The final week of the 2017 Regionals is here! The West, Meridian and Atlantic will throw down this weekend. Will the Fittest on Earth be among them? Here are some storylines to keep an eye on throughout the competition.
JAMIE GREENE: READY FOR THE SPOTLIGHT
Color me excited to watch Jamie Greene finally take the Meridian Regional floor as an individual. Her upcoming performance is two years in the making.
Greene, an Australian transplant living in Abu Dhabi, captured the attention of the community when she won the 2016 Open. She edged out Sam Briggs by 3 points for the win and immediately generated buzz about her pending decision for Regionals.
Greene was on the roster for CrossFit Yas, a team looking for redemption after its qualifying spot at the 2015 Games was forfeited due to an ineligible team member. Much to the dismay of many, she opted to forgo a run at the individual competition in 2016 and competed with Yas.
Ultimately, she was rewarded for her decision, as CrossFit Yas would qualify for the Games and go on to podium in Carson. The third-place finish behind CrossFit Mayhem and 12 Labours CrossFit was enough to justify her decision and fulfill her commitment to the Affiliate Cup competition.
Now she’ll take center stage in the Meridian, having just finished the 2017 Open in fourth overall. It will be her biggest test to date as she squares off with a pair of former Games champions in Sam Briggs and Annie Thorisdottir, as well as a handful of other individual Games qualifiers.
The departure of Sara Sigmundsdottir from the Meridian adds to the high expectations I have for Greene. I’m hoping Greene can seize the opportunity and pick up where her 2016 Open win left off.
A JEDI AND HER PADAWAN: SAM BRIGGS & EMMA MCQUAID
Disclaimer: I love Star Wars.
In George Lucas’ world of droids and Wookies, Jedi Knights are tasked with maintaining order in the galaxy, famously wielding lightsabers and utilizing the force to maintain peace. As warriors and teachers, they often take on apprentices—or Padawans—to train and guide them toward eventually becoming Jedi Knights themselves.
This is how the relationship has been between 2013 Fittest Woman on Earth Sam Briggs and fellow U.K. athlete Emma McQuaid. At least on the surface level.
Briggs, a veritable legend of our sport, has been at the top of the women’s competition for nearly eight years. She’s a seasoned veteran whose world-class endurance and ability to leave the rest of the field in her wake has made her a fan favorite.
McQuaid, a newer athlete to the worldwide scene, has performed increasingly well in both the Open and at Regionals, but she hasn’t quite been able to break into the top five to earn herself a spot at the Games.
Both athletes represent the U.K. and have been training together in preparation for the season. No doubt there is plenty McQuaid can learn from an athlete and competitor like Briggs, and having someone of Briggs' caliber to train with is a recipe for success.
Just as a Padawan must take the Jedi Trials, McQuaid must take the Regionals test alongside Briggs and the rest of the Meridian women.
Use the force, Emma!
BEASTS OF THE MIDDLE EAST - MEN
The times they are a changin’. Bob Dylan surely must have been singing about the competitive landscape of the men’s field representing Africa in the Meridian Regional … right?
Once seen as a weaker region, in 2017 Africa has fielded a group of 10 male athletes, including four current or former individual Games athletes.
So far, none of them are homegrown. Africa has seen an influx of talented athletes thanks in large part to lucrative opportunities in the Middle East. As affiliates with heavy financial backing pop up in the United Arab Emirates in cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, big-name athletes across Europe are presented with fantastic opportunities to live, train and coach there.
It started between 2014 and 2015 when three-time Games qualifier Mikko Aronpaa moved over. Another transplant, Phil Hesketh, qualified out of Africa in 2015 after moving to the UAE.
This year, two more qualifiers from the 2016 Games will be representing Africa at the Regional. Rasmus Andersen moved back across the pond after two years spent in Southern California, and Jonne Koski left his native country of Finland to move to CrossFit Sand Warriors in the city of Ajman in the UAE.
It’s possible that roughly half of the individual qualifiers in the Meridian could come out of the Africa Region this year.
A NEW TEAM LANDSCAPE
The Meridian team competition and its Games qualifiers are due for a shake-up. A lot of the qualifiers from 2016 are featuring new lineups or aren’t in the competition at all this year.
Team CrossFit Nordic, formerly Nordic Opex, returns with only one of its six members from last year. Most notably, 2014 individual qualifier Bjork Odinsdottir has returned to the individual competition.
CrossFit Yas’ team, which took third at the Games, is not back this year after Greene and Elliot Simmonds moved over to the individual side.
CrossFit Nordvest, formerly Team CrossFit Copenhagen, is back but with an entirely new lineup. Oddrun Eik Gylfadottir, who was on their team last year, has moved to the UAE and gone individual.
