A History of Regional Competition

May 7, 2013


Even as the CrossFit Games have become a big-time sport, with ESPN coverage, stadium workouts and brand name sponsors, the CrossFit Games season preserves the spirit of Aromas in the early years.


The 2007 CrossFit Games were open to all comers. To accommodate the varying ability levels, competitors were even able to scale workouts, though this knocked them out of contention.

Despite the humble beginnings, the first CrossFit Games at the Ranch in Aromas, Calif., were an international competition – two of the top three men flew in from Canada to compete.

The week after the first CrossFit Games, Games Director Dave Castro was already thinking ahead.

He posted on the CrossFit Message Board:

“The 2008 CrossFit Games will be in Aromas, California on July 5th and 6th. This will give people plenty of time to search for cheap flights and hotel deals. There will not be an East Coast CrossFit Games. East Coast affiliates can have their own competitions in preparation to send people out to the Games. I will not call these CF Games qualifiers, because at this time we are allowing anyone to come. But they can be regional qualifiers where a few affiliates decide on who they are going to pay to come out. For example, the D.C. area affiliates could have a comp 2 months prior where the top 4 performers are picked to come out to the Games as representation.  As far as different locations go, we are definitely open to that. But not until the ‘09 Games. If you have an area you think would be good, come next year to The Games and you will see what type of things we are looking for in a potential site. If you have any more questions about The 08 Games in Aromas California you can post them here or email me at dave@crossfit.com 

Dave Castro”

In 2008, though, anyone could still show up and compete to be the world’s fittest. And scaling, again, was an option. A 68-year-old man competed in the same events as an NFL offensive tackle, and somehow it all worked out. The 287 competitors who showed up, though, started to strain the capacity of the Ranch to test for fitness in a weekend.

By 2009, interest in the sport of fitness had grown to the point where a qualification step was necessary. On September 26, 2008, the 2008 Games site warned:

“The 2009 Games will not be open enrollment. There will be no scaling. You must qualify to enter. Adequate performance in the 2008 Games will count. There will be a series of qualifying events around the country (world) in May, 2009.”

For individual competitors, the 2009 CrossFit Games season was a two-step process: Regionals and the Games. It was the only CrossFit Games season that included a two-step process. 2007 and 2008 were one-stage competitions, and each year since 2009 has featured three stages.

The Regionals began with the now familiar breakdown of the world into 17 Regions. The names and boundaries, however, were different. Instead of the now familiar South East, you had the Dirty South. Much of what we now know as South Central went by the name of Hell’s Half Acre. And the tiny island of Iceland had its own Regional, separate from the rest of Europe.

Regional programming in 2009 featured creative flair, as well. Each Regional had separate qualification workouts, opening the door for some innovation. Canada East featured a cross-country run over “rough” terrain with stops for “mini-events” along the way. The North West Regional brushed off an old classic long discontinued in Olympic weightlifting competitions — the clean and press. NorCal required uphill farmer’s walks, with the unexpected complication of heavy rain.

In addition to the 17 live Regionals, individuals qualified for the Games in 2009 via the Last Chance Online Qualifier, a virtual, video submission competition. Foreshadowing the CrossFit Games Open, the Last Chance Qualifier posted three workouts and had competitors complete them on their own and submit results and videotaped performances via email. Athletes who missed qualification at Regionals had a second chance at making the Games. Surprisingly, the 2009 CrossFit Games’ second-place finisher, Tommy Hackenbruck qualified via the Last Chance Qualifier, as did Peter Egyed and Spencer Hendel.

2010 again redesigned the CrossFit Games season. On December 3, 2009, the Games site announced that the 2010 Regionals would no longer be open to anyone — athletes would have to qualify via Sectionals, a new stage of competition. Sectionals chopped the world up into even smaller bits. Some regions were split into as many as four different sections. In addition, an Online Qualifier, specifically designed for military service members unable to attend Sectionals, fed athletes into Regionals.

While 2010 saw the Sectionals spread out over the world, the number of Regionals decreased. Canada East and West were consolidated into one Canada Regional, and Iceland joined Europe. In total, 13 live Regional competitions selected the athletes of the CrossFit Games. Similar to 2009, each qualifying event for the CrossFit Games featured different programming during both Sectionals and Regionals.

The 2011 CrossFit Games season introduced a format that would remain roughly the same for at least the next couple of years. It began with the first-ever Open competition. Athletes worldwide competed in six Open workouts over six weeks from March 15 to May 1, 2011, posting scores in real time and online. Anyone could throw their hat in the ring to compete for a position among the fittest athletes in the world. More than 26,000 athletes competed in the Open in 2011 — a fivefold increase from the level of participation in the 2010 season.

In 2011, the top 60 men, 60 women and 30 teams from each of 17 regions qualified for Regionals. The 2011 CrossFit Games season held 17 Regional competitions — four more than in 2010.

For the first time, all CrossFit Games qualifying events in 2011 were standardized. Not only did competitors in all regions perform the same workouts during the Open, but those who qualified competed in the same Regional workouts, as well. Amanda, the 2010 CrossFit Games’ tribute to Amanda Miller, was re-programmed as one of six Regional workouts in 2011. 

The 2012 season mirrored 2011. The 2012 Open challenged 69,000 registered athletes to five events. The top 60 men, 60 women and 30 teams from each region moved on to Regionals, where the level of competition reached heights previously reserved for the CrossFit Games finals.

The only man to compete in every CrossFit Games, Chris Spealler, nearly missed the cut-off for Games qualification from the South West. The CrossFit world anxiously followed social media to keep track of Spealler’s fate. When he pulled off a Day 3 comeback and secured his sixth Games, #Spealler trended on Twitter in his honor.

Now in 2013, the Open has become a favorite tradition in many CrossFit affiliates, complete with parties and year-round anticipation. Participation doubled from 2012 with more than 138,000 registered competitors. One change in 2013 switched up the competition — just 48 men and 48 women, down from 60 in previous years, automatically qualified for Regionals from each Region. Nonetheless, in some regions where many top-48 individual athletes decided to compete on a team or declined the invitation, CrossFit invited the next closest athletes from the Open.

Even as the CrossFit Games have become a big-time sport, with ESPN coverage, stadium workouts and brand name sponsors, the CrossFit Games season preserves the spirit of Aromas in the early years. “Regional competitor” carries the same aura that “Games athlete” did just a few years ago. And even though the Home Depot Center may be out of the reach of a CrossFitter in Seoul or Sydney, the CrossFitters of Asia, Australia and 15 other regions will gather to watch their area’s fittest fight to make it to the CrossFit Games.