October 22, 2020
The Games That Almost Weren't
By CrossFit
It's a wonder the 2020 Games are happening.
It's a wonder the 2020 Games are happening.

The finals of the 2020 CrossFit Games begin tomorrow, and it is truly a wonder that they’re happening at all. In a year packed with tumultuous changes and so much uncertainty, the CrossFit community — athletes, staff, affiliates, and fans — has persevered and collectively manifested the Games that almost weren’t. And that’s something to celebrate. 

So let’s take a look back at the year and see how we’ve made the very best of a challenging season. 

The Open

The 2020 Open went off without a hitch. From Oct. 10, 2019, through Nov. 11, 2019, athletes took on one workout each week in their affiliates or home gyms, starting the season off with competition and camaraderie, oblivious to the big changes that were on the horizon.  

Canadian Patrick Vellner topped the leaderboard for the men, while Icelandic Sara Sigmundsdottir took the overall win on the women’s side, and we looked ahead to the rest of the season.

Big Shifts

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, CrossFit encountered some major shifts. 

CrossFit staff and community members were still reeling from changes that occurred after the Games in 2018 when the media team was dramatically reduced and the company seemed to shift its focus away from the sport. In the ensuing months, the Games qualification process was overhauled, Regionals were eliminated and replaced by CrossFit-sanctioned events around the world, and the CrossFit Open became a direct qualifier to the Games, sending the top 20 men and women to the world stage. 

In February of 2020, CrossFit Director of Sport Dave Castro joined Julie Foucher on her podcast  Pursuing Health to address the community’s reaction to the abrupt changes. 

“I think people are resistant to change,” Castro said during the interview, “and I think people being more tolerant and accepting of change is a good thing. I think this forced all of us to learn how to deal with it, and people who weren't prepared for it, people in the community, staff, athletes — hey, this is life. You’re going to get handed things you don’t like to deal with and change you don’t want to deal with. And so, it was all a good lesson in life for so many of us.”

He couldn’t know then how relevant his statement would be in the coming months. 

COVID-19

In March 2020, soon after CrossFit recognized the impending COVID-19 pandemic, the global health situation began to spin out of control. 

As the pandemic spread, countries began to shut down, issue stay-at-home orders and social-distancing guidelines, forcing CrossFit affiliates around the world  to close their doors and put their livelihoods at risk. Affiliate owners had to get creative to retain membership and fitness. 

But if anyone’s familiar with the unknown and unknowable, it’s the CrossFit community, and many reinvented their businesses in real time to meet the challenge.

A lot of coaches and affiliates got crash courses in online video conferencing, like Zoom. They instructed athletes through workouts in their homes or garage gyms, got creative with odd objects, or used the unique circumstances as a chance to focus on body-weight movement. Aspiring athletes continued to train in pursuit of the 2020 Games, which at the time were still slated for early August in Madison, Wisconsin. And CrossFit organized an event called Support Your Local Box, a fundraiser to benefit the CrossFit affiliates affected by COVID-19 around the globe. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Support Your Local Box Fundraiser is a @CrossFit event for the benefit of CrossFit affiliates affected by COVID-19 around the globe. The temporary closures and distance between us cannot keep this community apart. Affiliates around the world have demonstrated this through their actions over the past few weeks. Now, the entire CrossFit community has an opportunity to come together in support of our affiliates. Registration will take place on games.crossfit.com/open beginning on or before Wednesday, April 1, and will remain open for the duration of the competition. The first workout will be released on Friday, April 3. Anyone can participate in the Support Your Local Box Fundraiser. Payment is not required. We understand that many face financial difficulties at this time and want everyone to have the opportunity to participate without barriers. Your participation is, in itself, a strong form of support and encouragement to the affiliate community. Read the full announcement with more information on how to get involved through the link in bio. Visit https://www.crossfit.com/sport Stay tuned. Spread the word. #CrossFit - @CrossFit @CrossFitTraining #CrossFitCommunity #CrossFitGames #CrossFitTraining #StrongerTogether #Fitness #FitnessMotivation #supportyourlocalbox

A post shared by CrossFit Games (@crossfitgames) on

 

Slowly, mandated closures around the world started to be lifted. In affiliates that were given the go-ahead to reopen,  owners, staff, and trainers worked diligently to keep their members safe, implementing new protocols around distancing, hygiene, and masks, like boxing off workout spaces to allow for distancing or taking workouts outdoors. Some prominent athletes even began sharing at-home workouts to keep the community motivated. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

• @crossfitmeta: Outside training? Yeah we’re ready. #unknownunknowable #crossfit #yeahbuddy

A post shared by CrossFit Affiliates (@crossfitaffiliates) on

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

My focus this week has been on trying to stay healthy and figure out any way that I can help everyone around the world stay positive and healthy themselves, in such an unprecedented time. With most people being asked to stay home and with the closure of many gyms, I’ve been trying to provide at home workouts that anyone can do anywhere. ⁣ ⁣ This morning I went live and it was so cool to have thousands of people from around the world working out with me! I’ll be going live again every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11am EST. ⁣ ⁣ In addition, you can grab a handful of at home workouts on my @playbook_app through the link in my bio! They’ve agreed to drop the sign-up fee to just $1 during these trying times. I hope this can help everyone stay #HealthyAtHome!

