They have trained. They have been tested. And now, in an annual rite of televised sadomasochism, some of the fittest people on earth will assemble in Carson, California, for the 2016 CrossFit Games. Over six days, men and women will complete some of the most punishing athletic tests ever devised in a bid to become the “Fittest on Earth.”
So: Who’s going to take the title this year? In our (totally unofficial) ranking of the most competitive men, we looked at three main categories: previous CrossFit Games finishes, scoring within each of the eight 2016 Regionals, and the overall ranking of 2016 Regionals performances, which measured each athlete’s scores as if they were all competing head-to-head. (That last one comes courtesy of FloElite, a blog about fitness sports and competitive weightlifting.)
Scroll through the gallery for a look at who we’ll be watching at the 2016 CrossFit Games, ranked from top dogs to outside contenders.
1. Mathew Fraser
It would probably be an overstatement to say Fraser is the odds-on favorite at the 2016 Games, but he’s undoubtedly had redemption on his mind after his second-place finish in 2015, and his top-ranked Regionals performance proved it. Fraser’s all-around strength is, well, his strength—he consistently crushed the weightlifting events at the 2015 Games, and won the 2016 Regionals snatch ladder—and he’s probably been hammering his footspeed and the dreaded “Pig” after ceding ground last year in those events.
2. Scott Panchik
Panchik was a force to be reckoned with in 2015, and his Regionals performance—first in the talent-stacked Central, and second overall—shows he’s put in the work for this year’s Games. Panchik is absolutely shredded and seems to do especially well in events like last year’s sprint courses and Pedal to the Metal, where his compact, sinewy frame gives him an advantage. Look for him to pour it on in this year’s Event 12, the “Suicide Sprint.”
The returning champion is very much in form this year, as he’s followed up his balanced, disciplined win at the 2015 Games with a first-place performance at the Atlantic Regional (third overall). Smith only has one gold medal to his name, but he’s performed extremely well over the past five years at the games, and his levelheaded approach to the annual meat-grinder in Carson makes him a solid, if unflashy, bet to win it again.
4. Alex Anderson
Anderson technically finished third in the talent-loaded Central Regional this year, but when his performance is graded against the entire Games pool, he actually comes out slightly ahead of second-place Central finisher Jacob Heppner. The brawny Tennessean also fared well in the 2015 Games, finishing thirteenth.
Heppner is neck-and-neck with Anderson, but their Regionals performances were nearly mirror images of the other’s. Heppner floundered in Event 1 (squat snatches) and Event 7 (thrusters and rope climbs), where Anderson excelled; meanwhile, Heppner dominated Events 3–5, when Anderson turned in his worst performances. These two could be a barometer for the programming at the Games.
6. Brent Fikowski
Fikowski—aka “The Professor,” aka #TheWhitestDarkhorse—turned in a solid performance across the board at Regionals, showcasing exactly how balanced an athlete he is. And there’s no question about his dedication: After barely missing a qualifying place in 2014 and 2015, the Canadian redoubled his efforts—and it paid off en route to a resounding win in the West. If you’re a casual fan seeking a classic underdog to cheer for, Fikowski is your man.
Don’t let Carchedi’s fourth-place finish in the Central fool you—he held his own just fine in that stacked region, where he benefited from competing alongside his training partners Heppner and Andrew Kuechler. Carchedi is a cardiovascular powerhouse, too: He had the best Regionals time in grueling Event 6 (bike, handstand walk, overhead squats, rowing, and burpees). He could try to parlay that endurance into a late-Games surge, as the events start to take their toll on less conditioned CrossFitters.
8. Josh Bridges
Bridges has undoubtedly been training with a chip on his shoulder after just missing out on the Games last season. This year’s top competitor out of the talent-deep California Region, Bridges overcame a rough Regionals start in the Event 1 snatch ladder and hammered his way to a strong finish. Also: He unquestionably has the boldest facial hair of any competitor. So there’s that.
Don’t let his aw-shucks demeanor and perfectly coiffed haircut fool you: Ohlsen is one of the most balanced competitors in the Games, and his second-place performance in the Atlantic (behind only Ben Smith) has set him up for a strong shot at the podium in 2016. Ohlsen’s also got some experience under his belt, and his top-10 finish in 2015 likely helped him polish his mental and emotional composure for this year. (Seriously, though, how does he get his hair to stay put through all those workouts?)
10. Björgvin Karl Guðmundsson
Iceland’s “Dottirs” may dominate the women’s side of CrossFit, but Guðmundsson is just as formidable a standard-bearer for the island of fire and ice. He’s something of a long-distance specialist, and his steely first-place performance in last year’s absolutely hellish Murph—the same event that clobbered Ben Smith—proved that he was worthy of his Meridian Regional win this year. If the Games go cardio-intensive this year, he could definitely repeat his podium finish.
Nevermind the blonde ponytail and tiny blue Kill Cliff tank tops—Dancer is one of the best competitors at the Games this year. And while his fifth-place finish in the Central may not look impressive on paper, compare his overall Regionals numbers against the whole pack, and it’s obvious that Dancer can hang with the best of the best.
12. Ben Stoneberg
Stoneberg is a longtime veteran of the Games, and he’ll be counting on that experience to at least dent the top 10 in Carson.
The always-entertaining Canuck finished second in the East behind only Mat Fraser with a strong all-around performance. His Event 4 performance at Regionals wasn’t too hot—so if power cleans show up in force, he could be in trouble—but otherwise, he’s as good a dark-horse pick as any.
14. Spencer Hendel
With a qualifying spot on the line going into the last event (a battery of thrusters and rope climbs) at the East Regional, Hendel unloaded everything he had—and not only dominated the event, but stamped his qualifying ticket to the games. Bottom line: Don’t count him out, especially not after his equally clutch fifth-place finish at last year’s Games.
He took first place in the South Regional. If Gamboa had more in the tank than he let on, he could easily make a run at the podium.
16. Patrick Vellner
Vellner may not look like a lean, mean, CrossFit machine, but the affable Canadian’s numbers are right up there with the best of ‘em. He technically beat Spencer Hendel in the East, but their overall Regionals numbers are just about even.
Andersen rode out a strong start to a second-place finish in the California Regional. If the Games are heavy on Olympic lifts, he could make an outside run at the podium.
18. Rob Forte
His Regional scores weren't mind-blowing, but his first-place performance the Pacific Regional earns him a spot on the list, since it's entirely possible that he coasted to the top of the podium there. (See also: Roy Gamboa.)