As the 2021 NOBULL CrossFit Games approached, there was little doubt that historic moments were guaranteed to come to fruition. They certainly did not disappoint as the week of competition was filled with drama, records, firsts, and more.
Biggest Moments of the 2021 CrossFit Games
- Tia-Clair Toomey-Orr Passes Mat Fraser For Most All-Time Event Wins
- Justin Medeiros Becomes Youngest Ever Fittest Man on Earth®
- Jonne Koski’s Performance in Event One
- Mallory O’Brien Becomes the Youngest Ever Event Winner
- Guilherme Malheiros’s Mastery in the Snatch Event
- Annie Thorisdottir Shocks the World with Bronze Medal Finish
- Team CrossFit Mayhem’s Perfect Day One
- Adaptive Division Makes Its Games Debut
Five-time Fittest Man on Earth® Mat Fraser announced his retirement from competitive CrossFit in February 2021 — meaning a new champion would be crowned for the first time in half a decade. Reigning Fittest Woman on Earth®, Tia-Clair Toomey-Orr entered the Games on the cusp of setting multiple records — which she broke and then some. The Teams Division returned after a year-long hiatus due to COVID-19, and the Adaptive Division finally made its debut at the Games after years of anticipation.
The number of epic moments in Madison, WI, was easily in the dozens, if not more. However, below is a breakdown of eight of them that are likely to spark fondness and awe in peoples’ memories in the years to come as to why the 2021 Games were extraordinary.
The notion that Toomey-Orr is the greatest strength athlete of all time before the 2021 CrossFit Games was perhaps debatable. Not so much now. By the final day of competition, her lead on the overall leaderboard was so large that the broadcast team routinely referred to the remaining competition as the “coronation of Tia-Clair Toomey.”
In addition to winning a record-tying fifth consecutive Games, she also shattered the record for most Individual event wins ever. At the start of the 2021 Games, Fraser held the record with 29 event wins. Toomey-Orr matched that with a win in Event 11 and would go on to win three of the last four events to further the record to 33. Of the 15 events that made up the 2021 Games, Toomey-Orr won nine of them.
In her post-Games interview with Niki Brazier, Toom-Orr said she intends to compete next year. If and when Toomey-Orr decides to return for the 2022 CrossFit Open, it would mark her journey to a potential sixth CrossFit Games title — the most by any athlete ever. With the level of dominance she has displayed over the last half-decade, and at just 28 years old, chances are the top of the podium will not be open to anyone else as long as Toomey-Orr is on the roster.
Justin Medeiros entered the 2020 CrossFit Games in his rookie season and left as the bronze medalist and Rookie of the Year. He was the overall leader in the Men’s Division for the majority of the competition and ultimately clinched the title of Fittest Man on Earth® at just 22 years of age — the youngest to ever do it.
Medeiros’ journey throughout the 2021 Games was one of consistency. He only won one of the 15 events, but he only finished outside the top 10 twice — Events Two and Three. Although he has only been at the Games twice, he has yet to finish off the podium. Only three other athletes fall into that category — Rich Froning, Mat Fraser, and Tia-Clair Toomey-Orr. That’s some pretty notable company.
Jonne Koski of Finland is notoriously proficient in the water. He was a competitive swimmer before starting CrossFit. He previously won the 2015 Games water-based event, “Pier Paddle,” and scored second in both “Beach” in 2014 and “Run Swim Run” in 2017. However, much of his young CrossFit career (he is 26) has been plagued by injury that forced him to withdraw from high-level events. However, for the 2021 Games, he looked as strong as he ever has and made his presence immediately felt in Event One.
The opening event of the Games consisted of a mile-long swim followed by a three-mile kayak. Koski got out to an early lead, furthered it throughout the event, and casually sauntered his way across the finish line two and a half minutes before the runner-up, Lazar Đukić, exited the water. Koski’s remarkable performance in this event was one of the most striking of the entire competition and it paved the way to his eventual sixth-place overall finish — the best of his career.
There were two teenage athletes in the Women’s Division at the 2021 CrossFit Games — Emma Cary and Mallory O’Brien. They finished the Games in 16th and seventh, respectively, overall. O’Brien received the Rookie of the Yƒear award for that seventh-place finish that was highlighted by a historically unique feat.
