April 26, 2018
The Land of Fine Wine and Fitness
By Brittney Saline
French athletes hope to qualify for Games and inspire compatriots to do CrossFit.
French athletes hope to qualify for Games and inspire compatriots to do CrossFit.

France has never sent an individual athlete to the CrossFit Games.

In 2017, three French masters athletes (Alexandre Jolivet and Christophe Besnard, 35-39; Framboise Labat, Women 60+) competed at the Games. But no teams and no individuals.

In fact, only one French man, woman and team each competed in the 2017 Meridian Regional: Willy Georges (18th), Tina Moeglin (36th) and Team CrossFit Take Control Elite Competitor (18th).

“French people are not (into) sport,” Moeglin said through Facebook Messenger. She will make her second Regional appearance this year after taking ninth in Europe South in the 2018 Open.

“It’s a country known for (its) gastronomy, wine and cheese … and also beautiful landscapes,” she continued.

CrossFit is changing that.

Alexandre Jolivet, 2014

“In France, we’re 10 years late compared with other countries, but the CrossFit scene is erupting much more with the opening of a lot of affiliates each year,” Anne Claire Dreyfus said with the assistance of an interpreter. Dreyfus qualified for the 2018 Meridian Regional with a fifth-place Open finish in Europe South.

At the end of 2016, there were just under 300 CrossFit affiliates in France. Today, there are more than 400.

“In France it’s amazing. It’s growing very, very fast,” said Georges, a former semi-professional rugby player. After breaking his arm, he started CrossFit in 2015 to regain strength for rugby.

“I stay at CrossFit and I never go back to rugby,” he said, laughing.

With the growth of CrossFit in France and other European countries came a rejigging of the Meridian Regional. In 2017, the Regional was home to all of Europe and Africa. This year, Europe split in three: Europe North and Central fused to make the new Europe Regional, to be held May 18-20 in Berlin, Germany. Europe South—including France—joined Middle East Africa, forming the new Meridian Regional, with the competition to be held June 1-3 at Caja Mágica in Madrid, Spain. Four men, women and teams each will qualify out of the Meridian Regional for the 2018 Reebok CrossFit Games. Five Games spots are up for grabs in each division in the Europe Regional.

Athletes are hopeful that the new format will pave the way for the first French men and women to get to Madison.

“The fact of (Europe) being split is a huge advantage for us—Icelandic girls and Scandinavian girls seem to have genetics made for CrossFit,” Moeglin joked.

This year, the Meridian Regional will feature three men (Georges, Stephane Ossanga and Guillaume Magnouat), six women (Moeglin, Dreyfus, Alizee Andreani, Carole Castellani, Sabrina Nunes and Jessica Vetter) and eight teams from France.

Though Georges said he’s more confident this year—a result of more balanced training and having experienced the Regional competition floor in 2017—he was quick to point out that the new format doesn’t necessarily make it easier to qualify for the Games.

“I think it's going to be very, very difficult because … there are lots of good athletes, like Rasmus Andersen,” he said.

Andersen, who lived in Southern California for years, is now in United Arab Emirates and will be a favorite in the Meridian Regional after he made the Games as an individual in 2016. He will be joined in Madrid by two other past individual Games athletes: Lukas Esslinger (2016-2017) and Phil Hesketh (2015).

Still, Georges is likely to hold his own: the Open winner for Europe South, he beat both Andersen and Hesketh in every Open workout and Esslinger in five out of six scored events.

Neither will there be any free passes on the women’s side, where three past individual Games athletes will be vying for tickets to Madison: Jamie Greene (2017), Celestie Engelbrecht (2014) and Lauren Fisher (2014, 2016-2017), who has moved from the California Region to train and live in Dubai with Anderson, her boyfriend.

Jamie Greene

But stiff competition can be a good thing.

Dreyfus said she’s “really excited to participate” in the Meridian Regional, hoping that competing alongside high-level athletes will make her a better competitor, too. And the more French athletes who compete at the Regional level—and hopefully, at the Games—the “more the sport will develop” in France, she added.

Moeglin and Georges agreed.

“For the French CrossFit athlete, it would show that it is possible to reach this level,” Moeglin said of perhaps seeing a French individual qualify for the Games.

“I think it (would) be an honor and big privilege to be the first French (individual) to go to the Games,” Georges said. “If I can motivate some young boy to do CrossFit, I’m happy.”