2022 marks the 10th year of the Dubai Fitness Championship (DFC), this time in a new venue, the Coca-Cola Arena, on Dec. 2-4, 2022. The competition reverted to its old model for selecting a field of athletes to compete: no invites — every athlete had to prove their fitness through an online qualifier.
The women’s field, much like the men’s, offers a little bit of everything, including previous individual CrossFit Games qualifiers, some young up-and-comers, a handful of savvy veterans, and a few relatively unknown athletes who we will soon learn a lot more about. Fifteen of the 20 women this year are DFC rookies, meaning the potential for surprises is high. Below is a breakdown of the female athletes competing in Dubai.
The CrossFit Games Veterans
Jamie Simmonds (New Zealand)
Jamie Simmonds is the only past Dubai champion in the field, having won in 2014. While that was a long time ago, she finished second to Sam Briggs in 2018 in a tense climax and was fifth in 2019 against another stacked roster. The highlight of her Games career came in 2019 with a third-place finish.
Emily Rolfe (Canada)
Emily Rolfe is a three-time CrossFit Games qualifier, with her best finish coming in 2021 when she ranked 15th. Unfortunately, a blood clot in her arm forced her to withdraw after the first event at the 2022 Games.
This will be Rolfe’s third consecutive time competing at the DFC — a perfect place to make her “comeback” after the disappointing end to her 2022 Games season. She placed eighth at the 2021 DFC and finished one place behind Simmonds in sixth in 2019.
Karin Frey (Slovakia)
Karin Frey made her third appearance at the CrossFit Games this past summer, but for many, it may have been their first memory of her. She competed in 2019 (21st) and online in 2020 (14th) before placing 20th this past summer.
More importantly, Frey was part of an epic battle at the 2018 DFC, where she, Simmonds, Briggs, and Sara Sigmundsdottir were neck and neck with one workout left. Frey took fourth that year but bounced back to take second to Sigmundsdóttir in 2019. Frey will undoubtedly be in the podium hunt this season.
Freya Moosbrugger (Canada)
This year marked Freya Moosbrugger’s debut at the CrossFit Games and the DFC, and she happens to be the youngest woman in the field. Don’t count her out because of her age, though. Some of her best performances this season were strength tests like the barbell complex and sandbag ladder. Moosbrugger did quite well with workouts like Bike to Work and Rinse N Repeat. Keep an eye on her if she gets a chance to compete outside the main arena.
Matilde Garnes (Norway)
Another 2022 Games rookie, Matilde Garnes. was in the spotlight recently for her excellent performance on the first Zelos Games workout, where she displayed an impressive combination of power (echo bike) and skill (ring muscle-ups). She has a unique skill set that could lead to success in this field. While she isn’t necessarily the strongest, she could excel in a long workout with a lot of upper-body pulling.
Seher Kaya (Turkey)
The third and final 2022 Games rookie in this field is Seher Kaya from Turkey. She qualified through the Asian Semifinal but has been living and training in Norway for a while. Kaya is a great runner — she won the first heat of the Capitol at the Games — and is proficient at bodyweight gymnastics. That said, she struggled on the strength tests at the Games. Hopefully, she’ll get at least one strength test in Dubai to prove how much more powerful she’s become since then.
Hanna Karlsson (Sweden)
Hanna Karlsson runs the CrossFit Program VI alongside Simon Mantyla. The duo has one Games appearance to their credit (2019), and Karlsson’s 37th-place finish that year bested Mantyla’s performance of 45th.
Karlsson’s best performance in 2019 was on the Ruck Run. She’s strong on long (especially weighted) runs. She’s more than capable on machines and isn’t afraid to go heavy. Gymnastics is one area to watch her closest to see if she’s made any progress.
Andrea Solberg (Norway)
Other than that, Solberg is nearly the opposite athlete of Karlsson, as evidenced by her two best performances that year: ninth on Damn Diane and seventh on Handstand Hold. Solberg competed at the 2022 Rogue Invitational but wasn’t at her best. She should be in better form for Dubai, and if a gymnastics-specific test pops up, look for her to excel.
The Potential Spoilers
While the four women below have never qualified for the Games, they’ve all done well enough at the Semifinals in the last two seasons to earn a spot in at least one of the two Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ) online competitions. They’re ready for their big break, which could be the DFC.
Oihana Moya (Spain)
Oihana Moya competed in both LCQs over the past two years, taking 10th in 2021 and ninth in 2022. Across both years, she strung together impressive performances, including a surprising event win in the three-rep max deadlift in 2021 at 392 pounds, despite only being listed at 136 pounds.
In 2022, Moya had three top-10 finishes, highlighted by a fifth-place finish in the opening workout, which included thrusters and bar muscle-ups. She was in a position to threaten a top-10 finish at the 2021 Wodapalooza before withdrawing two-thirds of the way through the competition. She hasn’t quite reached her potential yet, but this year’s DFC might be her chance.
[Related: How Justin Medeiros and Laura Horvath Won the 2022 Rogue Invitational CrossFit Competition]
Tayla Howe (UK)
Tayla Howe has previous DFC experience. She finished 14th in a field of 23 in 2019. She took second in the row/handstand walking event at the LCQ and logged a couple of fourth-place finishes at the Semis. She’ll likely have some decent finishes in Dubai, too, if power output or heavy lifting is in the programming. The key for her is to mitigate the damage everywhere else.
Manon Angonese (Belgium)
In 2021, Manon Angonese of Belgium placed eighth in an online semis and sixth in the LCQ. She had a strong run in 2022 but didn’t submit her last video for the Quarterfinals on time and saw her season end early. She already reminded everyone she’s relevant in Europe by battling through the Rogue Invitational’s online qualifier and placing 11th in Austin — the best finish amongst all women qualifiers in the online field.