A post shared by Noah Ohlsen (@nohlsen) on

Age Group Division Canceled

While some boxes were able to reopen, it was clear by late spring that most large events would have to be canceled for months. Bowing to this new reality, CrossFit announced that the 2020 Games would not be held in Madison, Wisconsin, its home of the last three years, and the Age Group competition was canceled in early May. Many observers doubted that any in-person competition would be possible in 2020.

Though there was much disappointment at the cancellation, many athletes took the news in stride. Olivia Sulek, first in the Open in the Girls 16-17 Division, didn’t let the announcement or the quarantine stop her from working hard. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

It is with heavy hearts that we announce that the crossfit games have been canceled due to the COVID-19 crisis. After working all year for this one competition, it’s sad knowing that everyone in the age group division will not be given the opportunity to compete. My heart goes out to all of you. However, this will not be the end of hard work and dedication. I’m going to keep working hard for whatever the future holds. Although this isn’t what anyone was picturing, I know that there are bigger plans for what is to come. Thank you to everyone who has supported me along this journey. Like I said before, corona may be putting us in quarantine, but quarantine will never stop the hard work. Thank you💛

A post shared by Olivia Sulek (@olivia.sulek) on

CrossFit looks forward to welcoming the Age Group Division back in 2021. 

Inklings of a Plan 

On May 18, 2020, CrossFit published this video of CrossFit Director of Sport Dave Castro enthusiastically talking about hosting the Games for the individuals at The Ranch in Aromas, California, the location of the first CrossFit Games in 2007. 

“I think the majority of the fans will be very excited that we’re even delivering some sort of competition and entertainment,” Castro says. 

As news spread that the Olympics and other major sports had decided to cancel their seasons, Castro addressed his feelings around the possibility of a similar cancellation in an interview on the podcast Talking Elite Fitness.

“I feel like canceling would be giving up,” Castro said. “I feel like canceling would be quitting, and I don’t like to quit, and I don’t like to give up.”

And so CrossFit didn’t cancel. The format of the Games would need to change, and the plans for the new format would have to be discussed with a new leadership team.

Entering a New Era

In June of 2020, a controversy engulfed the company around comments made by CrossFit Founder Greg Glassman, who subsequently decided to sell the company to tech executive and box owner Eric Roza. Roza made it clear from his first day that he planned to reenergize the global growth of the Games, aiming for half a million Open participants in 2021 and a future worldwide fan base of more than a billion people. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

@rozaeric: “Dear CrossFit community, Since I discovered CrossFit 10 years ago, it has changed my life, and I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to lead CrossFit through its next chapter as CEO and owner, following the closing next month. As a box owner and athlete, I’ve experienced CrossFit’s transformative power and the shared bond it creates between people of different races, genders, ages, ethnicities, incomes, educations and physical abilities. That magic, created by our affiliate owners, coaches, and athletes in 158 countries around the world, is real. And I believe it makes the world a better place. In the past weeks, divisive statements and allegations have left many members of our community struggling to reconcile our transformative experiences in the local box with what we’ve been reading online. My view is simple: Racism and sexism are abhorrent and will not be tolerated in CrossFit. We open our arms to everyone, and I will be working hard to rebuild bridges with those whose trust we have lost. I come to you with deep humility and the realization that we have hard work to do. I am committed to listening, I am committed to learning, and I am committed to leading positive change. Most of all, I am committed to CrossFit and to you, as a member of our community. If you are committed to the future of CrossFit and have ideas, I want to hear from you. And if you loved CrossFit, and we lost you along the way, I want to regain your trust and partnership. Please reach out to me at eric@crossfit.com.” #committedtocrossfit

A post shared by CrossFit (@crossfit) on

 

Game Time!

The 2020 Games would need to go through one more shift on the way to the championship, however, as Castro, General Manager of Sport Justin Bergh, and Roza decided that the original plan for a unified in-person finals in Aromas would need to be adjusted due to travel and safety considerations.

On Aug. 7, CrossFit announced a new two-stage competition format, combining an online first stage in athlete’s home gyms around the world from which the top finishers would progress to an in-person finals in Northern California.

The first stage of that new format took place from Sept. 18-19 with the 30 men and 30 women qualifiers competing for one of five slots for each division. Those 10 athletes were invited to compete in the in-person finals in Northern California beginning Friday, Oct. 23. 

To protect the safety of the athletes and staff in the final stage, the CrossFit staff created new CrossFit Access Protocols, which lay out extensive measures to try to protect the athletes and staff during and after the competition. The CrossFit team has worked tirelessly to ensure a safe and exciting event for the finalists and fans of the 2020 CrossFit Games. 

And it’s almost time. A culmination of hard work, perseverance, and relentlessness — by athletes, staff, and community alike — will take place in Northern California, and when it’s all over, the Fittest on Earth will be crowned and we’ll begin to look ahead to the 2021 season. 

The CrossFit community is skilled in the art of dealing with the unknown and the unknowable. We will undoubtedly continue to rise to the challenges life presents, because we’ve come to learn that the obstacle is the way.

Get all the info on how to watch the finals here.