These guys are crazy-fit and we suspect many of them have what it takes to win.
Amy Roberts and Lydia Bailey 1 / 11
The 2015 CrossFit Games are upon us, taking place from July 21 to July 26. What started out as a one-day competition with just 70 athletes in 2007 has exploded into an international multi-stage event, including Open and Regional competitions and culminating in the Games, a crazy-tough spectacle of 40 men and 40 women, whittled down from an initial pool of hundreds of thousands.
The aim of the Games is to find what CrossFit deems the “Fittest On Earth,” and in order to do that, the challenges of the competition aren’t announced until right before the Games begin. This means that the athletes can’t target-train for the specific events but instead must exhibit many attributes of fitness, from raw strength to strength-endurance to speed to power. “It’s a black box and they want it that way,” says Todd Nief, owner and coach of South Loop Strength & Conditioning, Home of South Loop CrossFit, in downtown Chicago. “You have an idea of the types of things that will be tested but you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Further, because of how the scoring works, you are punished more for a bad event than you are rewarded for a first-place finish in one. “The goal isn’t necessarily to win the events,” Nief says, “If you finish third place on everything, you’re more likely to win overall, rather than someone who is the best at some and worse at others.” So who are these most well-rounded of this year’s CrossFit competitors? Here’s a primer on some of the top 10 men to watch in the Games, airing on ESPN and ESPN2.
The heir apparent, Fraser is the closest challenger to CrossFit legend Rich Froning, who dominated the individuals from 2011 to 2014. Now that Froning’s competing in the team division only, Fraser, who came in second to Froning in his rookie year last year, is it. “A former weightlifter with a massive aerobic capacity, this guy is built to win fitness events,” says Nief. “CrossFit is a weird combo of strength sport and endurance sport, and Fraser’s got the stature, body type, and mental toughness to do it.”
The competition to watch? Ian Jentgen, Director of Training at Hybrid Athletics and Lead Instructor at CrossFit Strongman Seminar Staff suspects the snatch ladder will be one of his most impressive feats at the games.
In last year’s games, Ohlsen was at the top of the leaderboard at first and faltered as the week went on. “He has fantastic upper body muscle endurance—just has a huge engine,” Nief says. “He’s definitely a contender with only a few holes in his game on the absolute strength and power production end.”
Ohlsen is moving from his beginner stengths into becoming a more well-rounded athlete. "He's young and has made great strides in strength development and is proving he's no longer just a gymnastics and body weight specialist," says Jentgen.
Age: 20 Height: 5’8” Weight: 185 pounds From: Finland
Though just 20-years-old, Koski crushed the Meridian regional competition of athletes from Europe and Africa, a very competitive division. It doesn’t hurt his game that he trains with 2009 champ Mikko Salo. “This guy is the real deal,” says Nief.
Age: 37 Height: 5'10" Weight: 208 pounds From: California
At age 37, he’s one of the oldest competitors on the men’s side. He’s historically done very well during open and regional competitions, but he underperformed in his first few years at the Games, finally earning his first top 10 finish last year. He says this’ll be his last year competing as individual. “Neal is an athlete who almost looks too powerful to do well in CrossFit,” says Nief. “He can sprint, but has the capacity and endurance to do well. It will be interesting to see if he can keep it together.”
Holmberg was the 2010 CrossFit Games champ, and the only to ever beat Froning in Games. He tends to do not as well as you’d expect in the Open and Regional competitions, and narrowly missed qualifying for the Games last year. “Holmberg does better on the more running-focused events or the more obscure challenges at the Games. The sport is so much more competitive than it was in 2010, so for him to still be there is pretty impressive,” Nief says. “The female 2010 champ, for example, didn’t even come close to qualifying.”
What makes this year different? "Holmberg will be eyeing his return to the top of the podium as Rich Froning has made his move to team," says Jentgen.
Vigneault competed against Mat Fraser in the Regionals, and his scores for his second-place finish there would’ve won him the title in other Regional competitions. “Fraser didn’t just blow him out of the water,” Nief says. “They looked at the same level.” At just 23, It’s the first time he’s qualified for the Games. “As a rookie, I expect him to do well.”
Age: 25 Height: 5'11 Weight: 205 From: Sydney, Australia
Australia's Fittest Man is well, pretty much what you would expect him to be—his life before CrossFit was a mix of surfing, lifeguarding, and rugby (not to mention professional modeling). His full-throttle workouts often involve three sessions a day.
8. Daniel Tyminski
Age: 29 Height: 5'9 Weight: 195 From: New York
A would-be major contender in last year's Games, Tyminski earned not a spot on the podium but a long-recovery—during chest-ups, he sprained his shoulder so badly he had to drop out of the competition. His national ranking dropped hundreds of places, but now, with his deadlift back up to 525 lbs, he's set to make a strong impression in the 2015 Games. He heard about CrossFit as an airborne infantry man stationed in Alaska.
"He's worked extremely hard to get back to fitness and previous Games experience should serve him well," says Jentgen.
“Panchik is one of the guys who wasn’t the best because Froning always beat him in Regionals, but he was always close,” says Nief. He’s someone who is built for CrossFit—he’s very strong and doesn’t seem to get tired. “He always will be a threat to finish on the podium,” Nief says.
Age: 31 Height: 5'7" Weight: 179 pounds From: California
Bailey is the media darling of CrossFit, working for the headquarters and often used as the face of the sport. He’s competing out of California this year, having moved out of the North East region. Jentgen points out that as a former collegiate sprinter, he's likely to do well in short, fast events.
“He’s had a bunch of top 10 finishes, but tends to be someone who is almost too powerful and too much of a sprinter to really win, but always does very well,” Nief says. “He was clearly dominant in the Southern California Regional, which is one of the more competitive, so I expect him to do well in the Games this year.”