Let's rewrite history.
The new CrossFit Games qualification procedure raises a huge question: What effect will this have on this year’s Games roster?
We won’t know for sure until May when the "super regionals" are complete. But we can get a pretty good handle on it by looking to the past and asking how previous Games fields would have looked had the new rules been in effect.
To investigate, we applied the new rules to all of the athletes in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The top 20 athletes from each U.S. and Canadian region, top 10 from Latin America, Asia and Africa, and top 30 from Australia and Europe were allowed to advance to the super regionals. Athletes in the qualifying bracket who opted to compete on a team were removed and their space back filled.
The regional qualifiers were then mixed with the athletes from their rival region (e.g. NorCal qualifiers were mixed with SoCal qualifiers). Their regional performances were then re-ranked as though they had been contested in the same place. The top five men and five women at each virtual super regional qualified for the Games.
Let’s start with a look at the virtual women’s field at the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games.
What are you seeing here?
Under the green are those who didn't qualify for the Games in 2014, but would have under the new system. Under the red it's the reverse: women who did make it to the Games, but would not have with the new rules. The blue, then, shows women who'd have qualified either way.
The main forces reshaping the women’s field at the virtual 2014 Games are the region pairings, particularly Europe-Africa (Meridian Regional), Australia-Asia (Pacific Regional), and North West-Canada West (West Regional). The stronger region in each of these pairings claimed all five of the qualifying spots to the CrossFit Games.
Had the new rules been in effect, we would have seen Briggs defend her title, Russian former Olympian Oxana Slivenko toss around barbells, 44-year-old two-time masters champion Amanda Allen compete with women half her age and two-time Games competitor Ruth Anderson Horrell return for her third year. We would have also gotten to see what Karen McCadam and former college softball player Carleen Lessard could bring to the Games.
In exchange for the fitter athletes, the new model removes the guarantee that every region will have at least one representative at the Games. In 2014, there wouldn’t have been any women from Africa, Asia, Canada West or Latin America.
The vast majority of the women—32 of 43—would have qualified no matter which rules were in effect. Camille Leblanc-Bazinet would have qualified under either system, as well as the 20 women who finished immediately behind her at the 2014 Games.
The new system had a greater effect on the men’s field at the 2014 Games. Three guys failed to qualify for the super regionals, and those who made it there were in trouble if they had been paired with a stronger region. Central East, North East, Europe and Australia cleaned house.
But before we get too deep into the analysis, let’s take a look at the field.
Under the new rules, the 2010 champion Graham Holmberg would have made his sixth trip to the Games. He would have been joined by two-time top-10 Games finisher Marcus Hendren, perennial competitors Austin Malleolo and Spencer Hendel, and fan favorite Elijah Muhammad, who famously leapt to near the top of the rope for each legless rope climb of Regional Event 5.
The new rules are particularly good for men in powerful regions like Central East (Holmberg, Hendren), North East (Malleolo, Hendel), Europe (Numi Katrinarson, Frederick Aegidius) and Australia (James Newbury, Kevin Manuel). They have stronger fields than their paired regions, and come in and claim all five qualifying spots at their regionals.
Conversely, the new rules aren’t so nice to the men from North Central (Kyle Kasperbauer, Jacob Heppner, Alex Nettey), Canada East (Albert-Dominic Larouche, Paul Tremblay), Africa (Quinton Z Van Rooyen), and Asia (Eric Carmody). They’ve got tough rival regions, and in some years they may not claim any of the qualifying spots.
No one knows this better than North Central. These men drew the ultimate short straw when they got paired with Central East. None of the men who qualified out of North Central this year would have made it had they shared the competition floor with men like Rich Froning, Scott Panchik, Will Moorad, Graham Holmberg and Marcus Hendren. In fact, between 2012-2014 North Central would have sent just one man to the Games: Kyle Kasperbauer in 2012.
Other pairings have more play between the regions. Canada East didn’t have a good year in 2014, but they would have sent Albert-Dominic Larouche to the Games the previous two years. Also, the Asian men aren’t far out of contention for Games spots. Three of the top 10 spots at the virtual 2014 Pacific Regional would have gone to athletes from Asia. Eric Carmody would have finished just two spots away from qualifying for the Games, in seventh.
Three men failed to qualify for their super regionals. The other way to say the same thing, though, is that three men cruised into their regionals with top-48 finishes in the Open. It’s hard to draw any conclusion from this fact since a top-48 finish was precisely what they were aiming for under the 2014 rules. Had they known they needed to aim for the top 20—or top 10—they might have stepped up and achieved it. They might have needed to give more in each Open workout or to have trained to address their weakness in Open-style workouts. Cody Anderson (North West), Emmanuel Maldonado (Latin America), and Quinton Van Rooyen (Africa), the gauntlet is at your feet. It’s time to step up your Open game.
The majority of men would qualify no matter which rules were in effect—29 of 43—including Rich Froning and the 11 men immediately behind him. Most of the athletes who missed qualification in the new system would have finished in the lower half of the field at the Games (except Kyle Kasperbauer, 13th, and Richard Bohlken, 16th).
2013 and 2012
We also ran the Games field comparisons for 2013 and 2012. The big themes are the same, which you can see for yourself.
2015 and Beyond
What have these comparisons shown us? The new selection system doesn't eliminate the apex predators of the CrossFit world: the Fronings and Fouchers, the Khalipas and Leblanc-Bazinets. It mainly exchanges athletes who are on the bubble, and there it tends to swap in athletes that most fans would recognize as fitter.
To get to the Games, everyone has to earn their place. By combining weaker regions with stronger regions, the super regional model serves to balance out regional variation in fitness. Everyone will have to face similarly tough competitors at the regional level, and those who qualify will undisputedly deserve their spot on the world stage.
But before anyone gets to the regional level, they'll need to survive the Open. Games-level athletes can no longer casually compete in the Open, unconcerned about one or two uncharacteristically poor scores. In a couple weeks, we will break down—workout by workout—what it may take to qualify to the super regionals this year.