Games analyst Tommy Marquez has been keeping a close eye on athletes in the offseason. Read on to find out who he'll be watching in 2018.
In 2017, it seemed that Meredith Root was poised to break through as one of the new athletes to qualify for the Games out of the Atlantic.
Heading into Regionals last year, Root had improved her Open placement, both worldwide and in her region, for the fifth consecutive year. She finished third overall in the Mid Atlantic and was looking to build off a ninth-place finish at the Atlantic Regional in 2016.
All signs pointed to Root making a push toward the top five in 2017. Unfortunately, her season was cut short when she withdrew from Regionals after three events due to a nagging elbow injury that plagued her most of the season.
This year, she’s made some changes to help her try and break into the rookie class at the 2018 Reebok CrossFit Games. She switched regions to Canada West, a move that brings her closer to her coach, and she’s dialed in her nutrition, working with Mike Molloy of M2 Performance Nutrition.
I recently had the chance to watch her throw down in an offseason competition, where, in one of the “prime time” workouts, she faced a nasty triplet alongside the likes of Kari Pearce and two-time Games champion Katrin Davidsdottir.
Calmly and assuredly, she dismantled the workout, taking the event win and leaving everyone in the dust. It was one of the more impressive individual performances I’ve seen from a “non-Games athlete” in quite some time.
It was the type of performance that leads me to believe she’s got a few more of them in her back pocket come Regionals this year.
There’s no beating around the bush here. The Central men’s competition in 2018 could be the single most competitive regional I have EVER SEEN.
No joke, the Central Regional this year is stacked, thanks in part to athletes moving and returning from injury.
The biggest move is obviously Mat Fraser. The reigning Fittest Man on Earth’s move to Cookeville, Tennessee, all but guarantees that one less spot is up for grabs come May.
On top of that, Dakota Rager, Christian Lucero and Elijah “EZ” Muhammad have also set up shop in the Central. Throw in Jacob Heppner, who’s returning from a 2017 injury, and the number of individual Games qualifiers in the Central men’s field is a whopping 14!
There’s still the potential for some past qualifiers to go team or forego seriously competing this season, but even if a few stepped aside, it’s highly likely that the number will remain in the double digits.
Also, don’t forget that the top two Central finishers in the 2017 Open, Darwin Perez and Anthony Davis (fifth and sixth worldwide, respectively), went team last year. If they decide to go individual in 2018, then just making it to the Central Regional could become a tall order for some household names.
With the new changes to the Regional format, the biggest winners are without a doubt the athletes from the regions formerly known as Europe and Africa.
The change splits Europe into three regions and adds four qualifying spots with the formation of the Europe and Meridian Regionals.
One athlete who should be particularly jazzed about the additional spots is Elliot Simmonds. The 23-year-old from Abu Dhabi made a splash at last year’s Meridian Regional by winning the first event en route to a seventh-place finish.
In 2016, Simmonds landed on the Games podium as a member of CrossFit YAS’s third-place Affiliate Cup team. Last year marked his first foray into individual competition since finishing 29th at the 2014 Europe Regional as a spry 20-year-old.
I took the time to run the numbers and see how this season’s changes would have affected the results of last year’s competition. Under the new format, Simmonds would have qualified from the Meridian.
Add in another year of training with his partner in crime, eighth-fittest woman on the planet Jamie Greene, and it’s very likely we could have a new power couple at the Games in 2018.
Sometimes a season away from individual competition can do wonders.
In the case of Colleen Fotsch, a year spent competing at the Games on a team with NorCal CrossFit has made her goal of reaching the Games as an individual a more realistic objective.
Fotsch, a collegiate swimmer, finished seventh at the 2016 California Regional, but an MRI shortly after the competition revealed that a nagging issue with her shoulder was actually an 80-percent tear of the rotator cuff that would require surgery.
With another individual run out of the question, Fotsch was approached by training partner Molly Vollmer about potentially joining the NorCal team if Fotsch’s rehab and recovery went to plan.
Fast-forward to the 2017 Reebok CrossFIt Games, where Fotsch was an integral part of the NorCal team that finished just one spot shy of the podium in fourth.
“Getting to experience everything at the Games—the atmosphere, schedule, the unknown aspect of workouts—really gave me the confidence to be able to perform on the biggest stage,” Fotsch said when I spoke to her about her time on the team. “It’s made it easier now to envision the end goal of making the Games as an individual.”
