However, since the format changed from two six-person teams to four four-person teams, Team USA has proved to be a dominant force. Team Canada gave a late charge in 2015, going into the final event in position to win the title by finishing ahead of USA, but was unable to do so in an electric arena in Madrid, Spain.
The question this time around: Will Team Canada seal the deal with a completely reloaded team on its home turf?
Let's start with the team holding home-field advantage, the Canadians. This past year's team of Emily Abbott, Camille Leblanc-Bazinet (who returns as coach this season), Alex Vigneault, and Lucas Parker has been completely reloaded. This year we see two men who had breakout seasons, a quiet but worthy of getting noticed boxer-turned-CrossFitter, and the final appearance of an underappreciated Games mainstay before retirement.
Starting with the man who grabbed the most headlines this season, Patrick Vellner won the Open in Canada East in impressive fashion, but when you share a regional with Mat Fraser you tend to be overlooked. Coming into the weekend in New York, Vellner had the attitude of proving that he belonged and his Open ranking was not a fluke. Despite tearing the long head of his bicep in the first event, the Montreal athlete took third overall in the East Regional just after finishing his exams as a chiropractic doctorate student. At the CrossFit Games, the former national-level gymnast quietly hovered around the top five for much of the week in Carson, California, and edged out fellow countryman Brent Fikowski for the bronze medal, despite not winning an event. Vellner had three top-three finishes, including second place in the climbing snail event, but most importantly had an impressive 11 top-10 finishes in the 15-event week. That consistency, grit, and an almost uber-Canadian positive mindset will be a great addition to Team Canada's roster.
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In Carson, the battle for third was between Vellner's consistency and the home-run abilities of Brent Fikowski. "The Professor" mirrored four finishes outside of the top 20 with an eye-popping (and rookie record) four event victories in his debut Games appearance, leading to a fourth-place finish that was just two points behind Vellner. The journey hasn't been easy for Fikowski, who missed qualifying in 2014 and 2015 by a combined three points. This year, however, was an entirely different story, as the former collegiate volleyball player cruised through the West Regional, 70 points clear of second place Ben Stoneberg. For the past couple of years, Fikowski has been a guy who just needed a breakthrough moment before becoming a force in the "Sport of Fitness." That breakthrough came in 2016, and there is no chance he will ever be considered "The Whitest Darkhorse" again.
Being Brent Fikowski - Episode 1 | Episode 2
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Easily the athlete representing Canada with the least amount of fanfare is two-time Games athlete is Carol-Ann Reason-Thibault. The former boxer has made regionals every year since starting CrossFit and improved from 27th in her rookie appearance at the CrossFit Games to 14th in her second trip this year. She only scored two top-10 finishes but never found herself with a finish worse than 25th. Her growth as a Games athlete is eerily familiar to Team Canada teammate Michele Letendre. Through CrossFit and her athletic background, Reason-Thibault has developed an excellent engine to go along with a solid strength game and has the ability to be a Team Canada mainstay going forward. Plus, if things get super Canadian in Oshawa on Sunday, she has it covered…
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One of the more underrated Games athletes in the past few years will have one more trip to the competition floor on Sunday. Michele Letendre is set to close her career after announcing before regionals that this would be her last season. The six-time Games athlete took 16th place in Carson during a week that seemed to be filled with embracing one final trip to the Games. Quietly, Letendre put together one of the more impressive resumes of a Games athlete, with 24 top-10 event finishes and a career-best fourth-place finish in 2014 while being one of just three from the 2011 rookie class to qualify for six straight appearances. As one of the most well-liked and respected athletes in the Games field, it comes as no surprise that many analysts are considering Letendre to be the "team mom" for Canada. With the lineup that Canada has this season, perhaps she may get a championship send-off in front of her home-nation crowd.
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This year's all-star event will be closing out the season with a bang and what should be the closest Invitational competition yet. Team USA will enter as the favorite, but Teams Europe and Pacific are fielding their strongest squads to date. And Canada has a stout lineup combined with a home crowd behind it. The two-hour event typically provides for an exciting format and should be a great watch on Sunday afternoon. Catch the action on the CrossFit Games website, or its YouTube channel, at 4 PM ET.