Beasts in the East and Africa All-Stars — Semifinals Week 1

May 23, 2023

Kelley Laxton, Brittney Saline, Sarah Dugan, and Melisa Pendergrass

Check out the best moments from Week 1 of the 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games Semifinals. 

North America East 

A Battle for First — PRVN vs. Mayhem Independence

Team Test 1 | By: Melisa Pendergrass 

PRVN vs. Mayhem

Photo by Johany Jutras


The first athletes to take the floor at the North America East Semifinal were the teams, and all eyes were on newly-formed super team CrossFit East Nashville PRVN and 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games fifth-place finishers Mayhem Independence. 

In Event 1, teams were only as strong as their weakest links. 

The final heat placed CrossFit East Nashville PRVN and CrossFit Mayhem Independence on the same floor. During the first round, Mayhem Independence was first to the Worm, but East Nashville PRVN was right on its heels, picking up the pace in each round. 

When the final round approached, the excitement in the crowd was at its peak. Mayhem Independence and East Nashville PRVN were in a side-by-side battle for first. Although both teams were on pace with each other, East Nashville PRVN was able to edge out Independence with shorter breaks on the double-unders and sandbag holds. The team moved to the Worm and crossed the finish line at 19:15.24, claiming the test record. Mayhem Independence only reached the Worm when East Nashville PRVN was crossing the finish line, taking third at 20:04.17. 


Setting the Lead

Individual Test 1 | By: Kelley Laxton

Amanda Fischer

Photo by Johany Jutras


With a 3,000-m bike, 2,000-m run, 1,000-m ski, and 260 feet of hand-over-hand pulls, pacing was key in Individual Test 1.

In lane 13, an athlete with bright purple and blue hair began to separate herself from the pack early on, dragging 180 lb swiftly across the floor before jumping on the Assault AirRunner.

Amanda Fischer never slowed, firmly holding on to the lead for the remainder of the test.

When Fischer reached the final hand-over-hand pulls, she left it all on the floor. Putting on a show-stealing performance, she harnessed all the energy she had left to yank the rope, letting her body fall to the floor until she was sitting firmly on the finish mat.

Fischer set the time to beat in Heat 1 just over 2 minutes ahead of the 30-minute time cap at 27:42.89.


Organized Chaos

Team Test 3 | By: Kelley Laxton

Team Test 3 Field

Photo by Charlotte Foerschler


The teams were back on the floor first thing Friday morning, opening the second day of the 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games North America East Semifinal.

Test 3 was met with organized chaos. Running only two heats, 80 athletes and more than 20 judges were on the competition floor at the same time. As the teams flooded into their lanes, it was impossible to discern where the eager athletes ended and the cheering crowd behind them began.

Despite the stimulation, TTT CrossFit stood out early in Heat 1. Brynn Kurlan was the first athlete to the handstand pirouettes. She flipped onto her hands and began to twirl, putting on a performance for the fans, and lunged to the finish line first. The second member was the first male to join her, releasing the third athlete to the sprint.

With two athletes to go, CrossFit Crash Black began to pick up the pace, overtaking the lead. With one minute remaining, the last male on CrossFit Crash Black crossed the finish line, setting the time to beat at 15:21 heading into Heat 2.


The Battle of the Emmas

Individual Test 2 | By: Kelley Laxton

The battle of the Emmas

Photos by Charlotte Foerschler | Edited by Erin Garcia


Eighteen-year-old Emma Lawson and 19-year-old Emma Cary were placed side-by-side in the final heat of Test 2, establishing themselves as the leaders of the pack early on.

With two rounds down and one to go, it was a final push to accumulate as many burpees over the box as possible. Lawson and Cary were tied with 39 burpees apiece, only 8 reps away from surpassing the test record set in the previous heat.

Lawson completed her final ring complex unbroken before heading to her single-leg squats. She advanced to the burpee box jump-overs first, as Cary lagged behind.

With just 1 minute remaining, Lawson had already matched the score to beat from Heat 5 and was well on her way to setting a test record. But she couldn’t forget about the athlete to her right. Cary had made quick work of the single-leg squats and returned to her box, threatening Lawson's lead.

At the sound of the buzzer, Lawson had pulled out in front, setting the Test 2 record at 61 reps, 3 reps ahead of Cary. Cary and Lawson top the overall leaderboard heading into Day 2 in first a second, respectively.


The Universal Fist Bump

Individual Test 3 | By: Kelley Laxton

The Universal Fist Bump

Photo by Johany Jutras


Walking into the competition floor before every event, athletes are silent. They are focusing on the workout ahead, knowing they are standing next to a field of competitors vying for the same goal — a ticket to the 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games.

But in the Sport of Fitness, it all comes down to you. Your strength, your preparedness, your grit. You have all the power.

It’s Day 2, and the men were the first to take on Test 3 — Semifinals Linda. During the final heat, the field was stacked with the top 20 ranked men from Day 1, some of whom had been competing against each other for many years.

As Canadians Samuel Cournoyer and Jeffrey Adler finished their final cleans, snagging first and fourth, consecutively, all rivalries left the field. Adler approached the winner, extending his hand for a fist bump.

It’s as though the pair forgot they were in front of thousands of screaming fans, competing against each other for the title of Fittest on Earth. The interaction was that of fellow friends after completing the WOD at their affiliate, patting each other on the back for surviving such a grueling workout.

The essence of the CrossFit community never fades, even during the height of competition.


