If watching one CrossFit Games champion take the floor in Week 1 is cause for excitement, watching two means the action will be hotter than two barn mice wrestling in a wool sock.
Katrin Davidsdottir and Mat Fraser will begin their title defenses this weekend on the floor of the Times Union Center in Albany, New York. They’ll have some stiff competition, though, as the East Regional is ranked as the toughest for the men and the second-toughest for the women.
There will be some spots up for grabs as three qualifiers from 2016 have shifted over to the team competition. In addition, the top two teams from 2016 have disbanded, opening the door for new qualifying teams in the East.
Here are five major storylines worth following.
CAN KARI BEAT KATRIN?
Kari Pearce had a breakout season in 2016. The fifth-fittest woman on the planet picked up right where she left off, contending for the top spot in the Open and leading most of the way before settling for second overall.
The question now is whether or not Pearce can improve upon her fifth place at the Games and make a push for the podium. For me, the answer to that question starts with how well she performs at the East Regional against her toughest competitor: two-time reigning Fittest Woman on Earth, Davidsdottir.
While some athletes don’t put much stock in their Regional performance as long as they get to the Games, I see value in being able to line up next to your biggest opponent and go punch for punch.
The heavy dose of gymnastics in this year’s programming means the time has never been better for the former University of Michigan gymnast to best Davidsdottir on the Regional floor.
PLAYING WITH THE BIG BOYS
Last year, Nicholas Paladino won his second consecutive title in the Teenage Boys 16-17 Division at the Games. It left many of us wondering how long it would take for the young man to make a serious impact on the individual side.
Paladino, now 18, qualified for the East Regional out of the North East. The road was anything but smooth, however. Paladino kicked off his individual career by winning 17.1 in his region, following it up with a solid 10th place in 17.2.
The next three weeks were not as kind. Paladino dropped down the Leaderboard after a 70th-place finish in 17.3, and a 65th-place finish in 17.5.
When the dust settled, Paladino sat squarely in 20th, the final spot guaranteed a Regional invite. While it was certainly impressive that he was able to make it to Regionals in the toughest region for men, it did showcase a few chinks in the armor of the two-time teenage champion.
This weekend will be the first big test for Paladino as he leaves the comforts of his own gym and lines up next to athletes who are older, bigger and in many ways more experienced.
REEBOK CROSSFIT ONE
When one door closes, another one opens. This much is true for Austin Malleolo and Spencer Hendel, two athletes who have been cornerstones of the North East men’s individual competition. Both Malleolo and Hendel have decided to switch to team, and bring 11 individual Games appearances with them.
They’ll be competing together on the Reebok CrossFit ONE team and will be joined by a cast of talented individuals.
Conor Murphy, the team's third male athlete, has twice been just one spot away from qualifying for the CrossFit Games out of the Latin America Region (2013, 2014).
On the women’s side, two athletes on the roster have multiple years of Games experience under their belt: Allyson Leard has been a member of CrossFit New England's Games team on multiple occasions, and Rachel Martinez has been to the Games both as an Individual in 2014, and on CrossFit New England’s team. Their other female athlete, Kaitlyn Brierley, has competed as an individual at the Regional level for the last three years.
THE NEXT BIG CANADIAN
Michele Letendre and Camille Leblanc-Bazinet were the two female Canadian stars at the forefront of the sport as it grew exponentially over the last six years. Leblanc-Bazinet has since relocated to the South West, and now with Letendre’s retirement, I’m interested to see which female can step up alongside Carol-Ann Reason-Thibault to be the next star from Canada East.
There is a mixture of potential athletes who’ve performed well in the Open this year and have varying degrees of experience across multiple areas of CrossFit Games competition. Chloe Gauvin-David, and Carolyne Prevost both competed at the 2016 East Regional, finishing 12th and 18th, respectively.
Two former teammates in Mirakim Couvrette, and Stephanie Roy, have moved over to the individual side after having competed at the Games on Pro1 Montreal’s team. Couvrette returned from a year off after having shoulder surgery, and Roy has already guaranteed herself a spot in Madison after qualifying in the 35-39 Masters Women Division.
REDEMPTION FOR CHASE SMITH?
At the 2016 East Regional, Chase Smith was on the wrong end of a tiebreaker, which ultimately meant he lost out on a spot to the CrossFit Games. After seven events, he was deadlocked with Alex Vigneault in points and lost by virtue of Vigneault’s third-place finish in Event 5.
Perhaps what made the pill tougher for Smith to swallow was that if Smith had gone 1 second faster in the final event, he’d have stood on the Regional podium in place of Vigneault.
Still, Smith bounced back with a 10th-place worldwide Open finish this year—his best ever.