2021 Granite Games Recap: Winners and CrossFit Games Qualifiers

This year's Granite Games featured heart-pumping competition from start to finish.

The heat was on at the 2021 Granite Games, and we don’t just mean the mid-90 and sunny weather athletes competed through all weekend. All events took place outdoors at Viking Lakes, home of the Minnesota Vikings. And if the crowd got a sneaking feeling of the CrossFit Games just around the corner, it may not have been coincidence: They were a quick four-hour drive from Madison, WI, host to the Games in just a few short weeks.

The sweltering second weekend of semifinals at the Granite Games brought about a rookie-dominated female field, a second Panchik brother win and some familiar team names back in action in Viking Lakes, home of the Minnesota Vikings.

Note: The top five men, women, and teams qualify for the 2021 NOBULL CrossFit Games. The Games qualifiers below are noted in bold.

Granite Games 2021 Female Top 10

1. Arielle Loewen
2. Mallory O’Brien
3. Emma Cary
4. Alessandra Pichelli
5. Caroline Conners
6. Nicole Mghenyi
7. Kristi Eramo O’Connell
8. Stephanie Chung
9. Rachel Vonderach
10. Madison McElhaney

Granite Games 2021 Male Top 10


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1. Saxon Panchik
2. Chandler Smith
3. Tim Paulson
4. Rogelio Gamboa
5. Colten Mertens
6. Nick Mathew
7. Taylor Self
8. Austin Spencer
9. Drew Wayman
10. Anthony Davis

Granite Games 2021 Team Top 10

1. Omnia
2. MoveFastLiftHeavy Crew
4. 8th Day Gym
5. Ocean States Finest
6. 12 Labours Lions
7. Timberwolf CrossFit
8. #TeamDestiny
9. The Grit Haus Black
10. Koda CrossFit

Day One Recap

While each Semifinal event hosts its own programming, CrossFit Games Director Dave Castro has oversight of all ten events, ensuring athletes around the world received similar but varied stimuli to qualify for the penultimate event in Madison, WI. The max lift events at the Granite Games were a copy-paste from last week’s opener at the Mid-Atlantic CrossFit Challenge, with no less hype. Crowds love this stuff. Athletes love this stuff — especially on fresh legs.

Teams kicked off with male and female competitors splitting the snatch and clean & jerk lifts, resulting in one of each from each gender. While #TeamDestiny took the event with a combined total of 620 pounds, Ocean State’s Finest garnered the most noise, as Christine Middleton took the women’s record for heaviest clean and jerk at a live CrossFit-sanctioned competition: 265 pounds. MoveFastLiftHeavy Crew and The Grit Haus Black tied for second, close behind with a 615-pound total.

The second part of event one was perhaps less awe-inspiring and more humbling. After a one-minute rest following the max lifts, athletes were tasked with heavy sled pushes and sprints — many of them in heavy lifting shoes, as changes weren’t allowed between events. Seen last week at the MACC, the Torque Tank sleds, with resistance a la magnets, seemed right at home on the football field. 8th Day Gym, a past Regional regular, would take the second part of this event, with Omnia in second, just edging out Ocean State’s Finest.

Finally, there was team event two: Remember the days before the 2017 Open when dumbbells were unheard of in CrossFit? Arguably the worst thing to come from their entrance into boxes everywhere is the devil’s press: essentially a burpee with two dumbbells in your hands the entire time. Omnia took this event, moving into first place overall on the leaderboard.

There was no shortage of weights on the individual side of competition — and thank goodness, because there were a lot of them on barbells. Nicole Mghenyi topped out at 215, the heaviest women’s individual lift we’ve seen thus far in Semifinals. Eight-time Games veteran and Canadian Alessandra Pichelli tied with Madison McElhaney at 210 pounds. Seventeen-year-old rookie Emma Cary made a name for herself among an impressive field with a 200-pound snatch, 15 pounds heavier than fellow teenager Mallory O’Brien.

And for the men? While he claims to be a CrossFitter, 5-foot-9, 225-pound Anthony Davis’s 340-pound lift may have qualified him for a walk-on spot with the Minnesota Vikings. Crowd favorite Chandler Smith hit 305, good for a second-place tie with Jack Rozema.

While their second event was different than the teams’, programmers can pat themselves on the back for consistent stimuli as wobbly leg syndrome seemed to plague individuals just as badly. A punishing ladder of descending heavy dumbbell thrusters (50 pounds each for the women, 70 for the men) separated by 200-meter sprints shook up the competition. Young phenom Mallory O’Brien smoked the field by nearly 20 seconds, shaking up the leaderboard. Alessandra Pichelli would sit at the top after day one, with O’Brien taking third place overall.

