear at the Games as a team, three of its members have prior Games team experience).
CrossFit Invictus during Day 1 | Photo by Johany Jutras
If you’ve ever done Fran, between gasps, you’ve probably been grateful the reps go down each round. There was no such mercy for the individuals in Heavy Handstand Reverse Fran, a spicy take on Fran that swapped handstand walks for the pull-ups and took the thrusters in sets of 9, 15, and 21.
Mal O’Brien was unfazed. The 2021 seventh-place Games finisher and protégé to Mat Fraser pulled ahead in the first handstand walk, Dani Speegle nipping at her — wrists? — a couple paces behind.
Mal O'Brien during Event 1 | Photo by Meg Ellery
A would-be disastrous no rep almost cost O’Brien the win — her left fingertips grazed the yellow line as she started the final handstand walk — but Speegle took a break at the 7-and-a-half-yard mark, allowing O’Brien to recoup lost time and take the event in 2:14.36. Still, Speegle got hers one event later, outlifting the field by 15 lb in Barbell Complex with 245 lb and finishing the day with the overall lead.
Dani Speegle during Event 1 | Photo by Johany Jutras
There was not a single event win to be found among the top five men on Day 1. Phil Toon, Colten Mertens, Travis Mayer, Zachery Buntin, and Nick Mathew took the first claims to the five Games-qualifying spots with event finishes ranging from second to seventh, while both events’ winners — Timothy Paulson in Heavy Handstand Reverse Fran and Anthony Davis in Barbell Complex — paired their wins with middle-to-low finishes.
Still, it’s doubtful Davis minded. The Twin Cities local thrilled the crowd with a 355-lb Barbell Complex and a new event record (10 lb more than the previous record, set jointly by Griffin Roelle and Tudor Magda at the Syndicate Crown).
Anthony Davis during Event 2 | Photo by Johany Jutras
CrossFit Invictus continued its reign throughout Day 2, adding two more top-two finishes to its collection. The team seemed untouchable in Down & Up, a gnarly 730-rep chipper — if you count every foot of the sandbag lunges as a rep — and led the event from start to finish with perfect synchronization. The veteran team held its overall lead with a second-place finish to close out the day, Pennsylvania team CrossFit OBA still trailing not far behind.
CrossFit OBA during Event 3 | Photo by Meg Ellery
On Day 1, O’Brien delighted the crowd. Come Day 2, she commanded it.
The 18-year-old was the first to advance between each stage of Minnesota Mash-Up, double-undering solo in the center of the TCO Stadium field for almost two minutes before anyone else had even touched a rope (she polished off both sets of 100 unbroken). She won the event by more than a minute. And while her lead came later in the following event — Kloie Wilson was the first to the rig after the first set of 16 120-lb snatches — when she took it, she owned it, passing Wilson with 36 unbroken chest-to-bars and winning Speed Chipper in 6:48.54.
With the two victories, O’Brien earned 200 points and the overall lead going into the final day of competition for the 2021 CrossFit Games rookie of the year.
Mal O'Brien during Event 3 | Photo by Johany Jutras
After finishing Day 1 in first and second, Toon and Mertens gave an encore on Day 2, this time swapping spots on the overall leaderboard. Each won an event on Saturday — Toon won Minnesota Mash-Up with sheer grit, finishing his final 70-lb dumbbell clean and jerks while Fikowski rested; Mertens took Speed Chipper by almost 20 seconds over Games vet Travis Mayer — but Toon’s seventh-place Speed Chipper finish to Mertens’ fifth in Mash-Up put the latter on top.
Phil Toon during Event 4 | Photo by Meg Ellery
In Semifinal competition, Sunday is all about the bubble: Who’s in fifth, and who’s on the outside looking in?
For the teams, that was Undefeated CrossFit. The Canadian team started the final day of its Semifinal debut 50 points outside of a Games-qualifying spot. But its seventh- and eighth-place finishes in the final two events weren’t enough to push past the cutline, and the five teams who’d occupied the top spots all weekend held onto their tickets for good.
Team Undefeated CrossFit | Photo by Johany Jutras
The final event of the weekend, 2014 Regional Event 5, brought Alex Gazan (Willis) to tears. Afterward, that is — because in 10 rounds and less than four minutes, she vaulted from sixth to fourth and a debut Games appearance.
She set an uncompromising pace from the start, scaling the rope with one giant leap and five quick pulls; meanwhile, Kelly Stone — also on the bubble in seventh — struggled to make the 15-ft climb. Gazan grinned ear to ear as she sprinted to her first event win at 3:55.94.
Fans of Gazan won’t be surprised. Her Semifinal performance follows three years of colossal improvement — she ranked 90,041st worldwide in the Open in 2020 and 193rd in 2022 — for which she credits her new team of coaches at Underdog Athletics.
“A year ago, I was training seriously, but not consistently,” she said on Saturday. “Then … I got to train with the Underdogs crew. … (It was) the environment for sure.”
