Comeback Season — 20 Women Athletes Eyeing Returns or Debuts for the 2023 CrossFit Games

Four Individual athletes who have previously stood on the Games podium, including two past champions could return in 2023.

The official start 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games season is via the Open Workout 23.1 announcement on Feb. 16, 2023. For most of the over 200,000 registered athletes around the world, their Games season will end after their final Open workout score is submitted on March 6, 2023. However, those who advance to the Quarterfinals will be one step closer to fulfilling their Games qualification dreams.

Among those people is a subset of athletes who have previously competed at the Games and excelled on the competition floor. That group dwindles smaller when considering the athletes who aim to return to the 2023 Games as Individual competitors after failing to qualify in 2022 for various reasons, including injuries, underperformance, or competing in the Team division.

Through this lens, the Individual women’s division includes former Games champions and a who’s-who of top names in the sport. Can they recapture their dream of competing under the lights of the Alliant Energy Center Coliseum in Madison, WI, or feel them for the first time? Below is a breakdown of 20 Individual women athletes looking to make their Games return or debut in 2023:

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Annie Thorisdottir
Image via Patrick Clark.

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Looking for a Healthy Season

This category includes six athletes:

  • Bethany Shadburne
  • Emma Cary
  • Emma Tall
  • Emily Rolfe
  • Jessica Androsik
  • Nicole Mghenyi

Four of the above athletes are past Games participants.

Bethany Shadburne

Bethany Shadburne is a four-time Games veteran. She hasn’t competed in person at the Games since the 2019 season, when she placed a career-best eighth overall. Since then, the former bodybuilder has been plagued by COVID-19 and back injuries. She qualified for the 2020 Games, but due to limiting factors in online programming, she placed 20th overall.

In 2021, Shadburne looked set to have a breakout year as a podium contender after winning the West Coast Classic Semifinal against a tough field, punching her fifth ticket to Madison. However, COVID-19 ruined her promising season, taking her out of the competition altogether after she tested positive on the eve of the Games.

In 2022, it appeared that Shadburne was set for a comeback season. However, a nagging back injury forced her to withdraw from the Quarterfinals. In 2023, Shadburne appears healthy and is training under the watchful eye of Training Think Tank coach Perrin Behr.

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Emma Cary

Teen sensation Emma Cary withdrew during the 2022 Quarterfinals. The then-17-year-old hurt her back during the 2021 Dubai CrossFit Championship and later re-aggravated the injury during the second stage of the Games season. In 2021, Cary showed promise in her Games debut, placing 16th overall. After 13 months of recovery, she returned to competition at the 2023 TYR Wodapalooza (WZA) contest, where she placed third overall.

Emma Tall

Sweden’s Emma Tall was poised for a big 2022 season. The two-time Games veteran had her best Open and Quarterfinals finish in 2022 but withdrew from the Strength in Depth Semifinal due to a respiratory illness. She has recovered since and won the 2022 Madrid CrossFit Championship in September and fifth place at the 2023 TYR WZA in January.

Emily Rolfe

Emily Rolfe competed at the Games in 2022 but her stay was short-lived. She medically withdrew after the first event when a blood clot in her arm led to emergency surgery. The three-time Games athlete’s comeback has been extraordinary, placing third at the 2022 Dubai Fitness Championship and ninth at the 2023 TYR WZA.

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Jessica Androsik and Nicole Mghenyi

Jessica Androsik and Nicole Mghenyi haven’t qualified for the Games yet. They were expected to make the jump after promising 2021 seasons. Androsik tore her ulnar collateral ligament during the Quarterfinals and has been recovering since. In 2021, Androsik placed 10th at the West Coast Classic and followed with a career-best 80th-place finish in the worldwide Open. She changed training camps for the 2023 season, moving to Naples, FL, to join the Brute Strength camp.

Mghenyi didn’t compete in 2022 due to pregnancy. In 2021, she missed out on her first Individual Games appearance by placing sixth at the Granite Games Semifinal. That qualified her for the Last Chance Qualifier, but she ranked 16th.