CrossFit XY made its rookie debut at the Games in 2016, finishing 34th, but only returns with one athlete from its qualifying team. The team finished the Open in the middle of the pack and won’t be lining up in the final heat to start competition.
CrossFit Solid won’t be making a return trip to the Games or the Meridian Regional in 2017. The team finished the Open in 37th place in Europe and did not qualify.
With so many changes to the teams in the Meridian, it makes you wonder who is going to step up and take control of one of the top five spots this weekend. There are two teams that caught my eye.
Team JST is the top seed out of Europe this year and is looking to become the first team from the U.K. to qualify for the CrossFit Games. The team features a roster full of individual Regional athletes, led by 2015 individual Games qualifier Steven Fawcett.
The team known as the Maccabeast Team is looking to break new ground as well. Maccabeast could become the first Games qualifier ever out of Israel. I have to give the team props for the catchy pun in their name. They are out of CrossFit Hadar Yosef in Tel Aviv, Israel, and it’s not very often that you get a top qualifier coming out of that part of the world.
Either team qualifying would be great for the sport, but they’ll have their hands full competing against perennial contenders CrossFit Reykjavik and CrossFit Fabriken.
JEFF EVANS & GERALD SASSER
“It ain’t about how hard you can hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” —Rocky Balboa
Two athletes who certainly embody this quote are Jeff Evans and Gerald Sasser. Each has seen some tough turns during his time on the competition floor, but both are back and ready to throw down at the Atlantic Regional this weekend.
For Evans, it’s an opportunity to shake the ghosts of one of the most notorious no reps given during crunch time in recent memory. In a heated race during the final event of the 2016 Atlantic Regional, Evans was in a win-and-you’re-in type of situation.
Evan’s was no-repped on his final rope climb, and it cost him. At the time he was leading, and he eventually dropped to fifth in the event. He finished in sixth place overall, just 9 points away from fifth, after dropping 20 points in the final as a result of the mistake.
Sasser has felt the sting of near-qualifications for what seems like forever. For five consecutive Regionals, he has been on the brink of qualifying, improving ever so slightly each year. In 2011, he finished eighth at the Central East Regional. In 2012 and 2013, he finished seventh (five athletes qualified that year due to the bygone *Champions Rule, and Graham Holmberg and Rich Froning were in the region). In 2014 and 2015 Sasser finished sixth, just one spot and 10 points away from qualifying.
Sasser sat out the 2016 season due to injury but is returning this year to chase the spot at the Games that has eluded him for so long.
Evans has mentioned that this might be his final year as an individual and his last chance to make it back after qualifying in 2014.
*The Champions Rule stated that if a past or current CrossFit Games champion occupied a qualifying spot, an additional invite was awarded in that Regional.
Changes in the WOMEN's competition
This year in the Atlantic women’s competition, the top seeds coming out of the Mid Atlantic Region might be a little unfamiliar to the casual fan. In the Open, the Mid Atlantic has largely been run by three women: Alea Helmick, Anna Tobias (formerly Tunnicliffe) and Christy Adkins.
For the last three seasons, all have finished inside the top four of the Mid Atlantic in the Open. This year has marked a considerable shift in the competitive landscape of the region.
Adkins and Helmick surprised most people by opting to go team this year at Regionals. Tobias is still an individual, but finished ninth in the Open this year in the Mid Atlantic. She and Meg Reardon are the two remaining 2016 Games athletes left in the region. Both are in contention this weekend, but some lesser-known names have emerged ahead of them.
Four of the top five spots in the Mid Atlantic after the Open are occupied by women who have yet to qualify for the CrossFit Games as individuals.
At the top, Mekenzie Riley made a splash with her decision to switch over from the team competition, and by winning the region in the Open and finishing 13th worldwide. She’s competed on a team for the last four years at Regionals. Last season, she helped OC3 Black, which finished fifth at the 2016 Games.
Caroline Dardini and Meredith Root (formerly Buckner), had strong finishes in this year’s Open and at Regionals last year.
After a strong Day 1 in the 2016 Atlantic Regional, Dardini, faded due to a pair of finishes outside the top 20, but she still finished in a respectable 10th place overall.
Root finished the 2016 Open fifth in the region, just behind the aforementioned grouping of Dardini, Adkins, Tobias and Helmick. Root would do one better than Dardini at Regionals, finishing the weekend in ninth after banking three straight top-10 finishes.
We last saw Lindsey Eder at the 2015 Regionals, where she finished 12th overall. Seven must be her lucky number, because she had three seventh-place finishes that were the highlights of her weekend. After a year away from the competition floor, she finished the 2017 Open in fifth in the Mid Atlantic.
