In the lead-up to the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games, a plethora of storylines emerged. All Semifinal events were held live for the first time. The age-group and adaptive athletes adjusted to their new season structure, and CrossFit announced that Madison, Wisconsin, would host the Games just two more times as the search for the future home of the season finale got underway.
The individual and team champions returned in 2022 to defend their crowns. Tia-Clair Toomey, the most dominant CrossFit athlete of all time, was looking to solidify her claim. Younger athletes such as Emma Lawson, 17, and Tudor Magda, 19, filled the individual ranks after years of teenage competition.
After winning it all in 2021, Fittest Man on Earth Justin Medeiros wanted to start his own run of titles like the two great men’s champions before him, Mathew Fraser and Rich Froning Jr. Ricky Garard and Roman Khrennikov entered the fray with lots of talent and unconventional backgrounds, and many had questions about how they would perform. Returning and newly formed teams were poised to dislodge CrossFit Mayhem Freedom from the top. There was no lack of excitement as the competition got underway.
But the first few days of the Games did not play out as expected, and many wondered if we’d see a total leaderboard shake-up for the first time in a long time. But a bit of normalcy took over near the end of the weekend as the individual and team leaderboards settled into a familiar structure. There were veteran and unfamiliar faces on the age-group podiums this year as some added to their record books while others started a new chapter. In their second year at the Games, the adaptive athletes competed alongside the age-group athletes, and for the first time in history, all divisions were challenged with the same event, which allowed for a lot of interesting cross-comparisons. Read on for a broad recap of some of the significant accomplishments and interesting occurrences in the individual division at the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games. Recaps for the team, age-group, and adaptive divisions to follow — plus, some interesting odds and ends from the Games.
Men’s Individual Event 1 | Photo by Johany Jutras
Now six-time Fittest Woman on Earth Tia-Clair Toomey cemented her legacy as the most dominant CrossFit athlete of all time in 2022. Throughout the weekend, there was talk that this may have been Toomey’s last Games appearance. However, she made no retirement announcement and has already alluded to coming back next season to make a run for her seventh consecutive title. Below is a list of the most prominent categories in which she holds or is tied for the all-time individual lead.
- Championships: 6
- Silver medals (tied): 2
- Podium finishes: 8
- Top-5 finishes: 8
- Event wins: 35
- Percentage of events won: 30.43%
- Top-5 event finishes: 75
- Top-10 event finishes: 95
- Average event placement: 5.522
- Leader’s jersey: 79
Despite being the most dominant CrossFit athlete of all time, Toomey did not have her most dominant Games. Right from the start, the leader’s jersey was snatched away when Haley Adams won the first event, Bike to Work. In the next event, Skill Speed Medley, Toomey earned her second-worst finish of her career with 23rd place (her worst event was in 2015, her rookie year, when she took 31st in Heavy DT).
After just two events, Toomey dropped into unprecedented territory as she sat in ninth place overall, the third lowest she had ever been on the leaderboard in her career (15th and 10th place were the two worst rankings from her rookie year, when she still ended up with the silver medal). Toomey won just two events in 2022 — just as she did in 2016, 2017, and 2018. She didn’t win any events in 2015. With her performance in 2022, she extended her record to 35 event wins.
It is a bit comical to nitpick these “flaws” in Toomey’s 2022 Games performance, but it illustrates how truly dominant she has been throughout her career. As most expected, Toomey reclaimed the leader’s jersey after The Capitol on Friday morning. Since her rookie year, Toomey hadn’t gone more than four consecutive events without claiming the leader’s jersey — until 2022. But once she regained her lead, she never relinquished and now holds a leader’s jersey streak of nine.
Tia-Clair Toomey at the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games | Photo by Charlotte Foerschler
While most picked Toomey to win for the women, the feeling was not as strong for Justin Medeiros, the reigning Fittest Man on Earth. Medeiros arrived in Madison after impressive performances earlier in the season. He was second in the worldwide Open (by far his best finish), the worldwide winner of Quarterfinals, and he handily won his Semifinal, the Syndicate Crown.