The Cut List

The athletes below are those who failed to qualify for the 2022 Games:

  • Sara Sigmundsdottir
  • Jamie Simmonds
  • Katrin Davíðsdóttir
  • Madeline Sturt
  • Fee Saghafi
  • Michelle Basnett
  • Steph Chung
  • Shelby Neal

Sara Sigmundsdottir

Sara Sigmundsdottir and Jamie Simmonds’ disappointing 2022 seasons could be attributed to not being fully recovered from injuries sustained in the 2021 season. Sigmundsdottir is a fan favorite who has six Games appearances, including two podium finishes early in her career.

In 2021, Sigmundsdottir suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament prior to the start of the season but recovered enough to compete at the Dubai CrossFit Championship less than 10 months later. At less than 100 percent, she competed in 2022 but came up short of a Games berth. She ranked sixth at the Lowlands Throwdown Semifinal and 12th in the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ).

Jamie Simmonds

Simmonds was in the same boat as Sigmundsdottir, having missed most of the 2021 season due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. The 2019 third Fittest Woman on Earth® and five-time Games veteran used the 2022 season to test her limits. Residing in the United Kingdom and looking like her old self, she finished 10th in the 2022 Open.

However, a fifth place in the tough Oceania Semifinal kept her on the outside looking in. She placed fifth in the 2022 LCQ, missing out on a 2022 Games spot by three spots. Simmonds has competed in a number of off-season competitions, including ranking fourth at the 2022 Dubai Fitness Championship and winning the team title at the 2023 TYR WZA.

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Katrin Davíðsdóttir

Two-time Games champion Katrin Davíðsdóttir saw her streak of Games appearances snapped at seven in 2022 when she ranked third in the LCQ — one spot and four points short of a Games invite. She made her second coaching change in as many years, becoming the latest high-profile athlete to join Mat Fraser’s HWPO camp. Perhaps the five-time Fittest Man on Earth® can get Davíðsdóttir back to the Games podium.

Madeline Sturt

Madeline Sturt was once considered the future CrossFit star of Australia. After four-straight appearances from 2016-2019, the 26-year-old found returning to the Games to be a challenging task. Just like Simmonds, Sturt suffered at Oceania Semifinal that only took the top three finishers from the Torian Pro Semifinal. In 2022, she finished four points behind Ellie Turner for that final Games spot — the second-straight year she finished one spot short of the Games. 

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Fee Saghafi

During the 2019 season, Fee Saghafi made her Games debut, placing an impressive 24th overall. While it seemed that would be the first of many trips to the Games, she is still searching for that return trip to Madison. She placed seventh in both her Semifinal and LCQ appearances in the 2021 and 2022 seasons. She moved to Naples to train full-time under Matt Torres and the Brute Strength camp, hoping to end her Games drought.

Michelle Basnett

When 24-year-old Michelle Basnett won the 2021 Fittest in Cape Town Semifinal and debuted at the Games, many thought she was the future of the Africa region. She placed 32nd in 2021. In 2022, she placed third in her Semifinal.

Like Davíðsdóttir and Saghafi, Basnett changed training programs for the 2023 season and appears to be in the best shape of her young career thanks to Taylor Self and his Selfmade Programming. These changes, plus 2022 Fittest in Cape Town Michelle Merand competing on a team in 2023, means Basnett is a favorite to represent Africa at the 2023 Games.

Steph Chung

Steph Chung last appeared at the 2018 Games and has been fighting to return ever since. Her best two seasons in the Open were in 2019 and 2020, but the criteria to qualify were changed, and she came up short. During the 2021 season, she started Physician Assistant school, making training full-time more difficult. She still qualified for the Granite Games Semifinals.

Chung sustained an injury in the first event that severely hampered her during the weekend. She ranked eighth overall, qualifying her for the LCQ. In 2022, she qualified for the Quarterfinals but elected not to compete. During the following offseason, Chung hinted on her social media that she was preparing for a comeback with coach Jami Tikkanen from the Training Plan.

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Shelby Neal

Shelby Neal made two appearances at the Games as a teen competitor, placing sixth in the 16-17 division in 2017. Since then, she has tried returning to Madison. The 2022 season provided her best opportunity to date, as she placed seventh in the Mid-Atlantic CrossFit Challenge (MACC) and would have qualified for the Games if not for a 30th-place finish in the legless rope climb event. That finish damaged her chances enough despite her five top-five finishes.

