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2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games Top Athletes and Events to Watch

THE CROSSFIT EQUIVALENT of the Super Bowl, the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games, is about to kick off in Madison, Wisconsin. Between August 3 to August 7, 80 of the fittest men and women (as well as teams, teens, masters, and adaptive athletes) will vie for the title of Fittest On Earth. Over the course of five days, the athletes will complete a series of workouts (“events”) in a whole range of settings, from turf and trail to water and wake. In addition to bragging rights, individual winners will take home $310,000 from a $2.8 prize purse across the field, the largest in the event’s history.

For those not familiar, the CrossFit Games is the final frontier in a five-part competitive season that began in February with the CrossFit Open, the portion of the competition that everybody in the community (yep, even your Nano-wearing cousin) does. In March, the top 10 percent of the field moved onto the Quarterfinals, which was a four-day, five-event online competition. Then in May and June, the top 10 percent of those athletes competed in one of 10 Semifinals (or something called a Last Chance Qualifier), which has whittled the field down to what it is now.

Taking the stage this year on the men’s side are 12 rookie athletes and 28 veterans, while there are 16 newbies and 24 returning athletes in the women’s division. On the heels of the 2021 CrossFit documentary CrossFit: The Next Generationn, the battle between the new pups and the old dogs is top of mind. Ahead, a complete breakdown of what to expect, from the top contenders to the expected events.

Want to catch all the action? Here’s how you can watch it all without missing a moment.

Which Men to Watch at The CrossFit Games

In a poll from CrossFit publication The Morning Chalk Up, 88% of responders from the CrossFit community picked Justin Medeiros and Patrick Vellner as the two most likely to win the title of the Fittest Man On Earth in 2022.

Vellner and Medeiros have each reached the podium at the Games in the past. A six-time-Games athlete, Veller has taken bronze twice and silver twice, most recently in 2021. Meanwhile, two-times-Games athlete and reigning champ Medeiros took third in 2020 before breaking through and capturing the first post-Mat Fraser title last year.

Those two aren’t the only athletes with the potential to podium this year. Saxon Panchik, Brent Fikowksi, Guilherme Malheiros, and Roman Khrennikov could also give them a run for their money. First up: Saxon Panchik. With big brother and CrossFit’s golden boy Scott Panchick down for the count due to an unfortunate rope-related injury at the Syndicate Crown Semifinal, all eyes will be on his 24-year-old Saxon (as well as his twin Spencer).

While it’s Spencer’s first time ever making it to the CrossFit Games, Saxon has been there every year since 2018. Saxon, a newly-minted PRVN athlete, has had a hell of a year. He came won the 2022 CrossFit Open, then wowed the crowds when he came in first at the Mid-Atlantic CrossFit Semifinals. But will he be able to come in first during the highest stage of competition? We’ll know by the end of this week.

Next up is six-time Games athlete and two-time podium finisher Brent Fikowski. Known lovingly as The Professor, this tall competitor (at 6’2”) is a fan favorite. Given the events that have been released so far include a swimming pool event and endurance event, two major strengths of his, the odds could be in this alpine athlete’s favor.

Also in contention for a spot is Guilherme Malheiros, the most explosive athlete making an appearance. Even if he doesn’t podium, you can bet this CrossFit Mayhem athlete will put on one hell of a show during whatever Olympic lift or complex in the program.

Russian CrossFit athlete Roman Khrennikov is another podium threat. Despite qualifying for the Games for the last four years, this is the first year Khrennikov actually got the visa he needed to travel to the US for the competition. In other words, this is the first year we’ll learn exactly what he’s capable of at the highest level.

Also worth watching are Austin Spencer and Nick Mathew, who earned a place through a back-fill process due to two other athletes testing positive for illegal substances.

Which Women to Watch at The CrossFit Games

On the women’s side, the most interesting question isn’t who is going to take home gold. Five-time champion Tia-Clair Toomey-Orr—undoubtedly the top CrossFit competitor of all time on the women’s side—is still taking the stage, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’d bet against this GOAT. If she takes gold again, she’ll best her longtime training partner Mat Fraser and stand alone as the only six-time champ in either division.

There are, however, plenty of other questions that remain unanswered.

First, will 18-year-old Mal O’Brien, a protégé of Fraser’s, be able to make the podium? After an impressive performance at the Granite Games Semifinal, where she finished first and earned 576 out of 600 total points, many believe that she’ll be the one wearing silver by the end of the championship competition.

Second, after a two-year absence from the Games due to Covid-reduced field in 2020 and illness in 2021, how will Kara Saunders (formerly Kara Webb) fare against this younger crowd? While it’d be surprising to see Saunders fall outside of the top 10, after a few years away, will this athlete, now 32-years-old, be able to clinch a top-five finish?

Third, how will Laura Horvath, the 2021 second place finisher, fare this year? Horvath is consistently overlooked during many CrossFit Games predictions, as she’s largely considered to be a one-dimensional strength athlete. She shares coach Michele Letendre with top men’s competitor Patrick Vellner, which makes Horvath much better-prepared for another podium finish than she’s often given credit.

Finally, how will three-times-Games-athlete Danielle Brandon perform without the guidance of her former coach after an abrupt parting from Justin Cotler’s Vegas-Based training camp, Underdog Athletics, just seven weeks out from the Games? Brandon is no stranger to mid-competition adversity (and notorious for flicking the bird at the camera and crowd). Last year, she managed to finish just outside the top 10 despite being isolated from the rest of the field after her training partners (Bethany Shadberne and Kari Pearce) tested positive for COVID in the middle of competition. Still, how she’ll manage the physical and emotional strain of the Games without Cotler remains to be seen.

Don’t be surprised if you see Haley Adams, a top ten finisher in 2021, place high after another 12-months of working on her weaknesses (strength) and making her strengths (grunt and endurance work) even more unbeatable. Ditto goes for rookie Alex Gazan, who’s pulling strength is unmatched, and Emily Rolfe.

No 2022 CrossFit Games watch list would be complete without Brooke Wells. The seven-time-Games athlete was forced to withdraw from competition last year after a mid-competition elbow dislocation and tear during a 190-pound snatch attempt. Bluntly, if Wells manages to finish in the top 10 after less than a year of rehabilitation, that will be one of the most badass things to ever take place in Madison.

What Events Will Be at the 2022 CrossFit Games

At the time of publishing, only a handful of the 2022 CrossFit Games events have been released to the public. Variety is the name of the game with the sport of functional fitness—and the smattering events released so far this season prove it.

The firstevent, Dubbed Bike To Work, features two 5-mile bike rides sandwiched between 75 toes-to-bar. another event, Capitol, plops a 3.5 mile run in the middle of an odd object work (emphasis on odd!). A third event forces athletes to press an absurd 300 and 200 pounds overhead, respectively, after some shuttle sprints. Not easy!

Most of the other events likely will not be released until the last minute. But given the previous years of programming, it’s a safe bet that athletes will likely have to perform a max Olympic lift (or barbell complex), traverse a handstand walking course, paddle (or kayak) through Lake Monona, and do a variation of classic Hero or Girl workout, such as murph, Franor Diana. You can track the events as they’re announced on CrossFit’s website.

Some things might look different for a reason. This is the first year Adrien Bozman is in charge of Games programming rather than Dave Castro, who was dismissed from his role at the beginning of the year. But given that CrossFit is still a sport that tests fitness across a broad range of time domains, movements, weights, and intensities, odds are high that the 2022 CrossFit Games will be more similar to than different from Games of past years.

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