Perhaps the most intriguing athlete of the bunch is 16-year-old phenom Haley Adams. Adams, in her first year in the Teenage Girls 16-17 Division, finished in 10th in the Mid Atlantic in the Individual Division! She was second at the Games in the Teenage Girls 14-15 Division last year and still has another year to compete as a teenager.
A REVAMPED AND BALANCED TEAM COMPETITION
As I mentioned previously, both Adkins and Helmick have decided to go team this year. Additionally, Gary Helmick is also going team and will be joining his wife on their CrossFit Revamped affiliate team.
Christy Adkins joins a CrossFit Balance team that is now the top seed out of the Mid Atlantic coming into the Regional.
The 12 Labours Lions finished second at the Games last year behind CrossFit Mayhem. It was the team’s second straight top-10 finish at the Games after taking sixth place in 2015.
Despite the team’s success at the Games, it has yet to win the Regional.
HustleHard CrossFit will also be in the mix, as it will return with all six members of its 2016 Games-qualifying team. The team also happened to beat 12 Labours at the 2016 Atlantic Regional, finishing second behind a Team Soul crew that is not returning this year.
It will certainly be an adjustment as a fan of the sport to see athletes like Adkins and the Helmicks on a team, but it will definitely add gusto to the Atlantic Regional team competition.
IS THIS THE YEAR FOR CODY ANDERSON?
To be blunt: I think so. But if the past two years watching Cody Anderson at the West Regional have taught us anything, it’s that it’s going to be a nail-biter.
In 2014, Anderson qualified for his first CrossFit Games, and his rookie campaign in Carson made him an instant fan favorite. In Chris Spealler’s final year as an individual, Anderson strung together some impressive moments during the Max Overhead Squat, the Muscle-up Biathlon and the Clean Speed Ladder. It was almost as if the torch had been passed from Spealler to Anderson, the new odds-defying, seemingly undersized athlete.
Unfortunately for Anderson, the past two years at the West Regional have been characterized by near misses and heartbreaking results. In 2015, Anderson finished in sixth place, just 1 point away from fifth. In one of the wildest finishes ever in CrossFit competition history, just 6 points separated second place from seventh place in the overall standings.
The following year was more of the same for Anderson. He entered the final day of competition at the 2016 West Regional in sixth place overall and would need a pair of strong finishes to erase the memories of the previous year.
A herculean effort by Cole Sager in the finale once again bumped Anderson from the top five. For the second year in a row, Anderson was the first man out, relegated to sixth place after another up-and-down weekend.
As we enter the final week of Regional competition, there’s no better time than now for Anderson to finally make it back to the CrossFit Games. An emphasis on gymnastics movements, dumbbells and kettlebells makes for a rather positive forecast for an athlete who stands at 5-foot-7, 172 pounds.
A possible wrinkle for Anderson in the weekend is the Event 6 finale. Assuming he’s in good position for a top-five spot—or even holding onto one for dear life—the last event doesn’t seem to favor him. We’ve seen larger, more powerful athletes excel in Event 6, blasting through the Assault AirBike sprint and sandbag cleans, and managing the burpee box jump-overs in between. With a Games spot potentially on the line, it would make for an uphill climb for Anderson.
Hopefully it won’t come to that. Hopefully we’ll see enough Spealler-esque magic in the earlier events so Event 6 will simply be damage control for Anderson.
CAN CANADA AVOID A SHUTOUT?
So far the 2016 Regional competition has not been kind to the Canadian teams. In Week 1 at the East Regional, the Canada East teams were shut out from the top five as the North East claimed all five spots to the CrossFit Games.
North East teams also occupied eight of the top 10 spots in the competition by weekend’s end–tough sledding for the Canadian contingent as they have another shot this weekend at the West Regional. But if last year is any indication, the Canadians could be in trouble.
Last year in the West, the Canadian teams were shut out pretty convincingly. Not only did the North West sweep all the Games spots, but they took every single spot in the top 10 as well. Undefeated CrossFit was the highest-ranking Canada West team (12th place overall).
Not exactly a reassuring result if you’re a Canadian fan hoping for a team to cheer on in Madison this year. All is not lost, though, and the hopes of Canada’s faithful rest on the shoulders of a few teams.
Team Taranis is looking to get back on the horse after a less-than-stellar placement at Regionals last year broke a streak of six consecutive CrossFit Games appearances. A seventh appearance would put the team into a tie with CrossFit New England for second-most appearances of all time.
This year, the team returns with four members who have Games experience from their qualifying teams in the past. Most notably, former individual competitor, Angie Hay. The team was the last Canada West team to qualify in 2015, and it will need to be the trailblazer for Canada this weekend if it wants to avoid a shutout.
CrossFit Brio is the second seed out of Canada West, but the jury is still out on them. The team has competed at Regionals the past two years but has finished 28th and 24th. It’s possible that this is a new and improved Brio team that could be in the mix come Sunday.