Individual rookie Colten Mertens, who is Josh Bridges-sized, took the top men’s spot in this event, followed by Tim Paulson and Saxon Panchik. Anthony Davis finished fifth in the event, but held on to the top men’s spot at the end of the day, followed by Panchik and Paulson.

Day 2 Recap

The second day of the Granite Games started off with the combination of two classics for teams: Hero WOD DT and the worm. It was exactly like it sounds: 5 rounds of 12 deadlifts, 9 hang cleans, 6 push jerks, with the 348-pound worm, as a team. Oh, and in nearly 100-degree heat on a football field. Team I1UVIT took first in this punishing event, followed by Omnia and 8th Day Gym. The second event followed the theme of “exactly what it sounds like,” aptly titled “We Work, You Run.” Pairs completed 400 meter runs as opposing pairs worked their way through a gymnastics-heavy chipper including legless rope climbs, strict handstand push-ups, overhead squats and box jump-overs. Every team hit the 14-minute time cap. Dave Castro was surely smiling somewhere. Team I1UVIT took first again, enough to pull them into the top five, but Omnia remained atop the leaderboard.

On the women’s side, it was a good day to be seventeen. O’Brien and Cary took first and second, respectively, in both events, ahead of veteran Eramo O’Connell. The first event of the day was a logistical nightmare on paper, but a fun crowd watch in person: individuals completed three two-minute intervals and a three-minute interval of muscle-ups, cleans and burpees, and with the remaining time in each interval worked toward completing a 50-yard sled drag, a 50-yard sled push and a 50-yard sprint.

The second event was a little more straightforward with a chipper of handstand walks, deficit handstand push-ups and ski machine sprits. Individual rookie Arielle Loewen, 10 years their senior, quietly moved up the leaderboard in day two, with 6th and 4th place finishes to put her in third place for the day.

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: the Panchik men are consistent. And the middle of the three brothers carried this mantra on his back in day two, finishing fifth and seventh in the day’s events, but moving to the top of the leaderboard as the rest of the field traded off placements. Mertens took the win in event three and Tetlow in event four.


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Day 3 Recap

While Omnia cruised into day three fairly certain of their CrossFit Games berth, positions two through five were separated by just 11 points with two events to go. Omnia tore up the Bi-Couplet Twist, a balanced combination of hang squat snatches, toes-to-bar and muscle-ups, finishing a minute ahead of second-place Timberwolf CrossFit. 8th Day Gym, fifth place overall coming into the day, finished eight in the event, dropping them out of a Games-qualifying spot by just three points. It must have been the kick in the pants they needed, because they would go on to win the worm-heavy final event ahead of I1UVIT and 12 Labours Lions. Though things may have looked questionable after the fifth event, the top five teams heading to Madison out of day three were the same top five out of day two – just shuffled a bit.

Event five for individuals came in two parts, both including heavy D-balls at 100 pounds for the women and 150 pounds for the men. Mixed in there were also heavy wall balls, GHD sit-ups and toes-to-bar for good measure. This mixture was a potent cocktail for a leaderboard shakeup, as overall leader O’Brien dropped to a 12th-place finish in part one.

By contrast, Loewen shined, finishing nearly a minute ahead of second-place Katelynn Sanders and far ahead of fourth-place Cary. Loewen took a closer win in part two of the event, as Cary stumbled on a box step-over, in an event that seemed to be programmed just for her. O’Brien managed a second-place finish in part two after filing an appeal. This would result in a tie for first between Loewen and Cary, followed by O’Brien. Just one point separated Mghenyi in the fifth qualifying spot and sixth-place Caroline Conners.

The final event was a quick one, with legless rope climbs, devil’s presses, and overhead walking lunges that CrossFit programmers seem to love for a dramatic finish. Pichelli took first place, one of the few to manage holding onto the dumbbells during the lunges, followed by O’Brien, and Loewe in fourth place. Loewe would take first overall, followed by O’Brien and Cary.

The men’s side was equally thrown with event five, with Grant Belrose coming from low on the leaderboard to take part one — to get time-capped in part two. Leader Panchik took sixth and seventh in each part. Coming into the last event, Panchik, Paulson and Mertens looked solidified with tickets in hand to Madison. Fans of Smith likely held their breath through the last event, knowing he missed last year’s Games by just two points. Smith would punch his ticket with an event win. Fifth place came down to just three points, with Mertens just edging out Mathews for the last spot to Madison.

Three weeks remain in the Semifinals race to Madison, including the last-chance qualifier competition taking place the first weekend in July. The CrossFit Games will take place July 27-Aug 1.

Featured image: @crossfitgames on Instagram, photo from @elleryphotos