Alex Gazan after Event 6 | Photo by Meg Ellery
O’Brien capped the weekend with a third-place finish and her first Semifinal championship. With four event wins and no finish below fifth, she earned her second consecutive CrossFit Games appearance.
“This — right now,” O’Brien said when asked what makes all the hours in the gym and sacrifice worth it. “The feelings we get out on the floor when things go as planned and what we trained for.”
Mal O'Brien after Event 6 | Photo by Johany Jutras
The men’s final, 2014 Regional Event 5, was a 3-minute blitz of runs and ropes.
Two Games veterans sandwiched the cutline: four-time Games athlete Samuel Kwant and five-time competitor Timothy Paulson.
As the men ran, Kwant looked to his right on his way back from the rig, checking Paulson’s position five lanes over. But Paulson seemed fatigued, his sprint pace quickly decaying as the rest of the competitors passed him by.
The event win went to 24-year-old Matt Dlugos of Rhino CrossFit and Underdog Athletics, but celebrations were cut short as athletes and spectators alike waited for the points to be tallied. The championship went to Brent Fikowski, who — as he often does — slowly crept up from behind across the weekend, his first- and fifth-place finishes on Day 3 the final full send. Phil Toon, who took ninth at the Atlas Games last year, nabbed second.
“This year, I believed,” Toon said. “This year, I put (the) expectation on myself to qualify.”
Mayer and Kwant sealed their eighth and fifth Games appearances, and the last spot went to Colten Mertens, whose pledge to take risks paid off with a return to Madison.
“I think that a lot of times in these events I can do better than I believe," he said. "I just need to push my body and do things that I'm not sure I'm capable of, and sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn't — but I'd rather go out swinging."
Colten Mertens after sealing his ticket to the Games | Photo by Meg Ellery
- CrossFit Invictus — 580 pts
- CrossFit OBA — 550 pts
- CrossFit Move Fast Lift Heavy — 525 pts
- CrossFit Greater Heights Ascent — 475 pts
- Rhapsody CrossFit — 410 pts
- Mallory O’Brien — 576 pts
- Amanda Barnhart — 520 pts
- Dani Speegle — 504 pts
- Alex Gazad (Willis) — 484 pts
- Emily Rolfe — 481 pts
- Brent Fikowski — 520 pts
- Phil Toon — 496 pts
- Travis Mayer — 492 pts
- Samuel Kwant — 466 pts
- Colten Mertens — 438 pts
FAR EAST THROWDOWN
Going into the weekend, KT CrossFit Kolesnikov Team was the favored to win — two of its four members returned this year after helping the team win the 2021 CrossFit Asia Invitational; unfortunately, the team was unable to compete at the CrossFit Games due to visa issues — and wasted no time living up to expectations with back-to-back wins in the first two events.
The KT team was challenged by CrossFit Yas Black, the United Arab Emirates affiliate that took third at the Games in 2016, though with a different athlete roster. Yas made early moves to win in both events.
Yas was also the first team to reach the muscle-ups in Hello, Hello, Hello — a workout divided into three increasingly difficult renditions of snatches plus gymnastic pulling movements, the final section tasking one male/female pair with synchronized muscle-ups — but when Kolesnikov arrived at the rings, its pair took them in faster and bigger sets, finishing almost 30 seconds faster at 6:49.0. The two teams dueled in similar fashion in Team Short or Long, a clean and jerk ladder preceded by 100 double-unders and a 50-ft handstand walk in a “you go, I go” format.
One of Yas’ men gave an impressive handstand-walk performance; still, Kolesnikov caught up on the barbell for the win.
KT CrossFit Kolesnikov Team | Photo by @pic_woo
Seungyeon Choi made a dominant statement with back-to-back wins on Day 1. The 23-year-old from the Republic of Korea made her first CrossFit Games appearance last year with a 34th-place finish.
Crossing the Gwang-an Bridge — named after the longest bi-level suspension bridge in South Korea, a 7.4-km stretch across the Sooyoung Bay — was a triplet of rowing, muscle-ups, and hang snatches. Choi, Shahad Budebs, and Seher Kaya volleyed the lead throughout the event, Choi finally breaking away in the final snatches of the third round. She finished at 9:05, 28 seconds ahead of Budebs. Choi followed the victory with another in Barbell Complex, outlifting the field with 215 lb (98 kg).
Seungyeon Choi | Photo by Holixgraf
Roman Khrennikov has long awaited this day. Though he’s qualified for the Games every year since 2018, visa issues have prevented him from competing in all but 2020’s virtual first stage.
With visa now in hand, the 27-year-old — and new father — left no doubt after Day 1 of the Far East Throwdown that he’d be using it. Khrennikov swept through Crossing the Gwang-an Bridge in almost half the allotted time, capping the day off with a 330-lb Barbell Complex and two first-place finishes (he tied Nasser Alruwayeh, Eren Kim, and Morteza Sedaghat for first in the complex but took the overall lead by four points).
Roman Khrennikov | Photo by @pic_woo
Another day, another pair of event wins for the KT CrossFit Kolesnikov Team. But this time, it was CrossFit Alioth (another former Games team, but with all new members) who was the KT team’s first challenger.