Angonese’s highlight at the Rogue was her second-place finish on Snatch and Press, backed up by a third-place finish on the Goblet. She’s known for her strength, but her gymnastics aren’t bad. She has plenty of experience in Dubai. She competed in 2018 (25th), 2019 (11th), and 2021 (13th). She’s a sneaky pick for a potential top-five finish.
Valentina Rangel (Colombia)
Valentina Rangel is Colombia’s three-time defending fittest woman and improved her Open finishes each season. She competed from 2017 (5,836th) to 2022 (62nd). However, she didn’t show the same improvement in the Semifinals the last two years. After placing fifth in South America in 2021 and advancing to take eighth in the LCQ, she regressed to ninth at the Copa Sur this past season.
She has a weightlifting background and is a pro at ring muscle-ups, but she’s generally not the best runner or swimmer. We’ll see if she has to contend with either in Dubai, where athletes are likely to encounter both.
The Young European Crew
Of the remaining eight athletes in this field, all but one is European. Three of those eight come in at either 23 or 24 years old and look to be the next up-and-coming European woman in the sport. Here’s more about them:
Aimee Cringle (UK)
Aimee Cringle took 17th at 2022’s Wodapalooza, 12th at the Strength in Depth Semifinal, and 10th in Madrid. She ranked in the middle of this group in qualifying, taking 10th. Look for her to excel on long, grindy workouts, particularly if running is involved. In January, she had four top-11 event finishes at Wodapalooza but three other finishes outside the top 30. Hopefully, she’s closed the gap in the upper-body pulling and strength departments.
Claudia Gluck (France)
Claudia Gluck shares a coach with Victor Hoffer in the men’s division and recently placed 10th at the Lowlands Throwdown. If not for an execution error on the legless rope climb event, she’d have likely made the LCQ despite taking hits on the complex and a devil’s press workout. Gymnastics is her jam; strength is coming along.
Ella Wunger (Sweden)
Though Ella Wunger is a similar age to Cringle and Gluck, she’s still looking for a breakthrough. She often looks strong in spurts during a workout or a competition but hasn’t dialed in a top-10 finish in a big competition yet.
Wunger found success with two top-100 Open finishes, two top-25 Quarterfinal finishes in Europe, and a better Semifinal finish in 2021 online (14th) than she had at the in-person Lowlands Semifinal (19th). It’s time to transition those online performances to live competitions.
Two relatively unproven European women in this field are coming into their best form past the age of 30.
Aoife Burke (Ireland)
Aoife Burke is a name CrossFit fans, especially in Europe, have likely seen before. She’s been the second fittest in Ireland for three years running (since they started counting Ireland as separate from the UK).
She competed once during the Sanctional years and did well, taking 10th at the Italian Showdown. There was also a decent Semifinal showing in London last spring, where she placed 14th. Her main love is Olympic lifting, but she’s= prioritized other elements of her training to become more well-rounded heading into Dubai.
Valentina Magalotti (Italy)
Valentina Magalotti was the second fittest woman in Italy during last year’s Open and went on to sneak into Semifinals, placing 62nd in European Quarterfinals and 25th at the Lowlands.
Like Burke, Magalotti’s only Sanctional result was from the Italian Showdown, where she took 23rd. Her standout performances at Semifinals came on a workout called “Jigsaw,” where she flexed some of her strengths: chest-to-bar pull-ups, dumbbell thrusters, and burpee box jump-overs.
The Final Three
The last three women in the field, two Europeans and one from the United States, come in at either 26 or 27 years old, each with something to prove.
Lena Richter (Norway)
Fans will likely recognize Lena Richter’s name due to her success in the Team division. She’s been part of the Oslo team, which placed second for the last two years at the Games and won the elite women’s team of three at Wodapalooza in 2022.
Earlier this off-season, she hinted at going individual next year, but she’s since reversed course and will run it back with Oslo next year in an attempt to win the Games in 2023. Nevertheless, we get to see her as an individual in Dubai.
Maria Längfors (Sweden)
Maria Längfors is the third woman from Sweden amongst this group of 20. She, too, has ties to the lone Swede on the men’s side. Simon Mantyla has been her coach for most of her career. Though she’s technically a part-time athlete with a career in consulting and marketing, she’s made progress in Europe.
In 2022, Längfors was 35th worldwide in the Open and second in Sweden. She qualified for Semifinals in both years and improved from 23rd online in 2021 to 20th in person at the Lowlands Throwdown in 2022.
Dana Paran (USA)
Dana Paran is one of only three women in this field who did not compete in the Semifinals in some fashion this past season. She’s the lone woman in the field from the United States. She decided to compete in CrossFit in 2019 and placed sixth in her first CrossFit competition, the Asian CrossFit Championship Sanctional.
Paran hasn’t competed much since then, but a ninth-place finish at the CanWest Games in July could give her much-needed momentum. Her background is in Olympic weightlifting and she has built her upper-body pulling capacity. While she has no formal coach, she generally follows HWPO programming, which happens to be programming for Dubai this year.
Looking Forward to Dubai
The women’s field in Dubai consists of women from 14 different countries. A majority of them are from Europe, but South America, Asia, and Oceania each have a single athlete representing them, and three women hail from North America.
Since the majority of the field are first-timers in Dubai, there is a lot of opportunity for new blood to make some noise. It may look like there are clear-cut favorites in this field, but don’t be surprised if one or two dark-horse competitors threaten for podium positions.
Featured image: @oihanamoy on Instagram | Photo by: @thephotograph84 on Instagram