With the Open on the horizon, Fotsch now has a dedicated coach and program that is tailored not only to her work inside the gym, but also to things like sleep, nutrition and recovery.
She has also relocated to Arizona and the South West, where she has three-time Games qualifier Amanda Goodman and fittest woman in the USA Tennil Reed as training partners.
The results so far have been impressive. Here are a few of the numbers she’s put up in recent weeks: 182 unbroken wall balls, a 270-lb. front-squat triple, a 235-lb. power clean and a ridiculously easy-looking 220-lb. push press.
I think there’s a good chance she’ll make a return trip to Madison in 2018, but solo this time.
MAYHEM’S DOUBLE TROUBLE
If one is good, two is better, right?
Shortly after Tasia Percevecz announced her move to Cookeville, Tennessee, to join CrossFit Mayhem’s team for the 2018 season, Dave Castro flipped the script on the team competition by reducing the number of athletes competing on a team from six to four.
The question immediately became who would be the two athletes left off the now-crowded roster of the Mayhem Freedom squad.
Froning and friends came back with a twist of their own by announcing that there would instead be two teams flying under the Mayhem banner: Mayhem Freedom AND Mayhem Independence.
The talent pool is deep at Mayhem, and they’ve already got their two rosters figured out. Froning, Matt Hewett, Percevecz and Lindy Barber will make up the Freedom squad, while Darren Hunsucker, Angelo Dicicco, Elly Kabboord and Kristin Miller will form the Independence team.
The inclusion of Dicicco and Miller on the Independence team stands out, as Dicicco is a two-time champion in the Teenage Divisions and Miller was a member of CrossFit OC3’s ninth-place team at the 2017 Games.
The competitive landscape will be vastly different as well. Two of last year’s top four Games teams won’t be returning, with NorCal and the 2017 championship team, Wasatch, both breaking up their rosters.
The big story in 2017 was who could stop CrossFit Mayhem, and a year later that still seems to be the case, with not just one, but two talented and patriotically named teams.
During Mat Fraser’s reign of terror at the 2016 Games, only one other athlete held the overall lead at any point during the competition.
Alex Vigneault sat in first place through two events at The Ranch and would go on to finish ninth overall in just his second year at the Games.
The young French-Canadian was a rising star poised for another run at the top 10 before his 2017 season was cut short just prior to Regionals. In the days leading up to the East Regional, word spread like wildfire that Vigneault had sustained a pec injury during a test run of Event 2.
Amid speculation, Vigneault confirmed the injury in an interview, and his 2017 season came to a frustrating end.
Vigneault now enters 2018 healthy and hungrier than ever to get back in the hunt for the podium at the Games.
When I spoke to him a few weeks ago, he said he’s back to doing muscle-ups and dips, and that the injury has forced him to be more attentive to his warm-ups. When I asked him about the upcoming season, he said simply, “2018 is going to be big.”
Fellow Games veteran and countryman Albert-Dominic Larouche echoed those sentiments during a separate interview, saying, “Watch out for Alex this year. He’s angry about last year, which is scary.”
As a five-time individual Games qualifier and the Canadian version of RoboCop, I’ll take Larouche’s word for it.
STEPHANO vs. ADAMS
Everyone loves a good trilogy.
From Ali/Frazier to the ORIGINAL “Star Wars” (Episodes IV, V and VI, for the youngbloods out there) to J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings,” the three-pronged attack of a trilogy has brought fans enjoyment across multiple mediums over the years.
This year, fans of the Teenage Division will enjoy the third and final installment of their own epic trilogy between Kaela Stephano and Haley Adams.
The rivalry began at the 2016 Games, where Adams held a slim two-point lead over Stephano entering the finale of the Teenage Girls 14-15 competition.
Stephano would take the win in the final event and overall standings, setting the stage for an epic rematch in 2017, this time in the 16-17 Division.
Adams got the better of Stephano in both the Open and the Age Group Online Qualifier. In dominant fashion, Adams won seven of the nine workouts across the two competition stages and even earned a spot as an individual at the Atlantic Regional.
However, momentum swung back in Stephano’s favor at the Games when she built a 32-point lead over Adams during the first day of competition.
Adams came charging back with six consecutive top-three finishes to pull within four points of Stephano, and the two once again entered the finale in a winner-take-all situation for the top spot on the podium.
For the second straight year, Stephano bested Adams in the final event to win the overall title, but the battle between the two all weekend was spectacular.
