Nine Sanctioned events remain for those making a late push for a qualifying position to the 2019 Reebok CrossFit Games, and as the picture from the Open clears, the window is closing for several top-name athletes and teams to earn a berth to Madison. This weekend, two of the final nine events take place as the international stage gets the spotlight in Milan and Shanghai.
The CrossFit Italian Showdown and Asia CrossFit Championship will be two polar opposite events in terms of format, but both will have their fair share of notable names and Games implications as they move through their three-day weekends. Here’s the top five things to keep an eye on this weekend.
1. Will the Professor make the grade?
Brent Fikowski was among the first CrossFit athletes to establish a long-term strategy when the new format for making the Games was released. It came as no surprise that the cerebral Canadian decided to throw his name into an event with the intent of buying time to train and trusting that his performance in-person will get the job done, as opposed to relying on the Open (a format which Fikowski states isn’t his strong suit).
However with this strategy comes a massive risk; after this weekend only seven events remain to earn an invite to the Games, two of which occur in the next two weeks and a few of the others require qualifiers which Fikowski has not participated in. On the podcast “Talking Elite Fitness,” Fikowski did mention a contingency plan should he not win in China, a plan that likely would see him compete at either the Rogue Invitational (if it’s not too late to accept his invite as a top 10 Games athlete) or the Granite Games.
Will he need to utilize that plan? It’s unlikely. No competition is played out on paper, but looking at the field of competitors for the men at the ACC, Fikowski is by far the favorite based on prior competitions. He will be joined by fellow Games athletes Zeke Grove, who is no stranger to stepping up in the big moment (remember last year’s Hail Mary finish in the Pacific Regional?), and Bartek Lipka, the first man out on the current Open leaderboard, who sits in 28th as of this writing.
Lipka is in a curious situation as he could get a spot in a couple different ways; either by someone declining (with Rich Froning still above the cut-line, this is likely) or being invalidated, or through Poland’s national championship, which is still under validation checks between Lipka and Miłosz Staworzyński (though the latter currently holds the tiebreaker). Either of those options gives Lipka his first Games appearance through the Open and would knock him out of needing the invite spot from China.
Looking for a sleeper pick to maybe pull the upset? Keep an eye on Kristof Horvath (185th in the Open), Josh Woodhull (93rd), and Alex Younger (182nd and highest ranking in the qualifier for ACC behind Jacob Heppner, who has qualified for the Games via the Open).
2. Mayhem Freedom reloaded.
The biggest name in all competitions this weekend may be a team: CrossFit Mayhem Freedom. After a shock result in Miami saw them unable to earn the Games invite from Wodapalooza, the perennial Games favorites made a roster switch that saw Kristin Miller replaced by six-time Games athlete Chyna Cho. Miller was a more than viable option and could be considered one of the better athletes in the team field, but Cho brings experience and a skillset that will counter that of teammate Tasia Percevecz better than Miller.
This event will be a perfect litmus test for the regrouped Mayhem squad, as they’ll be in a field with a couple already qualified teams (Invictus Grown Strong and Project X) and a few other quality challengers, including Torian Black and TeamBlack along with Mayhem Independence (though a very different one from the team that nearly podiumed at the Games last year).
The changes in the team format have allowed for more “super teams” to rival the strength that Mayhem has been able to hold by being in CrossFit’s land of opportunity in Cookeville. This has made the path a little more uncomfortable for the multi-time champions, but let’s be honest and say that any competition Mayhem appears in will see them as the favorite. Although that was also the case in January’s Wodapalooza, so don’t punch their ticket just yet.
3. Max opportunity for Noah Ohlsen.
Perhaps one of the biggest locks through the Open at the start of the season was Noah Ohlsen. But now that the Open has come and gone it appears that the five-time Games athlete will need to find a route elsewhere after a 61st place finish (his lowest result since 2012).
There is a possibility that Ohlsen will get the invite through Wodapalooza (as Patrick Vellner is potentially going to be moved above the Open top 20 cut, and Travis Mayer is locked in with the 15th-place finish), but should this not come to fruition, then, similar to Fikowski in China, Italy becomes a near must-win event for Ohlsen.
The path for Ohlsen won’t necessarily be an easy one. Joining him in Italy will be Scott Panchik (who has earned his spot at the Games with a top-20 Open berth), Roman Khrennikov (currently holding Dubai’s invite), and Bronislaw Olenkowicz (winner of Strength in Depth). Those still looking for a Games berth in the Italian field include Lukas Esslinger, Pablo Chalfun, Jonas Mueller, and Nicholas Paladino. Also keep an eye on Stefano Carosso, the Italian national championship runner-up behind Stefano Migliorini, as he will be leading a field of more than 100 Italian athletes defending home turf.
All being said, Ohlsen will enter the weekend as the favorite, but he will see a tougher route to Madison than Fikowski will in China.
4. The women’s races are wide open.
A common thread in Italy and China this weekend will be how open the races will be for the women’s invite from each event.
In Italy the field has thinned out with several athletes earning a Games berth through the Open; Alessandra Pichelli (Italian champion), Dani Speegle (top 20, but as often as she shows up to sanctioned events we cannot rule out her being in Italy and China simultaneously), Brooke Haas (top 20), Feeroozeh Saghafi (top 20), Lisa Eble (German champion), and Alessia Walchli (Swiss champion) were all key players who will provisionally see their big-picture impact lessened this weekend.
That leaves a group of former Games athletes leading the way in the race for the invitation to Madison. The headliner of this group is Thuri Helgadottir, however the Games mainstay is virtually a couple positions away (due to national championship positioning) from being shifted above the cut for the top 20 through the Open. Should this happen, we see a field with Amanda Goodman, Steph Chung, Paige Semenza (who nearly earned an invite through the Mid-Atlantic CrossFit Championship), and Alexis Raptis (a former teen competitor at the Games) all with Games experience and looking to make their way back. Italy’s national runner-up Manilla Pennacchio rounds out the field of contenders.
Meanwhile it’s a similar situation in China where Kristin Holte and Haley Adams have qualified via the Open, and Camille Leblanc-Bazinet has opted to go team, which has shifted the focal point.
2018 Games rookie Eik Gylfadottir may be the biggest benefactor as she continues to build the “Tiny Human Project” into yet another Icelandic “Dottir” name and has been increasing strength numbers since her debut appearance a year ago. Her biggest competition will likely come from a couple of Pacific Regional mainstays: Alethea Boon and Pip Malone.
5. Could Milan be a preview of Madison?
Perhaps the most interesting component of this weekend will come from the wildest format seen to date for a sanctioned event. Day one in Italy (an individual-only competition) will see hundreds of athletes take on three events (in RX and scaled formats) and overnight the field will be reduced to the top 100 men and 60 women for events through day two and early day three.
After a break in the final day the field will further be reduced to the top five who will enter the showdown finale for the spot to Madison.
This may be telling of what day one at the 2019 Reebok CrossFit Games could look like. While it’s unlikely there will be RX and scaled options from the mind of Dave Castro—though who really knows for sure?—the field size and cuts could be previewed in Italy and give an idea of what we could expect this summer.
For comparison, look for a much more traditional format in Shanghai at the Asia CrossFit Championship.
Five spots will be booked for Madison this weekend over three days of fitness abroad in Italy and China. Expectations say we should have an idea of who will be earning those invites, but if this season has taught us anything to this point, it’s to expect chaos to continue.