Baffling Backfills and Redeemed Returners: Semifinals Week 2

May 30, 2023

Kelley Laxton

Take a look at the best moments from Week 2 of the 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games Semifinals.

North America West

Backfill Black 

Hannah Black

Photo by Taylor Jordan Photography


The women were getting ready to take the floor for the very first test of the North America West Semifinal. In Heat 1 stood Hannah Black, the 26-year-old from CrossFit Jääkarhu who received her invite to Pasadena from a backfill spot. She had never been to a live CrossFit Games competition before. 

To the surprise of everyone, Black took third place in Test 1. 

That wouldn’t be her only shocking moment of the weekend. Black put on an unforgettable performance in Test 4 when she placed 205 lb on her bar as her opening snatch weight. That was Dani Speegle, Olivia Kerstetter, and Christine Kolenbrander’s final weight. 

She proceeded to lift 215 lb, to take the test win in North America West and the test record set by Danielle Paran’s 210-lb snatch at the North America East Semifinal. 

Black finished out her weekend in 16th place, just six spots out from a ticket to the Games. 


Colten Mertens’ Second Standing Ovation

Colten Mertens

Photo by Charlotte Foerschler


It’s 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 27, and the Pasadena Convention Center is already reaching max capacity to watch the men take on Semifinals Linda. The crowd is roaring and the floor rumbles at each drop of the barbell.

As the final heat floods in, Colten Mertens — who had fans on their feet just the night before in Test 2 — joins the top 20 men on the field. He wasn’t striking in the first few rounds, so the crowd's attention gravitated toward Justin Medeiros and Patrick Vellner in the middle of the field. But in the round of six, Mertens began to lap every man on the competition floor. With just 1 rep remaining in each movement, all eyes were glued to Mertens. 

He had the crowd on its feet once again.

At the final clean, Mertens hopped over his bar and walked to his finish mat. He looked as though he could jump back in with the rest of the field and continue working.

With 11:06.99 posted on the clock, Mertens stole the world record for Individual Test 3, set first by Samuel Cournoyer at the North America East Semifinal, by almost 1 minute.


An Artist’s Inspiration

Artist Brandon Royce Clark

Photo by Ginnie Coleman


On Thursday, May 25, Brandon Royce Clark was posted in the stands of the Pasadena Convention Center to the right of the North America West Semifinal competition floor, a wagon full of sketch paper and art supplies at his feet.

He was sketching away at an illustration of nine-time CrossFit Games athlete Noah Ohlsen.

Clark is a freelance illustrator and aspiring visual storyteller with a history of drawing bodybuilders at events such as the Arnold Classic and Mr. Olympia competitions. The North America West Semifinal is his first taste of CrossFit — because, he admitted, he thought it would be “cliquey” but has been pleasantly surprised by the welcoming crowd.

And the event has inspired a new set of sketches.

“My goal is to create more action-centered (art),” he said. “Think ‘Mad Max,’ ‘Street Fighter,’ ‘Mortal Combat’-type stuff, combined with the fitness. ... These people have that level of — of course — physique, but also their athleticism.”

After watching two days of competition, Clark has noticed the differences in CrossFit vs. bodybuilding physiques, differences that align with his artistic eye for athleticism.

“If you know anything about athletics and functionality … you realize that super big muscles — not everyone can use them that well for performance or combat,” he said. “As a result, in my mind, they’ve lost a little bit of that badass standpoint.”

He says that many people assume someone with big muscles is strong. Not Clark.

“People looking like the Hulk doesn’t impress me,” he said. “Seeing (CrossFit athletes’) crazy definition as well as their contortions … I wish I could look like that.”


Tudor Magda’s Record-Breaking Snatch

Tudor Magda

Photo by Ginnie Coleman


When Tudor Magda came onto the floor for Test 4, he sat in 30th place on the leaderboard, more than 20 places out from a Games-qualifying spot. The crowd watched as he loaded an aggressive 275 lb on his bar for an opener and returned to his starting mat.

He wasn’t first off the 800-m run. In fact, he was last.

Magda began his first snatch attempt with under 2 minutes left on the clock, standing it up easily. Soon, 305 lb was on the bar, and the clock was ticking down the final 60 seconds. The lift was successful.

Just an hour before, Gui Malheiros had lifted 310 lb in South America, and over in North America West — with just seconds left on the clock — Magda approached his barbell, loaded to 325 lb.

Few bothered to stand and scream; there was no way he'd make the lift.

The emcee counted down from five — Magda gripped the bar. Four — three — he threw the weight overhead and caught it in a squat — two — one — he stood the record-breaking weight up, bringing everyone to their feet.

This snatch is the third-heaviest in live CrossFit Games competition history, and the test win came when Magda needed it most.


An Unexpected Ticket

Baylee Rayl

Photo by Ginnie Coleman


The room was buzzing while the women’s scores were being compiled. In just a few minutes, the 10 Games-qualifying women would be announced. When the MC returned to the field with a piece of printer paper in his hand that listed out the top athletes, the room went silent.