Medeiros faced stout competition from the two prominent wild cards on the men’s side: Ricky Garard, who was making his return from a four-year suspension, and Roman Khrennikov, who was competing live at his first Games after years of visa issues. Garard and Khrennikov pushed Medeiros throughout the weekend. It wasn’t until after the first event on Saturday, Rinse ‘N’ Repeat, that Medeiros gained the overall lead. He went on to hold the leader’s jersey for the last four events and win his second championship, making him just the third man (and sixth individual) to do so.
The push by Khrennikov in second overall and Garard in third showed in the final points tally. Medeiros’ 27-point win was the smallest margin of victory for the men in the Open era (2011 to present). The last time we saw a race so close on the men’s side was when Rich Froning Jr. lost to Graham Holmberg in the final event at the 2010 CrossFit Games — Holmberg won the Games that year by just three points in the place-points scoring system that was used at the time.
Medeiros did not win a single event in 2022. While we have seen champions emerge without an event win — Tanya Wagner won the Games in 2009 and James Fitzgerald won in 2007, both with zero event victories — it’s a rare occurrence. It was Medeiros’ consistency that earned him the top spot on this year’s podium, and he has now been on the podium for all three Games of his career (3rd, 2020; 1st, 2021-2022), moving him into a tie for eighth of all time.
Justin Medeiros during Individual Event 11 | Photo by Johany Jutras
The anticipation was massive for Mallory O’Brien in 2022 — and she delivered, earning the silver medal.
The buildup started before the season began, when O’Brien moved to Vermont to be coached by five-time Fittest Man on Earth Mathew Fraser. She started the season with a bang by winning the worldwide Open at 18 years old (the youngest Open winner, which became a theme for the rest of her season). She took fourth worldwide in Quarterfinals (first in North America) and won her Semifinal, the Granite Games.
At the CrossFit Games, O’Brien excelled. After a sixth-place finish in the opening event, she never fell lower on the leaderboard. She donned the leader’s jersey for one event, and then tucked in right behind Toomey in second overall, where she remained for the rest of the Games.
At just 18, O’Brien is the youngest individual to podium at the Games. She was also the highest-placing individual American woman at the Games since Lindsey Valenzuela in 2013, who also took second that year.
Mal O’Brien during the podium ceremony | Photo by Joy Silva
Roman Khrennikov has an agonizing history with the CrossFit Games, qualifying for five consecutive seasons but only ever competing in Stage 1 of the 2020 Games, which was held online and in which he won the 1,000-m row). He was turned down three times for a visa when he attempted to travel to the United States to compete despite his impressive qualification among an elite field of athletes. Fortunately, Khrennikov was able to obtain a visa this year, and it was finally time to see him on the big stage.
Many wondered how he would handle the pressure of the long wait and stress that comes with competing live at the Games, but Khrennikov made the most of his first in-person Games appearance, coming in second place overall with two event wins. He also won the Most Improved Award. Khrennikov, originally from Irkutsk, Russia, is the first individual athlete to podium at the Games who is not from North America, Europe, or Australia/New Zealand. He won over many fans with his enthusiasm and gratefulness throughout the competition weekend.
Roman Khrennikov after Individual Event 12 | Photo by Joy Silva
Laura Horvath followed up last year’s second-place finish with a third this year. Despite a podium finish, it was a challenging Games for Horvath, who struggled with skills, gymnastics, and body-weight events at the start of competition.
She found herself in 15th place overall after Echo Press, when she finished last in the event. Horvath’s performance in the event was not all that surprising as it featured her well-known nemesis, deficit handstand push-ups. However, Horvath stormed back up the leaderboard for the remainder of the Games and took the last podium spot on Sunday afternoon. In total, she won two events, which boosted her career record to six. Horvath now has three podium finishes on her resume, a tie for eighth all time.
Laura Horvath after winning Individual Event 11 | Photo by Amy Wong
The story of Ricky Garard is well known in the CrossFit community. As the first individual athlete to fail a drug test after taking a podium spot (Garard placed third at the 2017 CrossFit Games before the title was revoked), he served a four-year suspension and returned this season. As with Khrennikov, there were a lot of questions about Garard competing again.
