The scoreboard may quantify the athletes at the CrossFit Games, but it doesn’t tell their stories. The athletes pen their tales in sweat and service. Big lifts, inhumanly-fast speed, and athletic perseverance make CrossFit captivating to watch at the highest level, but it’s the small moments in between that give life and color to the sport.
The 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games in Madison, Wisconsin were packed to the brim with excitement and electricity. History was written and rewritten many times over, thanks to the athletes who make this sport what it is.
These are some of the most memorable photographs from Madison this year — captured by photographer (and the author of this piece), Will Johnson. Moments that you couldn’t find on a leaderboard.
Best Photographs From the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games
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.
Pictured: Athlete Brooke Wells leaves North Park to embark on her second five-mile biking course during Event One (“Bike to Work”) at the 2022 CrossFit Games.
Cloudy skies prevent the sun from drying the terrain that the Games competitors will have to navigate during the first event of the biggest competition in CrossFit. The rain is holding off for the time being, but storms are promised as dozens of athletes file into North Park.
The first of two five-mile bike rides were a mass scramble, with rookies and veterans alike chomping at the bit to one-up each other in the first hours of the Games.
The second race looked a little different, though, as the athletes funneled out of the starting area one by one. Eight-time Games competitor Brooke Wells grabs her bike isn’t the first to pedal through the park, but she does crush the follow-up challenge — 75 pull-ups for time — faster than most.
After suffering a fateful elbow injury the year prior, Wells’ ferocity in the first event served as a promising sign that she was back with a vengeance.
Pictured: Athlete Spencer Panchik sprints toward what he believes to be an event win on the first day of the 2022 CrossFit Games.
Perhaps the only two people not confused by Spencer Panchik‘s sprint toward the finish line during Event One of the Games were Panchik himself and his attending referee.
The crowd in Madison, Wisconsin watches in equal parts confusion and awe. Event photographers drop their phones in favor of their Sony and Canon cameras as Panchik errantly crosses the finish line.
Panchik had been misled by his referee, who mistakenly told the freshman Games competitor that he had already completed his second five-mile bike ride. Spurred on by false pretenses, Panchik excitedly dropped his bike at his feet and hustled under the delusion that he would win his first-ever CrossFit Games Individual event.
Moments later, Ricky Garard would complete all stages of “Bike to Work” and claim his rightful place at the top of the leaderboard.
Pictured: Ricky Garard enters the field of play for Event Three (“Elizabeth Elevated”) during the 2022 CrossFit Games.
“And now, your leader, Ricky Garard!” the announcer’s voice booms over the Coliseum in Madison, Wisconsin.
The crowds in attendance are usually ear-piercingly loud at such a declaration. For the athlete in question, the announcement was met with a tolerable murmur. Less than underwhelming for Garard himself, who had started his Games campaign quite strongly.
Garard briefly became a household name in CrossFit when, in 2018, the Australian athlete was slapped with a drug-related suspension after getting on the Games podium. Time flies in professional sports, though, and memories can be short.
Although Garard had returned to the Games with gusto, his presence was either not remembered — or not respected — by the crowd. Not yet.
Pictured: Emma Lawson glares as competitor Alexis Raptis passes her during Event Three (“Elizabeth Elevated”) of the 2022 CrossFit Games.
There are very few moments of silence during the Games. Noise permeates everything — loud music, voices booming over PA systems, not to mention the crowds and athletes themselves. None of which was audible to Emma Lawson as she watched her lead disappear during the third event, Elizabeth Elevated.
Lawson would go on to be named 2022 Rookie of the Year. In her final moments wearing the leader’s jersey, Lawson gazes to her left as Alexis Raptis overtakes her on the leaderboard.
In the stands behind her, Lawson’s parents are excitedly shouting for her to keep going, both of whom are clad in t-shirts bearing the family name. Lawson snaps out of it and finishes the event behind Raptis, forfeiting her lead.
The first-time Individual competitor looks to her parents with a quiet smile. They smile back.
Pictured: Russian competitor Roman Khrennikov leads his countrymen under a blank banner across North Park Field during the beginning of the 2022 CrossFit Games.
It’s not their fault, nor is it their war. Regardless, Games competitors hailing from the Russian Federation were informed that they would be carrying a blank flag into North Park during the commencement of the CrossFit Games.
Lead bannerman Roman Khrennikov had trained full-time in Madison since April, roughly two months after his home country began its ongoing conquest of Ukraine. Khrennikov and his interpreter prepared for the Games at CrossFit Mato Lao, a box less than 10 miles from the coliseum across which he now marches, blank flag in hand.