A Decade of Dominance

By: Kelley Laxton

Noah Ohlsen

Photo by Charlotte Foerschler


Noah Ohlsen hit a milestone only a handful of other individual Games athletes have hit before — 10 invites to the CrossFit Games. At 32 years old, he has dominated the division for a decade, receiving this accolade at the perfect time: his last year before retiring from individual competition. 

In October 2022, Ohlsen released a YouTube video stating that he will likely retire from the individual division after the 2023 season, hinting at joining a team moving forward. This year would be his last chance to round out his legacy.

As each season progresses, new, younger faces threaten the seasoned Games athletes. But Ohlsen has continued to be an unstoppable force and a fan favorite since his Games debut in 2014, known for his charisma on and off the competition floor. At every live competition, Ohlsen makes a point to interact with the crowd, thank the volunteers and staff, and congratulate his competitors on their performances. 

His last year has been no different. Ohlsen placed sixth worldwide at the 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games Individual Quarterfinal and left the North America East Semifinal crowd on its feet with a seventh-place finish and his 10th ticket to the Games in hand. Upon the final test, Ohlsen climbed on top of a water cooler, raising his arms up in thanks for his devoted fans. 


Major’s Mafia

By: Sarah Dugan

Major's Mafia

Photo by Ginnie Coleman


When you look to the front row of the stands at the North America East Semifinal, you may see a large group of people wearing blonde wigs and shirts labeled, “Major’s Mafia.”

They’re with Semifinals rookie Alexander Major.

Major brought along members from his affiliate — CrossFit Polaris — to Orlando to cheer him on at the North America East Semifinal. CrossFit Polaris members Kate and Mike were one of the dozen of Majors’ supporters sporting long, blonde wigs, mimicking Majors’ own hair. It was an ode to Major and a way to stand out in the crowd for Major to recognize while on the competition floor. 



Cape CrossFit Wolfpack’s Emotional Finish to Team Test 3

Team Test 3 | By: Kelley Laxton

Cape CrossFit Wolfpack

Photo by Roarke Bouffe


When Test 3 was announced just over a week ago, Cape CrossFit Wolfpack out of Cape Town, South Africa, went right to work, preparing for their performance on the floor.

But they found out quickly this would be a worrisome event. The women struggled to hit the 60-lb dumbbell presses unbroken, so when they took the floor on Saturday, the pressure was high. They knew they needed to do their best and make up for the loss in other tests.

It must have been the crowd or the pressure of live competition, but Team Cape CrossFit Wolfpack ended Team Test 3 with its best finish of the weekend, first.

Reegan Finkel was the second athlete released, and she cranked out large sets before flipping on her hands and dancing to the finish line. When she kicked down, she lunged into her sister’s arms — Brady Finkel — weeping with joy.

“I didn’t expect to just keep going (on the bench press),” Reegan said. “I was just happy to cross.”


To the Left of the Limelight

Individual Test 4 | By: Brittney Saline


A post shared by Sayed Hasona (@sayed.hasona)


The spotlight often plays follow-the-leader, and it tailed Jason Smith all weekend at the REBEL Renegade Games. The oldest athlete of the men’s field by five years, Smith — ranked 58th worldwide — took Africa’s only ticket to Madison with one test win and no finish outside the top 10. 

But great things sometimes happen outside the spotlight’s circle. Like when Elsayed Hasona quietly won Test 4 — an 800-m run on the Assault AirRunner followed by a 1-rep-max snatch, all in 6 minutes — out of the first heat. 

The 33-year-old — who has no CrossFit competition record to speak of — nailed an easy 110-kg (242.5-lb) opener and a second lift at 121 kg (approximately 267 lb). With 30 seconds before the time cap, he tossed on 5 more kg (11 lb) — and lost 10 seconds repositioning the plates after his judge flagged him down for loading them outside the clips.

The setup may have been frantic, but the lift was crisp. He caught the 126-kg (278-lb) barbell in a deep squat, standing it up with 3 seconds to spare. 

“Never did I imagine I would go from ‘lifter’ to 'crossfitter’ but I’m proud to say that I can wear BOTH these labels,” Hasona wrote in a 2022 Instagram post. “The perception that crossfitters are not as strong as lifters or that you will lose your strength turning to CrossFit could not be further from the truth.”


“A Real Race” 

By: Brittney Saline

Michelle Basnett

Photo by Roarke Bouffe


Only one woman would qualify for the 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games out of the Africa Semifinal, the REBEL Renegade Games. But that didn’t make it a one-woman show. 

Going into the Semifinal event, held May 19-21 in Johannesburg, Gauteng, Christina Livaditakis — second-place finisher out of Copa Sur in 2022 — was favored to win. And with one win (Test 2) and five top-three finishes, the 26-year-old certainly performed. 

But the contest for leading lady was between Michelle Basnett — who took 32nd at the Games in 2021 — and Mariska Smit, who competed on team CrossFit Eikestad at the 2021 NOBULL CrossFit Games. 

Neither won an event until Test 4, when Basnett finished the 800-m run on the Assault AirRunner and snatched 79 kg/174 lb (Smit took second with a 76-kg/167.5-lb snatch). After Smit won the subsequent test, the pair started the final day of competition in the lead: Smit in first with 420 points and Basnett just 7 points behind. 

The women thrilled fans with spectacular races in the final two tests, just one failed overhead squat the difference between first and third for Smit in Test 6. Winning both tests by a hair’s breadth — by 1 rep in Test 6 and 2 seconds in Test 7 — Basnett earned her return to Madison with style. 

“That was a real race,” the 26-year-old said. 


Cover photo by Roarke Bouffe

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