Baylee Rayl started the day in 21st and sat in 15th place heading into the final test, five spots away from a Games-qualifying position. But in Test 7, she had just dominated her heat before the final women entered the floor. As the podium finishers were named, she stood quietly by her name plaque with the other athletes from Heat 5, clapping for her competitors. No one was expecting her name to be called, and honesty, she didn’t either. 

As ninth place was announced and her name boomed across the stands, Rayl’s hands shot up to cover her mouth in disbelief. She started to laugh as her eyes welled up with tears, thinking to herself, “I can’t believe I just did that.” 

You did. Welcome back to the CrossFit Games, Baylee. 


Heartbreak and Elation

CrossFit Believe

Photo by Sasha Preziosa


Hearing you had just made it to the 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games should be one of the best feelings. But for CrossFit Believe member Shelby Jones, this was a mix of heartbreak and elation. 

Last year, Jones was part of team CrossFit Verdant which finished its 2022 season in 13th at the Granite Games Semifinal. She switched over to team CrossFit Believe for the 2023 season while the remaining three members stayed with CrossFit Verdant. 

Both teams qualified for Semifinals and would be going head-to-head at the 2023 North America West Semifinal. 

After the final test, CrossFit Believe and CrossFit Verdant were separated by just 1 point, and one team was sitting in the final Games-qualifying position. It was CrossFit Believe’s name that was announced, sending Jones to her first CrossFit Games with her new team. 

“I personally am obviously ecstatic, but I’m so heartbroken,” Jones told sideline reporter Niki Brazier. “That was my last year’s team — three of the four members. So this is kind of — this is heartbreaking for me as much as it is very exciting. So that was really hard, but obviously, we’re really excited.”



Like Mother, Like Son

Johan and Annika Roberts

Photos by Ruby Wolff


When 18-year-old Johan Roberts arrived at the Queensland Tennis Centre with his mom Annika Roberts, he didn’t wave her goodbye and send her to the stands where the other mother’s sit to cheer on their children. Annika joined him in the athlete warm-up area, because she too was competing in the individual division. 

This is the first time a mother-child qualified for the same Regional or Semifinal event. Johan is the 2022 fifth-Fittest Teen on Earth in the 16-17 division, and aged out of the teen division upon his 18th birthday for the 2023 season. Annika Roberts has been to the Torian Pro Semifinal two times before, as an individual in 2021 and on a team in 2022. She is back for her third appearance, once again as an individual. 

This weekend, Annika and Johan Roberts will be throwing down on the same competition floor, pursuing the same goal: A ticket to the 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games. 


A Chance at Redemption

Zac Thomas

Photo by Ruby Wolff


When the scores for the 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games Individual Quarterfinal were finalized, Zac Thomas heard the news no athlete wants to hear — he missed qualifying for the Oceania Semifinal by just one spot. 

But when Ricky Garard announced his withdrawal last month, Thomas was awarded a chance at redemption. 

And he wouldn’t take that for granted. 

The 21-year-old not only took first place in Test 1 at the Torian Pro but also took the new record over Jayson Hopper from the North America East Semifinal at 21:51.06. He then finished Test 2 with 39 reps, good for fifth place. 

Thomas may have been a backfill, but he established himself as a top contender and ended the 2023 Oceania Semifinal in seventh place on the leaderboard. 


South America

Rising Rookies

South America Rookies

Photos by Joy Silva


The 2023 South America Semifinal shook up the Games roster this year, as four out of the six Games-qualifying athletes will be making their debuts in Madison this August. 

Victoria Campos and team Q21 CrossFit are the only returning Games athlete and team to secure a ticket. The remaining four have proved their fitness in the South America region and will be joining the other rookies at the 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games. 

Alexia Williams

The 2023 South America Semifinal was Alexia Williams’ third time competing at Semifinals in hopes of securing a ticket to the Games. Each year she has progressed, taking 10th in 2021, ninth in 2022, and now second and a spot at the 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games.  

Kaique Cerveny

Kaique Cerveny narrowly missed the 2021 Games at the Brazil CrossFit Championship when he secured a fourth-place finish. He went on to take eighth at the Last-Chance Qualifier. 

Last year, however, he dropped to 29th at the CrossFit Copa Sur Semifial and was sent back to the drawing board once again. He was determined to get that ticket this year. Cerveny finished the weekend with a gold medal around his neck. 

Kalyan Souza 

Twenty-two-year-old Kalyan Souza first qualified for the CrossFit Games Semifinals just last year, finishing his season in 16th at the 2022 CrossFit Copa Sur. He spent the last year training hard and returned with a vengeance, securing the second and final spot to the 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games. 

Templo SA CrossFit Treta

Not only will team Templo SA CrossFit Treta head to its first CrossFit Games but all four members will also experience their Games debuts. 

The team took third in South America during the Team Quarterfinal and overtook 2021 CrossFit Games team Q21 CrossFit at the 2023 South America Semifinal, taking home first place and a ticket to the Games. 


Cover photo by Ginnie Coleman