Each day Khrennikov and his compatriots enter the stadium, they’re greeted by a sea of blue and yellow flags in the stands.
Pictured: Tia-Clair Toomey prepares for her post-win interview after her first event victory (“Shuttle to Overhead B”) in North Park Field.
Toomey wouldn’t don the leader’s jersey until the third day of the Games; a garment she had grown quite comfortable in since first claiming it from Katrín Davíðsdóttir in 2017. It wouldn’t be until Shuttle to Overhead B that Toomey would wear the white, a somewhat uncharacteristic start for the (soon to be) most dominant Individual competitor in Games history.
Her 18-rep win over runner-up Danielle Brandon reminded the audience — and Toomey herself, perhaps — why she was on the field in the first place. And why she’d won five CrossFit Games prior.
Toomey adjusts her hat to shield her eyes from the sun as she and Shuttle to Overhead A winner Haley Adams approach the cameras.
Pictured: 2021 CrossFit Games winner Justin Medeiros braces against his barbell to catch his breath during Event 4 (“Shuttle to Overhead”).
Five-time Games winner Mat Fraser has said that Justin Medeiros has “the potential” to be the next king of the men’s Individual division.
As Medeiros — whose 2022 run is only his third appearance in Madison — releases his final 300-pound split jerk, he might not feel as confident about his own legacy as Fraser does.
Medeiros made 16 jerks at that weight during Shuttle to Overhead B, the same amount as Ricky Garard and Jayson Hopper. But, as Medeiros was a bit slower during the “run” portion of the event, he would finish behind them both.
Directly in front of Medeiros and clad in the white leader’s jersey stands Garard, who had spent the past few years in the shadows of the CrossFit community, while Medeiros is fresh off an overall Games win in 2021.
The stark white jersey throws Garard into sharp relief, though, and more importantly, gives Medeiros a target to chase.
Pictured: Athlete Rebecca Fuselier is cheered on by the crowd as she completes Event Five (“The Capitol”) of the 2022 CrossFit Games in downtown Madison.
The sun bore down across downtown Madison during Event Five of the Games. The athletes were tasked with carrying a cumbersome Husafell bag across State St. and depositing it at the steps of the capitol building.
In the unrelenting August heat, athlete Rebecca Fuselier is the final Individual competitor left in the field. Struggling to get her bag to the finish line, Fuselier is spurred on by a chorus of cheers from the crowd, who storm in around her in an outpouring of encouragement.
With security failing to hold back the wave of positivity, Fuselier finds her footing and completes the event. She’s met with resounding applause from hundreds of attendees, serving up a very refreshing reminder — that CrossFit is about everyone, not just those at the front of the pack.
Pictured: Travis Mayer is the first to touch the Jerry Cans in the first heat of Event 5 (“The Capitol”) in downtown Madison.
The Jerry Cans are scalding. They’ve sat under the morning sun for hours as the audience has congregated around them. Spectators and fans mill around nearby, with no information about when (or where from) the athletes will arrive.
A shrill beep sounds over the speakers as the announcers declare the race had begun at North Park — three miles away from the cans themselves. The crowd collectively pull out their phones to check the live stream, as things are quite quiet beside the capitol building. The clamor for information actually causes a temporary drop in cellular service in the area.
Almost half an hour later, Travis Mayer appears at the front of the pack and puts all speculation to rest.
Pictured: Games volunteers haul off the Jerry Cans after the first heat of Event 5 (“The Capitol”) during the 2022 CrossFit Games.
The CrossFit Games doesn’t run itself. With the first heat of The Capitol wrapped up, Games volunteers begin their tiresome work of resetting the field for the next round.
At the Alliant Energy Center — the stadium where Games athletes are usually tested — the staff have carts, vehicles, and strength in numbers to properly administrate the events.
In the heart of downtown Madison, there are only a few scattered helpers who labor under the promise of a catered lunch back at volunteer headquarters. While fighting through the mob of fans, the attendees haul the 70-and-100-pound implements uphill, silently powering the continuation of the Games.
Pictured: Tia-Clair Toomey departs the competition floor after a second-place finish in Event 7 (“Echo Press”) at the 2022 CrossFit Games.
Tia-Clair Toomey is hungry. As the hosts announce her name to the crowd prior to the commencement of the Echo Press event, Toomey scowls and briefly waves her hand in acknowledgement.
At the time, the five-time Fittest Woman on Earth® wasn’t exactly guaranteed to win her sixth Games. Toomey is in a solid position, but athletes like Mal O’Brien and Emma Lawson are hot on her heels.
