2016 CrossFit Invitational: Meet Team USA

Scale As Needed Episode 6
Sunday afternoon in the Toronto area will mark the fifth annual CrossFit Invitational. While the format has changed over the years, one thing that is a near-perfect mainstay is the success of Team USA. In the four prior invitationals, the Americans have come away with the title three times, with the lone exception being a loss to Team World in 2013. 

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 the U.S.'s dominance continue in CrossFit's all-star event?

TEAM USA


Four years of individual competition, three Invitational championships for the Americans. This year, the only returning member is a little-known fellow named Rich Froning Jr. The "Fittest Man in History" will be joined by his successor in individual competition, Ben Smith, along with two women who have potential to wear Games medals in their own right. The three-time Invitational champions enter Sunday as the favorites once again.

RICH FRONING


In his past three years competing as an individual, the four-time champion has won eight of the nine events that were held on a Sunday. Games announcer Chase Ingraham coined the term "The Froning Effect" when CrossFit Mayhem pulled off a stunning championship in 2015 and then coasted to a repeat again this July. Look, there's nothing I can say here that you don't already know about the man. He has the moniker of "The Fittest Man in History." If Froning and Mat Fraser were to give each other their game-face stares, a new hole may rip in the universe from the intensity of said action. In a year of divisiveness and arguing, I'm pretty sure all of America can come together and agree that Froning (and, let's be honest, Biden memes) are our current best features.

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BEN SMITH


The Fittest Man on Earth in 2015 backed up his first championship with a second-place finish behind potential cyborg Mat Fraser. Smith has been to the Games more times than any male athlete in history (eight) and will likely be the first man to have a decade of consecutive appearances. Simply put, Smith may have the second greatest career in the first decade of the CrossFit Games with more individual medals (two bronze, a silver, and a gold) than anyone in the sport not named Froning. Smith is incredibly well-rounded and remains so calm during events that at times you think someone needs to check him for a pulse. The combination of him and Froning will be inarguably the most dangerous male pairing on the floor, and the amount of talent and experience they bring will be a massive advantage for Team USA.

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BROOKE WELLS


The men on Team USA have a total of 15 Games appearances, seven championships, and 11 podium finishes in individual and team competition. The women on Team USA have four combined appearances and roughly five years of experience in CrossFit. The two sides are vastly different in terms of experience, but this is just the beginning for both of the women on Team USA, including one of the brightest young stars in the sport, Brooke Wells. The ultra-strong former sprinter transitioned full-time to CrossFit about three years ago. Finishing sixth in the 2016 Reebok CrossFit Games, Wells grabbed an impressive 10 top-10 finishes (including being the only woman to clear the deadlift ladder for her first career event victory) but was plagued by three finishes outside of the top 35 to keep her from the crown of "Fittest Woman in America." The 21-year-old will be the strongest woman in the field, and her most noticeable weakness of long endurance events will likely not be a factor given the format. The University of Missouri student could be a major factor for a possible title defense.

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KARI PEARCE


A year ago, one of the more talked about stories on broadcasts (I was guilty of talking about this one a lot myself) was how Kari Pearce went from beginning CrossFit to making the Games in the span of a few months. This year, you could argue she may be the most overlooked athlete coming out of the CrossFit Games despite a fifth-place finish, two event wins ("Murph" and "The Separator"), and being the highest finishing female athlete from America this season. The former University of Michigan gymnast is (shocker) incredible at gymnastic movements but also backs it up with a superb work capacity and has been building an impressive repertoire to support her strengths. The combination of talent and confidence is a dangerous one, both of Team USA's women are building these attributes in quick fashion. In similar fashion to the women of Team Europe, the men of Team USA will own the spotlight, but the women of Team USA are more than worthy of paying attention to as well.

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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.

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