This year marks the final season for Stephano and Adams in the Teenage Division, and both represent the not-too-distant future of the Individual Women’s competition once they “age up.”
Before that happens, though, you’d be foolish to miss out on following them as they set the Teenage Division on fire one more time.
This year I’m showing Canada East some love.
While Patrick Vellner is clearly the top dawg, and the return of Alex Vigneault from injury is a big story as well, there’s another French-Canadian breakthrough in the making that we should be talking about in 2018.
Alexandre Caron is only 22 years old, but he’s already racked up four individual appearances at Regionals. His improvement through those four seasons of competition has me thinking that he’s on the verge of taking the next step into a Games-qualifying spot.
Caron has gone from 917th worldwide in the Open in 2014 to 46th worldwide in 2017. Last year he finished third in Canada East behind only Vellner and Vigneault.
Caron has improved his placing at Regionals every year as well. In 2014, he finished 24th in Canada East. The following year, under a new, combined (read: harder) Regional format, he finished 23rd at the East Regional. In 2016, he finished 14th at the East Regional before finally cracking the top 10 in the East last year. Caron finished the weekend in seventh, just 12 points shy of the fifth and final qualifying spot.
Mat Fraser’s departure opens up another qualifying spot in the East, which is encouraging for Caron despite the fact that Vigneault is returning as well.
Caron recently teamed up with Vigneault and Albert-Dominic Larouche to win an off-season competition, during which I had the chance to speak to both Vigneault and Larouche.
They both spoke VERY highly of Caron. When two of Canada’s best sing the praises of a young athlete like Caron, it’s certainly not for nothing.
Youth, experience and a trend of improvement make Caron a strong dark horse in the East once Regionals roll around.
MASTERS HOT STREAKS
With a plethora of impressive masters athletes and stats to chew on this year, picking just a couple storylines seems like a disservice to the elders of our sport.
So, to do the athletes justice and recognize noteworthy accomplishments in the masters categories, here’s a list of what’s on the line this season:
Lynne Knapman, the “Iron Woman”—She’s the only masters athlete to compete in all eight masters competitions at the Games, she has two podium finishes, and her three best finishes have come in the last three years.
Shawn Ramirez—With four consecutive titles, he now has a chance to sweep the 40-44 Division, set a new record for consecutive individual titles, and further cement his status as the most dominant masters athlete of all time. He’s also the only athlete in history never to have lost at the CrossFit Games.
Susan Clarke—She has earned three titles in three appearances (2014, 2015 and 2017). She did not compete in 2016, but her streak is intact in my book.
Helen Harding—She has earned back-to-back titles in the 40-44 Division in her only two appearances at the Games (2016 and 2017). She also nearly qualified for the Games as an individual out of the Pacific.
Cheryl Brost—She won consecutive titles in the 45-49 Division and has earned three career podium finishes during her masters career.
David Hippensteel—He holds back-to-back titles in the 60+ Division. He also lays claim to the BEST HAIR IN THE GAME, which can’t hurt.
Besides Nick Paladino and George Sterner, there was actually one other newly aged-up 18-year-old who managed to qualify and compete as an individual at Regionals last year.
Justin Medeiros finished 15th at the 2017 California Regional with hardly any fanfare and none of the hype that surrounded the teenage champion, Paladino, or the runner-up, Sterner.
That’s because unlike Paladino or Sterner, Medeiros never qualified for the Games as a teenager.
In an unfortunate situation, Medeiros finished 19th in the worldwide Open in 2016, when only 10 Games spots were awarded in the Teenage Division.
By the time 2017 rolled around and the change was made to invite the top 20 athletes to the Games (after the additional online qualifier), Medeiros had already aged up into the Individual Men’s competition.
Still, Medeiros managed to finish the Open in 10th overall in Northern California, and his consolation would be a trip to Regionals to throw down with the big boys in Del Mar.
Real Talk: Finishing 15th at Regionals in today’s competitive landscape at 18 years old is pretty amazing.
I don’t know about you, but even IF the CrossFit Games existed in their current format when I was 18, you’d be more likely to catch me eating Taco Bell and playing Halo than throwing down on the competition floor alongside Josh Bridges or Garret Fisher.
Moving from 15th to a top-five placement to earn a Games spot in one year may be a big leap for Medeiros, but you should definitely keep an eye on him this season. He has certainly caught my attention with what’s already an insane level of fitness for his age.