The two teams raced through the couplet of thrusters and legless rope climbs, Kolesnikov claiming the final lead with its men on the final set of thrusters, each taking 10 reps for the team. Kolesnikov banked its third event win at 10:44, Alioth following 10 seconds later. In the Team Snatch Ladder later that day, Kolesnikov put up 905 lb (411 kg) between its four teammates for a fourth consecutive victory. Gan CrossFit Mongolia took second with 895 lb (406). (Denis Catana of MVMT, who took fourth in the event, snatched 310 lb/141 kg — a tie with Evan Nathan of CrossFit Hype out of the Granite Games for the heaviest snatch across all Semifinal events so far.)
With just two events remaining, KT CrossFit Kolesnikov and CrossFit Yas Black held the Far East Throwdown’s two Games-qualifying spots with 500 and 460 points, respectively. CrossFit Alioth sat below the line, 45 points behind.
CF Yas Black | Photo by @pic_woo
In the women’s competition, Choi and Budebs again went head to head, trading the lead in the third event. Four seconds made the difference between first (Choi) and second (Budebs). The pair were separated for Day 2’s final event, Budebs (former Games individual and team member) competing out of the fourth heat and Choi in the fifth, where she was pursued closely by Kaya.
Choi’s event win and Kaya’s second-place finish kept them in the top two spots heading into Day 3; meanwhile, Budebs replaced Omer Reshef for the spot on the bubble.
Saturday was Khrennikov’s only day of the weekend without an event win. Still, second and fourth place ain’t half bad — and he still finished the day in the overall lead.
Both 2014 Regional Event 5 and Short or Long went to Arthur Semenov, a 29-year-old out of Red Tower CrossFit and relative newcomer to the sport. Semenov beat Khrennikov in the third event by more than a full round and almost a minute. In Short or Long — 200 double-unders, a 100-ft handstand walk, and a descending rep/increasing load snatch ladder — Semenov took the lead from the walk and never let it go, finishing first at 5:08 despite a near-fall on his way to the finish mat.
With fifth- and third-place finishes on Day 2, Nasser Alruwayeh maintained the second overall spot; Semenov held third just four points behind.
Arthur Semenov | Photo by @pic_woo
With a 195-point boost on the final day of the Far East Throwdown, the KT CrossFit Kolesnikov Team qualified for the Games for the second time. Though Kolesnikov remained neck-and-neck with CrossFit Yas Black and CrossFit Alioth for most of the penultimate event, when the 22-minute time cap hit, Kolesnikov had completed the most work by seven reps.
In the final event — a medley of Worm movements with a 12-minute cap — only Kolesnikov and Alioth were able to finish the work. This time, Alioth beat Kolesnikov by 13 seconds for its first and only event win. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to make the jump to second overall, and CrossFit Yas Black is “CrossFit Games bound.”
CF Yas Black | Photo by @pic_woo
Choi’s event-win streak ended on the last day of competition — the final two events both went to Kaya, who finished Far East Chipper’s 240 reps (plus a 1,200-m run) in 14:35, then proceeded to take Triple Dumbbell Bomb in 4:43, leaving the rest of the field behind as she marched across the finish with her pair of 70-lb dumbbells.
Still, Choi finished with 28 points over Kaya’s 560, earning the overall gold. Both will compete at the Games in Madison, Kaya just the third athlete from Turkey to qualify.
Khrennikov will have his Madison moment.
A final set of consecutive event wins cemented his fifth CrossFit Games qualification and his first Semifinal championship (he also won the Europe Regional in 2018).
Though Alruwayeh took the early lead on the deadlifts in the final event, Khrennikov surpassed him on the double-dumbbell walking lunges, taking first at 3:56.
Alruwayeh, with an impressive all-around performance after coming in as the 20th seed, will join Khrennikov in Madison come August, having held Semenov off by 16 points. He’s the third Kuwaiti athlete to qualify for the CrossFit Games.
Nasser Alruwayeh | Photo by @pic_woo
- KT CrossFit Kolesnikov Team — 695 pts
- CrossFit Yas Black — 645 pts
- Seungyeon Choi — 588 pts
- Seher Kaya — 560 pts
- Roman Khrennikov — 584 pts
- Nasser Alruwayeh — 552 pts
Just one weekend of Semifinals remains. Last up are the CrossFit Atlas Games in Montreal, Québec, Canada; CrossFit Strength in Depth in London, England; and CrossFit Copa Sur in Enseada Do Suá, Vitória, Brazil, from June 10-12.
Catch up on all the action from the weekend and rewatch the best moments from Week 3 of the 2022 CrossFit Games Semifinals at Games.CrossFit.com and in the CrossFit Games app.
- Week 1 Highlights
- Week 2 Highlights
- Age-Group Semifinal Highlights — Group 1
- Age-Group Semifinal Highlights — Group 2
- Adaptive Semifinal Highlights
Cover photo by Meg Ellery