Despite finishing second to Alexis Raptis (Raptis won by a margin of nearly a full minute), Toomey’s performance gives her some relief. She made space between herself and the other women vying for the white.
As she moves to exit the coliseum, she gives Games Director Adrian Bozman a pat on the back, perhaps a symbolic gesture to herself that she’s back in familiar territory.
Pictured: Rookie Alexis Raptis works on her second set of deficit handstand push-ups in Event 7 (“Echo Press”) at the 2022 CrossFit Games.
All eyes were on the center lanes during the handstand push-up portion of Event 7. After all, that’s where the battle was. In the margins, though, a different story unfolds.
Alexis Raptis is in the first lane, competing under the banner of Training Think Tank, an organization that hosts Games veterans like Noah Ohlsen and Travis Mayer. Raptis proves she belongs in such company by demolishing the field, finishing the workout 54 seconds ahead of runner-up Tia-Clair Toomey.
23-year-old Raptis made quick work of a surprise movement that hadn’t been programmed during any portion of the 2022 Games season. A movement that many of her peers struggled with.
Pictured: Ricky Garard taunts an antagonistic crowd during Event 7 (“Echo Press”) of the 2022 CrossFit Games.
The stadium at the CrossFit Games is usually either supportive or silent. As Ricky Garard stands waiting to commence the seventh event of the games, he’s met with booing and jeers from the crowd.
Garard, the dark horse who has spent much of the Games in (or in contention for) first place, raises his arms in response. He channels Russell Crowe in Gladiator — they came to be entertained, after all, and a show is exactly what Garard puts on.
His fellow competitors hang their heads or meditate on their upcoming performances, pretending not to notice, expressing neither allegiance nor apathy. Whether shaken by the crowd or not, Garard doesn’t show it on his face.
He finishes Event 7 in 28th place.
Pictured: Male athletes are briefed by event coordinators ahead of Event 9 (“Rinse N’ Repeat”) at the 2022 CrossFit Games.
Just down the street from where they competed in The Capitol one day prior, the men’s Individual athletes are briefed on the day at the “Nic.” It’s part of the University of Wisconsin’s recreation center.
Ricky Garard lurks in the periphery of the group, trying to hear the voice of the coordinator who is briefing the athletes. They’re told what they can and cannot wear, what violations will disqualify them and, if they miss the return shuttle, that they’ll have to wait nearly half an hour in the hot sun before another could pick them up.
It’s a quiet moment between competitors that, for a moment, makes them look like a team. After the attendee finishes their remarks, the athletes break ranks. Back to business.
Pictured: Roman Khrennikov and Ricky Garard listen for the results of their performances during Event 9 (“Rinse N’ Repeat”) of the CrossFit Games.
If you can’t hear Kiki (longtime floor announcer at the CrossFit Games) because the crowd is too loud or you have water in your ears, you probably don’t know what the hell is going on. If you can’t speak or understand English, you definitely don’t.
Roman Khrennikov doesn’t speak any English. There’s a scoreboard on the wall that displays seemingly-random numbers next to the names of the various athletes. There’s also no written description of the parameters of the swimming-based workout anywhere.
With a waterlogged swim cap and his heart pounding through his chest, Khrennikov tries his best to discern the outcome of the event he just completed. As the crowd begins to cheer, Khrennikov is incredulous, and sheepishly points to himself.
“Yes, Roman, I’m talking about you,” Kiki says. Khrennikov casts his hands high into the air.
Pictured: Athlete Mal O’Brien breaks ahead of the pack during Event 10 (“Hat Trick”) of the 2022 CrossFit Games.
High-performers at the CrossFit Games know how to thrive in chaos, and chaotic is a tame description of Event 10 “Hat Trick” at the 2022 Games.
Hat Trick was a do-or-die moment for Mal O’Brien. The parameters of the event meant she had no opportunity to make up lost ground. The leaderboard is written in ink. If she made an error, that was it.
18-year-old O’Brien sees an opportunity and takes it. Breaking free of the rest of the pack before any other athlete, she sprints her way to the finish line. While her efforts on the day wouldn’t be enough to prevent Tia-Clair Toomey from bagging her historic sixth win, O’Brien’s initiative and composure during one of the Games’ wildest events bodes well for her future in CrossFit.
Pictured: Five-time CrossFit Games champion Mat Fraser emerges from the stands to advise athlete Mal O’Brien during Event 11 (“Sandbag Ladder”) of the 2022 Games.