In fact, only eventual MACC champion Danielle Brandon recorded five top-five finishes. Neal elected not to compete in the LCQ due to military obligations but the 23-year-old returns this year looking to right her wrongs and qualify for the Games.

Team Players

These four athletes previously made the Games as Individual athletes and then elected to go to the Team division for the 2022 season with varying results.

  • Annie Thorisdottir
  • Lauren Fisher
  • Sasha Nieves
  • Laura Clifton

Annie Thorisdottir

Annie Thorisdottir and Lauren Fisher teamed up with Tola Morakinyo and Khan Porter on the CrossFit Reykjavik team to challenge Rich Froning’s CrossFit Mayhem Freedom team for the championship. The team came up short of their goals, finishing fourth. Though it hasn’t been officially announced yet, all indication is that both athletes will return to Individual competition in 2023.

Thorisdottir is a two-time Fittest Woman on Earth® who decided to dip her toe into Team competition after placing third at the 2021 Games. With Tia-Clair Toomey relinquishing the throne due to her pregnancy, 2023 could be a perfect opportunity for the six-time podium finisher to add more hardware to her trophy case. Thorisdottir competed at the 2022 Rogue Invitational and ranked second.

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Lauren Fisher

Fisher last competed at the Games as an Individual in 2018. She placed third in 2019 with team CrossFit Invictus before teaming up with Thorisdottir in 2022. The 2021 season saw Fisher, a seven-time Games veteran, compete as an Individual, but injuries hampered her performance at the West Coast Classic. This season, Fisher tapped the Training Think Tank camp to help her prepare for another Individual Games run.

Sasha Nieves

Sasha Nieves made her Games debut in 2021 as a 23-year-old rookie. She ranked 31st overall after placing second at the Brazil CrossFit Championships. After the 2021 Games, she moved to Cookeville, TN, to train full-time as a Mayhem Athlete. That led to her joining the Mayhem Independence team. The former Argentinian Olympic weightlifter helped the team to a fifth-place finish. With more experience and training with the best CrossFit athletes in the world, a return to Individual competition seems to be in the cards.

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Laura Clifton

Laura Clifton competed on a team in 2022, but unlike the previous three women, her team did not qualify for the Games. They finished fourth at the Torian Pro — one spot short. Her move to the Team division was surprising for an athlete who had qualified for the Games as an Individual in the prior two seasons (2020-2021). In 2023, the New Zealander could return to Individual competition as Toomey’s absence leaves a spot available.

The Others

These final two athletes have never competed at the Games but are contenders to earn their first Games invitations. They have reaffirmed that through their actions during the offseason:

  • Anikha Greer
  • Manon Angonese

Anikha Greer and Manon Angonese did not compete in the 2022 Semifinal due to their Quarterfinal scores involving submission errors. 

Anikha Greer

The 19-year-old Greer finished 16th in the 2022 Open and had the top Canadian score. She had one of the top scores in North America heading into the final day of the Quarterfinals, but her score wasn’t recorded nor accepted by CrossFit before the submission deadline. She fell to 389th and out of contention for a Semifinal spot.

Not to be deterred, Greer used her shortened season to gain more competition experience. She moved to Miami to train with Noah Ohlsen and switched her coaching to the Training Think Tank camp.

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Manon Angonese

Like Greer, Angonese competed in a 2021 Semifinal and earned an LCQ invite. The Belgian placed a respectable 226th in the Open to start the 2022 season and would have had a qualifying score for a Semifinal. However, she missed the submission cut-off for her final two Quarterfinal scores due to a time change.

Angonese spent her offseason competing in three high-profile events: the Madrid CrossFit Championship, Rogue Invitational, and the Dubai Fitness Championship. 

2022 CrossFit Open

The 2022 CrossFit season kicks off on Feb. 16, 2023, via the first workout of the Open. The first workout — 23.1 — will be live announced in Madrid, Spain. The Open will last for three weeks and then cut the worldwide field for the virtual Quarterfinals. From there, top athletes will earn invitations to compete in their region’s Semifinal events, where invitations for the 2023 CrossFit Games will be earned.

Featured image via Patrick Clark.