July 29, 2021
Across the Lake and Up the Wall
By Nicole Peyton
Day 1 of the individual competition is in the books. Toomey and Fikowski sit atop the leaderboard.
Day 1 of the individual competition is in the books. Toomey and Fikowski sit atop the leaderboard.

The 2021 NOBULL CrossFit Games individual competition is officially underway. Keeping to tradition, Wednesday kicked off in the water with Event 1, an off-site challenge for the men and women who earned their spot in Madison after proving their fitness in the earlier stages of the season. 

Event 2 demanded high-volume gymnastics and brute strength as athletes took on new tests with the return of old equipment in a combination of muscle-ups, Pig flips, and sled drags.

Event 3 was a quick one as athletes faced a 550-yard sprint around the Alliant Energy Center. 

Event 4, the final of the day, challenged athletes with a movement we haven’t seen at the Games before — but we have seen in the Open. 

Keep reading to find out who came out on top and who finished Day 1 with some damage control to do.=

Event 1

At 8 a.m. CT on Tuesday morning, 38 men and 36 women splashed into the waves of Madison’s beautiful Lake Monona to take on a 1-mile swim followed by a 3-mile kayak paddle in the open water. The event presented athletes with a new piece of equipment: a kayak.While Games athletes have been challenged with water events since 2011, the tests have continuously evolved with the level of fitness, and this year’s water event was the most demanding to date.

swim paddle
Individual athletes get set for Event 1

Athletes knew they’d be paddling, but they didn’t know it would be with an oar. While some seemed to sail effortlessly through the water with the new implement, others struggled to keep a rhythm and fell behind the pack. The fins awarded good swimmers by making them even better while  the average with more efficiency and speed. 


In yesterday’s article, “A Swim Event: A CF-L2 Coaches Perspective,” Dr. Richard Norris shared his thoughts on Event 1, calling the swim an endurance event and noting that pacing would be key to success. Finland’s Jonne Koski must’ve read that article last night, because he was the picture of effective pacing throughout the event. With an enormous lead on the rest of the field, Koski finished the swim portion around the 21-minute mark and hopped into his kayak with a substantial lead. 

Koski’s rhythmic oar strokes had him sailing through the water with consistent speed. Even a few areas of chop couldn’t slow him down as Koski’s focus was clear — win the event and earn 100 points. Koski did just that, finishing in 1:06:44.23 and earning the nickname Jonne “Coasty” by CrossFit Games commentator Chase Ingraham for the way he coasted swiftly to the finish. 

Men’s Event 1 Results

  1. Jonne Koski - 1:06:44.23
  2. Lazar Đukić - 1:09:08.68
  3. Alex Vigneault - 1:09:48.17


A former Division 1 collegiate swimmer at Cleveland State, Amanda Barnhart relied on her experience to get her through the 1-mile open-water swim. Barnhart led the women through the entire swim, and was the first to begin her 3-mile kayak paddle. 

But Barnhart slowed on the kayak with a single-stroke technique that CrossFit Games commentator Chase Ingraham pointed out was less than optimal for a long-distance paddle.  

Barnhart quickly lost her lead as Sweden’s Emma Tall, Games veteran Kristi Eramo-O'Connell, and four-time reigning Games champion Tia-Clair Toomey crept up around 30 minutes into the event.

Eramo-O’Connell began drafting off Toomey, who was just a few meters in front of her, prompting some friendly banter as Toomey yelled, “Get outta here!” to her competitor.
Toomey was able to hold off Eramo-O’Connell off and started the quest for her fifth consecutive Games championship with an event win and 100 points. 

SUBHEAD: Women’s Event 1 Results

  1. Tia-Clair Toomey - 1:10:46.37
  2. Kristi Eramo O’Connell - 1:10:54.64
  3. Emma Tall - 1:10:54.64

Event 2

The second event of the day challenged athletes with a combination of bar and ring muscle-ups, Pig flips, and a sled pull down the field of the WHOOP North Park Stadium at the Alliant Energy Center. Highlights included a massive comeback by Patrick Vellner, who took 35th in Event 1, and a second-straight event win for the day by the reigning women’s champion. 


It’s almost like Vellner does it on purpose — tanks in the first event of the Games just to challenge himself to dig out of the hole. After earning 35th place in the swim/paddle earlier in the day, Vellner had some ground to make up in Event 2. Luckily for him, the movements played to his strengths. 

Patrick Vellner during Event 2

Vellner came out in Heat 1 ready for redemption and sailed through the complex movements with ease. Forty-eight muscle-ups, 10 Pig flips, and two sled drags later, Vellner blew away the 12-min. time cap and the rest of the field, finishing in 7:42.42 for an event win.

Koski, who led after Event 1, got tangled in the sled ropes at the start, losing precious time. Still, he managed to earn a spot just outside the top 10 in the event (11th).