O’Brien, making her senior Individual debut at the Games, struggles to hoist a 210-pound sandbag up to her shoulder. As such, she’s relegated to a tiebreaker challenge alongside several of her competitors who couldn’t muster the same strength.
Fraser peeks out from a quiet corner of the coliseum to feed O’Brien some insight. When someone like Fraser gives you advice, you listen. O’Brien soaks up every word as the event staff coordinate the floor behind her.
As quickly as Fraser had appeared in O’Brien’s time of need, he vanished.
Pictured: Athlete Ricky Garard celebrates his efforts during Event 11 (“Sandbag Ladder”) of the 2022 CrossFit Games.
“Every dog has his day” reads the inscription on Ricky Garard’s lifting belt. Even while wearing the ivory leader’s jersey, it’s clear that Garard is most comfortable when he’s underestimated. After all, the stadium had made it clear that he wasn’t exactly the favorite this year.
Dressed in all black and alight with energy after throwing his 300-pound sandbag to the crowd, Garard pokes his tongue out and roars at the crowd. With defending champion Justin Medeiros directly behind him, Garard is still ferocious on the field. A fighter.
Pictured: Athlete Kara Saunders clutches her daughter after finishing Event 11 (“The Alpaca”) on the final day of the 2022 CrossFit Games.
The rain is again falling on North Park Field. The turf is slick, and there are ponchos as far as the eye can see. Kara Saunders is unconcerned by the weather.
After crossing the finish line and logging a ninth-place performance in the event, Saunders links up with her daughter’s caretaker in the crowd between the field and the Madison Club Lounge.
Saturated in sweat and rain, Saunders walks slowly around the perimeter of the course, whispering quietly to her child and pointing here and there. A quiet glimpse into who she is off the turf — far more than just another athlete.
Pictured: Haley Adams collapses in frustration during Event 12 (“Back Nine”) of the 2022 CrossFit Games.
The barbell is CrossFit’s sternest teacher. It exposes your weaknesses, whether you’ve trained to strengthen them or not. It teaches you things about yourself, whether you’re ready to learn such lessons or not.
The barbell took Haley Adams to school during Back Nine on the final day of the 2022 CrossFit Games. Adams, who has made three prior Individual Games appearances and is no stranger to the rigors of competition, repeatedly struggles to clean and front squat her 215-pound bar.
She crashes into, and exceeds, the time cap along with 11 other women in the event. Nothing is certain at the CrossFit Games. Adams would go on to log her lowest Games ranking ever after Back Nine, ending the competition in ninth overall.
Pictured: Ricky Garard gives his brother, Ben, a thumbs-up after the final event (“Jackie Pro”) of the 2022 CrossFit Games.
Ben Garard makes a lot of noise while his brother is on the field. He’s also no stranger to competitive CrossFit, having competed at the Games in 2015 and partaken in the Open up until 2019.
As Ricky Garard crosses the finish line during the Games’ final event Jackie Pro, however, his brother is nowhere to be heard. The Garard brothers can see each other, though, just fine.
Whether Ben had signaled to Ricky that he wouldn’t accumulate enough points to overtake the leaders is unclear. Regardless of what was communicated between them, Ricky resigned himself to the terms. He holds his hand aloft, giving his brother — and mentor — a thumbs-up.
Moments later, Games Coordinator Adrian Bozman announces to the stadium that Justin Medeiros had successfully defended his title of Fittest Man on Earth®.
Pictured: Roman Khrennikov smiles on the podium with his child in-arm during the award ceremony of the 2022 CrossFit Games.
Roman Khrennikov was reunited with his family on August 2nd, only a day prior to the commencement of the 2022 CrossFit Games.
Khrennikov wore a smile during every event. Khrennikov was adored by the crowd and returned that adoration in kind, both to the fans and his fellow competitors. Most importantly, Khrennikov worked himself to the bone at the Games.
Come the awards ceremony, he’s also the only athlete that seemed incapable of sitting still. He’s thrilled to be where he is, in silver-medal position, with his child clasped gently in his arms.
The blank flag he carried during the opening ceremonies didn’t mean much after all. At the end of the Games, Khrennikov was right where he belonged.
More to Come
The 2022 Games in Madison may have just wrapped up, but there’s far more CrossFit coming down the pipe. The road to Madison is long, and the athletes have a lot of ground to cover if they want to make a return (or a debut) at the biggest competition in the sport.
The 2023 Open will commence on Feb. 13, 2023. Months later, the 2023 Games kicks off again in Wisconsin on Jul. 31. The landscape of CrossFit may look different by then, but the athletes — and their stories — will be just as compelling as ever.
Featured Image: William Johnson / BarbellStories