But Garard surprised many by winning the first event and becoming the first man of the weekend to wear the leader’s jersey. Garard then went on to hold the jersey for nine events before relinquishing it to the eventual winner, Medeiros. On his path to third place, Garard won two events: Bike to Work and The Capitol.
Garard is the first Australian man to podium as an individual at the Games. This year marked the second time in Games history that two Australians podiumed as individuals (Toomey and Kara Saunders stood on the podium together in 2017, taking first and second, respectively). Garard was gracious and humble throughout the Games and expressed great appreciation for the opportunity to compete again.
Ricky Garard during Individual Event 5 | Photo by Kelley Laxton
For those who watched the 2021 CrossFit Games, most will always remember Brooke Wells' unfortunate elbow dislocation during Event 12, the 1-rep-max snatch. Wells came into the event in sixth overall and in a great position for her best Games finish (previously fifth place in 2020). However, the injury ended her Games competition early and she landed in 20th place at the end of the competition.
Soon after, Wells underwent surgery and had many questions regarding her ability to compete in the 2022 season. In an incredible comeback, not only did she compete in 2022, but she excelled with a fifth-place finish in the Open and 13th in Quarterfinals, worldwide. However, she did stumble a bit in Semifinals at the Mid-Atlantic CrossFit Challenge, coming in fourth. Many questioned whether she was sufficiently recovered to take on the best of the women’s field at the Games. Wells emphatically answered those questions with an amazing performance, matching her career-best Games finish of fifth place in her eighth consecutive Games appearance.
Brooke Wells during Individual Event 10 | Photo by Adam Bow
On the heels of his career-best second place at the 2020 CrossFit Games, Samuel Kwant looked poised to join Medeiros in a run at the title after five-time champ Mathew Fraser announced his retirement before the start of the 2021 season.
Kwant and Medeiros squared off right away in the live announcement of Open Workout 21.2, which Medeiros handily won. The two faced each other again at the Mid-Atlantic CrossFit Challenge that year. Medeiros took third in the Semifinal and went on to win his first Games. Unfortunately, Kwant had been dealing with a chronic illness since 2017 and it flared up mid-season, playing a large part in his 14th place at the Semifinal and his missing the 2021 Games.
Fast-forward to the 2022 season and Kwant had a great start with a 25th-place finish in the Open and 13th place in Quarterfinals, worldwide. At the Granite Games, he came in a respectable third place and earned his spot back to the Games. However, similar to Brooke Wells’ situation, many were still skeptical of how Kwant would hold up at the Games and if the health issues were behind him. He put all those thoughts to rest with an outstanding comeback performance, taking fourth place overall at the end of the weekend, his second-best finish of his five Games appearances. Looking ahead to 2023, perhaps Medeiros and Kwant will pick up where they left off after the 2020 Games.
Samuel Kwant during Individual Event 11 | Photo by Meg Ellery
Rookie individual athlete Emma Lawson had an outstanding Games as she exceeded the expectations of most. Lawson came to Madison as the fourth-youngest qualifier ever at just 17 years old. Just last year, she was the Girls 16-17 Division champion.
Lawson took third in the opening event, Bike to Work, and was thrust into the final heat of women, where she stayed for the remainder of the Games. She wore the leader’s jersey for one event, making her the youngest to ever lead the Games as an individual. Lawson was able to stay in podium position until Saturday night. She fell to sixth overall on Sunday (her lowest and final place) due to the heavier events dampening her performances.
Lawson won the female Rookie of the Year Award, also becoming the best-placing rookie of all individuals. Her sixth place as a 17-year-old ranks better than last year’s 17-year-olds, when O’Brien finished in seventh and Emma Cary took 16th. When Lawson faced off against Horvath in the live announcement of Open Workout 22.2, the pairing was thought odd by many. In hindsight, it was a nice foreshadowing of what played out at the end of the season at the Games.
2022 Rookie of the Year Emma Lawson | Photo by Charlotte Foerschler
Cover photo by Adam Bow