In Event Four, against the top-ranked athletes in the field, including Toomey-Orr, O’Brien paced the field, performing wall walks and thrusters more efficiently than anyone else. Her first-place time of 13:41.22 was over a half-minute faster than the Fittest Woman on Earth® and made the 17-year-old O’Brien the youngest athlete to ever win an event at the Games.
What a breakout performance the 2021 Games were for Brazil’s Guilherme Malheiros. The 21-year-old fitness phenom won three events en route to a seventh-place overall finish. He outsprinted everyone in the field in Event Three, cleaned house in Event Seven, and blew everyone in the Alliant Energy Center away with flawless technique in Event 12 — the one-rep max snatch.
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Malheiros’ performance and charisma in the snatch event caught the broadcast team and crowd so off-guard that the Brazilian seemingly became an instant fan favorite. He had tremendous speed under the barbell, caught it high, and would do the same gesture of pointing to the sky and/or dabbing on his way back to the sidelines to await the next round. His opening snatch of 260 pounds looked identical to his winning snatch of 305 pounds and it was a moment that will be remembered for years to come.
Two-time Fittest Woman on Earth® Annie Thorisdottir took the 2020 CrossFit Games season off as she was busy becoming a mom. She returned to the Games in 2021 after finishing second worldwide in the 2021 Open despite her doubts that she was capable of competing at the highest level of competition anymore. During a post-competition interview, she admitted, “I wasn’t even planning on being here. I didn’t think I could compete.” Of course, that couldn’t have ended up further from the truth.
Thorisdottir not only stood on the podium as the bronze medalist at the 2021 Games but constantly surprised herself throughout the competition. In what easily became the most meme-able moment of the entire competition, Thorisdottir assumed a face of absolute shock after catching a 200-pound snatch overhead. She sat at the bottom of the lift dumbfounded, knowing that the weight was secure and that all she had to do was stand up.
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The back half of the competition saw Thorisdottir steadily make her way up the leaderboard rankings to the point where she entered the final event in a dead heat for third place with Kristin Holte. It was a dramatic addition to that final event — whoever beat the other would stand on the podium. Thorisdottir put her gymnastics background on display as the leader for the majority of the event. Toomey-Orr and Laura Horváth ultimately finished first and second in the event — as they did the overall — but Thorisdottir beat Holte by seven ranks to step onto the podium for the sixth time in her Games career.
After winning four consecutive CrossFit Games titles as an individual, Rich Froning moved into the Teams Division as the leader of Team CrossFit Mayhem. He led them to four Games titles in five trips to the Games before the 2021 season. (There was no team competition in 2020.) For the 2021 Games, Team Mayhem got a makeover with the additions of Taylor Williamson, Andrea Nisler, and Chase Hill and dominated the competition.
Team Mayhem scored two historic firsts at the 2021 Games en route to a record fifth Teams Division title. First, they threw a perfect game on Day One of the competition, winning all four events. Second, they won the Games by the largest margin ever — 279 points over runner-up CrossFit Oslo. The only variable that has remained constant in Team Mayhem’s continued dominance year after year is Froning’s presence on the team. All divisions combined, he is the all-time winningest CrossFit Games athlete with nine gold medals — four as an individual and five as part of a team.
There was an entirely new division competing at the Games in 2021. Three classes in the Adaptive Division were present in Madison to compete on the sport’s biggest stage. The top five athletes from the Open in the Upper Extremity, Lower Extremity, and Neuromuscular classes were invited to compete at the Games. They put on a show to remember.
Whether it was Brett Horchar’s dominance in the Neuromuscular division or Logan Aldridge deadlifting 502 pounds, the debut of the Adaptive Division was a glaring success that could very well lead to its expansion in future Games.
Onward to 2022
There is still plenty of elite-level CrossFit competition left in 2021. Notably, the Rogue Invitational is forthcoming at the end of October. Preparation for the 2022 CrossFit Games season is, however, already underway as the 2022 CrossFit Open has already been announced to begin on Feb. 24, 2022.
As was the case in 2021, there are plenty of unknowns heading into 2022 — will we see the return of Kari Pearce, who had to withdraw from the 2021 Games due to a positive COVID test? Will Brooke Wells have sufficiently recovered from the dislocated elbow she suffered during the one-rep max snatch event? Will Justin Medeiros concede the throne to a new contender, or is 2021 the beginning of his dynasty in the sport? Can anyone legitimately challenge Toomey-Orr for the title of Fittest on Earth®? We’ll have to wait and see, but it is surely a season to look forward to.
Feature Image Courtesy of CrossFit