Rogue Invitational Could Be The Marquee Event Of The Season

Three sanctioned events take place this weekend as the Road to Madison hits its highest speed yet. But, while Brazil and Australia will have big names, the biggest will be in Ohio for perhaps the most star-studded non-Games competition in history.

This year marks the debut of the Rogue Invitational, an event that is taking to heart the idea of quality over quantity. The fields will be small and loaded with the elite of CrossFit—featuring just 19 men, 20 women, eight teams, and 16 individuals participating in the highly anticipated Legends division.  

The results here will be among the most intriguing for a sanctioned event to date. There is also potential for the newest batch of Games invites going to athletes that fail to finish in the top 10 this weekend.

Before looking to who may punch their ticket, the CrossFit nerd in me (and a lot of us “pre-bok” types) has to spend a moment to appreciate the Legends division.  

The website shows six past CrossFit Games champions, including three from before this decade—Jason Khalipa, Mikko Salo and Tanya Wagner. But all signs are also pointing to Rich Froning joining in on the party and flexing his individual muscle at an on-site competition for the first time since his fourth and final championship at the 2014 CrossFit Games.  

Obviously, there’s a clear-cut favorite on the men’s side of the Legends division (zero disrespect to the rest of the all-star field). On the women’s side it’s hard to not lean toward favoring the 2013 champion Sam Briggs who has qualified for the Games this season in what seems to be 48 different divisions.  

But, at the end of the day, the Legends division will be an absolute geek-out spectacle for those who remember the Games back when it was in its infancy.

The first of three Games tickets will be earned with the team competition in a field of just eight mega-teams. Two of those teams, CrossFit Mayhem Freedom and ROMWOD, have already earned a games berth, and depending on a possible invalidation for Invictus X, Don’t Stop could also secure a spot.

Among the five that haven’t sealed their fate yet, this is nearly a pick’em situation as four of them were top-10 finishing teams in Madison last season. 

CrossFit 417 and Invictus Back Bay should steal the show in any strength event (Tola Morakinyo and Jared Stevens one-on-one in the tug of war please?) and both have plenty of potential to get the invite to Madison. But to discredit Mayhem Independence, OC3, and Balance (all successful Games teams in past years) would be a mistake.  

I’m going to pick Invictus Back Bay (Morakinyo, Craig Kenney, Kelsey Kiel, and Meg Reardon), as I feel that’s the most well-rounded team in the group, and they’ve looked strong prior to this event. That being said, any of the five teams would make for a high quality addition to the Games field.

On the individual front, more than half of the men’s and women’s fields have already earned their invite or qualification to Madison for the 2019 Reebok CrossFit Games, which means there’s two entirely different discussions about this weekend’s event:

  1. Who will win?

  2. Who will get the invite position?

The men’s competition will be headlined by reigning three-time Games champion Mat Fraser.  The last time Fraser was defeated in competition was back at the 2016 Open (when he finished seventh and behind Open champion Noah Ohlsen). In more than a thousand days since, Fraser has gone into the business of winning competitions and shattering his own records along the way. 

Most impressively, he continued to widen the points gap between him and the rest of the field on an annual basis at the CrossFit Games.

Would I like to be the person who steps out on the limb and calls for the streak to end this weekend? Sure. Will I be? No, because unless he comes out this weekend in full-on tune-up mode (an unlikely proposition, especially with bragging rights and $50,000 on the line) it just seems irrational to pick against someone who last lost before the Avengers had their cinematic “Civil War.”

Should Patrick Vellner, Noah Ohlsen, Lukas Hogberg, Willy Georges, or anyone else in the loaded field take down the champ, the men’s competition in Madison this summer suddenly gets a little more interesting.  

There is potential for it to happen. In a field this talent-laden, one bad event could be catastrophic positionally speaking and, with eight events, the recovery from such a moment could be difficult.

The other question in the division will be around who earns the Games invite.  

Fraser, Vellner, Ohlsen, Hogberg, Georges, Casper Gammelmark, Adrian Mundwiler, Scott Panchik, Cole Sager, Rasmus Andersen, Travis Mayer, and Streat Hoerner have all already put themselves in the 2019 Games.  

That’s 12 of the 19 in the field (and quite possibly could be the entire top-10 at the conclusion of the weekend). One name not on the list but in the field could be the most intriguing story of the weekend, as Ben Smith looks to continue his iron-man streak to 11 consecutive Games appearances.  

This could be his most impressive yet as he spent the holidays recovering from knee surgery and has recently returned to overhead squatting 340 pounds (yes, in Nanos). The biggest challenge to this comeback story may be from Chandler Smith, who is fresh off his win at The Fittest Experience. 

For those who are looking for someone to pull the upset over some more familiar names, keep an eye on 23-year-old Jake Berman from CrossFit Perimeter, who has continued to rise higher up leaderboards over the past few years—including a 38th-place worldwide finish in the Open.

The race for the men’s invite spot may come down to how Ben Smith’s knee holds up over the eight-event weekend. If he’s back to 100 percent, it’s hard to go against him. However, if the knee, and Smith, aren’t quite back into form, it could be a quality fight between Chandler Smith and Berman.

The women’s side will one-up the men’s side with 13 athletes already qualified for Madison.  Among those 13 are eight of last year’s Games top 10 (the only two missing being Kara Saunders and Cassidy Lance-McWherter) and perennial podium contender Sara Sigmundsdottir.  

Who will win? Your guess is as good as mine. Tia-Clair Toomey will get the obvious “favorite” tag after winning two straight championships—an accomplishment that both Katrin Davidsdottir and Annie Thorisdottir can lay claim to as well.  

Throw in 2019 runner-up Laura Horvath, two-time top American finisher Kari Pearce, and the breakout star of the sanctioned event season (Dani Speegle) into the mix and you get what may well be a preview of the title chase this summer.

My prediction: I’ll cop out and just say sit back and enjoy the weekend on this one. This should be the highlight of the entire sanctioned event season.

Seven athletes (Margaux Alvarez, Rachel Garibay, Hollye Henderson, Lauren Suever, Colleen Lehane, Nikki Matarazzo and Karine Shrum) are still eligible for the Games invite from the Rogue Invitational.  

The most notable name would be Alvarez, a long-time Games athlete, who recently was the focus of controversy with her release from the CrossFit L1 Seminar staff. Her experience should play a huge role, but a heavy focus on her growing wine company brings her fitness level into question relative to the rest of the field.

The name that’s hardest to pick against is Garibay, who finished seventh in the 2018 Open before opting to go team with “Don’t Stop.” There is zero question that she’s capable of the invite and she is my pick for the weekend.  

Much like the men’s side there is a sleeper role on the women’s side, and that is Lauren Suever (60th in the 2019 Open with no finish outside the top 300). Similar to Berman, Suever has risen consistently in recent history.

Big money, big stakes, and big names fill the weekend and the big winners will be the fans. 

With the quality of the fields in this event, the capabilities of Rogue Fitness to bring an incredible product to the table, and the full coverage live stream, this weekend’s event in Ohio may be the marquee event of the season.

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