Men’s Event 2 Standings

  1. Patrick Vellner - 7:42.42
  2. Samuel Cournoyer - 8:09.71
  3. Scott Panchik - 8:16.30


2018’s second-fittest woman on Earth, Laura Horváth, got out to an early lead in Event 2 as she showcased her strength, quickly pulling the sled down the field. But she lost her lead on the rings as Annie Thorisdottir and Toomey, who boast six Games championships between them, caught up. 

From that point on, Toomey never relinquished the lead. Performing nearly unbroken sets of bar muscle-ups, Toomey was the first — and only — athlete back to the Pig flips after completing the gymnastics. Even as Toomey said goodbye to the Pig and moved on to the final sled pull, no other woman had yet completed the muscle-ups. 

Toomey finished the event in 8:27.92, making her two-for-two on Day 1 and adding to her 25 CrossFit Games event wins. 

Women’s Event 2 Standings

  1. Tia-Clair Toomey - 8:27.92
  2. Emma McQuaid - 9:29.83
  3. Laura Horváth - 9:58.93

Event 3

Blink and you’ll miss it. Event 3 was a quick 550-yard sprint around the venue with a 4-minute time cap. 


Every so often, an event winner is found in Heat 1. In the sprint event, Brazil’s Guilherme Malheiros ocame out blazing in Heat 1, setting the time to beat at 1:15.37. 

In Heat 2, Canada’s Alex Vigneault led the group until the final stretch when Iceland’s Björgvin Karl Guðmundsson turned on the turbo to finish in 1:17.68, edging out Vigneault who fell to 15th in the event after the other heats were factored in. 

Malheiros’ time stood, and he earned his first CrossFit Games event win and 100 points.

Men’s Event 3 Standings

  1. Guilherme Malheiros - 1:15.37
  2. Will Moorad - 1:15.59
  3. Patrick Vellner - 1:15.72 


Event 3 took athletes from behind the Coliseum, around a curve, into the stadium, and down the field. It wasn’t a straight shot, but that didn’t slow the athletes down a bit. 

Brooke Wells during Event 3

Toomey sprinted to her third straight event win, finishing the 550-yard course in 1:24.17. She barely edged out perennial Games athlete and training partner Brooke Wells, who competed in the prior heat and finished with a time of 1:24.43. 

Women’s Event 3 Standings

  1. Tia-Clair Toomey - 1:24.17
  2. Brooke Wells - 1:24.43
  3. Haley Adams - 1:25.74

Event 4

The final event of the day challenged athletes to a descending rep scheme of wall walks and heavy thrusters. The wall walk was introduced to CrossFit competition during this year’s Open, and while some loved it, others were faced with the realization that they had a big hole in their fitness. But if there’s one thing we know about CrossFitters, it’s that they love a challenge.

From the looks of Event 4, it seems as if many Games athletes are no longer fearful of this awkward movement. Others, however, seemed to be regretting their decision to avoid the movement as their bodies crashed to the floor from the wall on each agonizing rep. 


Perennial Games athlete and fan favorite Scott Panchik announced his retirement on the eve of the 2021 NOBULL CrossFit Games. If Event 4 showed anything, it’s that Panchik is sure to close his career with a bang. Panchik competed in Heat 1, setting the time to beat at 13:39.61 after methodically working his way through the shoulder-demanding wall walks and heavy thrusters. 

In Heat 2, third-place 2020 CrossFit Games finisher Justin Medeiros finished with a time of 14:50.28 for a heat win, but at more than a minute slower than Panchik, his time was only good enough for second in the event. 

Men’s Event 4 Results

  1. Scott Panchik - 13:39.61
  2. Justin Medeiros - 14:50.28
  3. Brent Fikowski - 15:05.03


Toomey went into Event 4 hoping to do something no one has ever done: sweep Day 1 of the CrossFit Games. 

But 17-year-old Mal O’Brien had other plans. O’Brien gave Toomey a run for her money in the brutal couplet of wall walks and thrusters when she took the lead around the 6-minute mark and never relinquished. 

O’Brien attacked the thrusters with an unbroken pace and made quick work of the wall walks with an inverted burpee style. O’Brien finished in 13:41.22 and became the youngest competitor to ever win an event at the CrossFit Games.

Mal O'Brien
Mal O'Brien on her way to winning Event 4

Women’s Event 4 Standings

  1. Mallory O’Brien - 13:41.22
  2. Tia-Clair Toomey - 14:15.83
  3. Emma Cary - 14:25.57

Overall Standings


  1. Brent Fikowski (322 pts.)
  2. Justin Medeiros (313 pts.)
  3. Jonne Koski (310 pts.)


  1. Tia-Clair Toomey (397 pts.)
  2. Haley Adams (340 pts.)
  3. Kristin Holte (331 pts.)

Note: All times and placements are unofficial at time of publication.

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