Comeback Season — 20 Male Athletes Eyeing Returns or Debuts at the 2023 CrossFit Games

Some of the biggest names in the sport seek to leave their mark on the 2023 season in Madison, WI.

With the 2023 CrossFit Games season set to kick-off Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, with the live Open announcement for workout 23.1 in Madrid, Spain, thousands of male athletes seek to punch their ticket to Madison, WI, to compete at the 2023 Games.

The 20 male athletes listed below have either reached the Games in seasons before 2022 or just missed making their Games debuts in 2023 — there’s absence at the 2022 Games due to injuries, underperformance, or competing in the Team division. Below is a breakdown of 20 Individual male athletes aiming to make their Games return or debut in 2023:

[Related: Comeback Season — 20 Female Athletes Eyeing Returns Or Debuts For The 2023 CrossFit Games]

Chandler Smith

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.

Looking for a Healthy Season

  • Scott Panchik
  • David Shorunke

Scott Panchik

The soon-to-be 34-year-old Panchik qualified for the Games every year since 2012, with the exception of the 2022 season. Hisis bid for a 10th Games appearance ended at the Syndicate Crown Semifinal. 

After announcing that the 2021 Games would be his final competitive season, Panchik reversed direction during the 2022 season by qualifying for the Semifinals. He went into the Semifinal as one of the favorites to secure one of the five available Games invites. After the first two events, he sat in fourth before suffering a knee injury in the third event when he landed awkwardly on the excess portion of a rope. That injury led to his withdrawal from the competition. He received surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

Since that incident, Panchik has been hesitant to say whether he is legitimately retired from competitive CrossFit or not. He doesn’t train like he did when he was near the peak of the sport, but rather approaches each stage of the season as they come. If that leads to a Games appearance, so be it.

However, Panchik has made it known that he would love to compete at the Games as an Individual alongside his brothers, Saxon and Spencer. Scott Panchik has competed against Saxon on CrossFit’s biggest stage three times (2018, 2019, and 2021) but has not competed against Spencer, who made his Games debut in 2022.

Scott Panchik is one of the most accomplished Individual athletes in Games history and arguably the greatest athlete never to finish on the podium. With seven top-10 finishes, including three fourth places, Panchik may no longer be a podium favorite, but he could still leave his mark on the leaderboard at the Games.

David Shorunke

Shorunke has long been considered one of the fittest men not only in the United Kingdom but in Europe. However, he hasn’t had many chances to prove that due to inconsistencies and injuries.

After his initial Games appearance in 2016 as a member of the sixth-place CrossFit Nordic team, Shorunke waited four years to compete as an Individual virtually at the 2020 Games. Unfortunately, he withdrew due to “lower back issues.”

Since that time, Shorunke has suffered injury setback after injury setback. In 2021, injuries hampered him during the Open. In 2022, he was again struck down by injuries during the Quarterfinals. For 2023, Shorunke appears fully recovered, including his rehabbed knee following surgery. A healthy Shorunke was on display at the 2022 Madrid CrossFit Championship, where he placed third.

The Cut List

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

  • Fabian Beneito
  • Jake Berman
  • Tyler Christophel
  • Matt Dlugos
  • Luka Đukić
  • Anthony Haynes
  • Bayley Martin
  • Adrian Mundwiler
  • Bronisław Olenkowicz
  • Griffin Roelle
  • Chandler Smith
  • Jason Smith
  • James Sprague
  • Scott Tetlow
  • Zach Watts

Chandler Smith

Smith can also attribute his failed 2022 season to his health — as can Mundwiler and Dlugos. There’s no denying that Smith is one of the most talented athletes in CrossFit. His impressive strength alone makes him stand out. However, he’s far from a one-trick pony.

Smith’s baseline fitness and gymnastics skills are on par with some of the best in the Individual men’s field. The three-time Games veteran first burst onto the scene at the 2016 Atlantic Regionals, but has not quite reached the potential that his skillset would suggest he’s capable of. His 2022 season ended at the Granite Games Semifinal, where he struggled with a bad case of asthma that was famously documented in the Buttery Bros short film “In the Arena.”

Smith ranked 11th at the 2022 Granite Games after finishing second in 2021. His CrossFit season unfortunately ended after starting with a career-best 20th in the Open and second in the North America Quarterfinals (fourth worldwide).

Not to be deterred, the retired United States Army Armor Captain has showcased his fitness at other events. He won the CanWest Games in July 2022, and ranked second at the 2022 Rogue Invitational in October 2022. He partnered with Noah Ohlsen and Saxon Panchik to win the 2022 Down Under Championship team title in November and finished second in the team competition at the 2023 TYR Wodapalooza alongside teammates Ohlsen and Travis Mayer.

Having relocated with his wife and fellow CrossFit athlete Jessi Smith to San Diego, CA, to train for the 2023 season, Smith has his sights set on returning to the Games.

Tyler Christophel

Christophel experienced Games heartbreak twice and aims to return to Madison as an Individual. In 2022, at the Mid-Atlantic CrossFit Challenge (MACC), he was in a Games qualifying spot by 28 points heading into the final event. Then disaster struck as he struggled with his final set of overhead walking lunges.

Chistophel finished 19th in that event despite consistent top-10 finishes throughout that weekend. He fell to seventh place overall and was relegated to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). He placed fifth in the LCQ, ending his season.

It was deja vu for the Mayhem Athlete, as he placed one spot outside a Games qualifying spot with a sixth-place rank at the virtual Atlas Games Semifinal. His third-place finish at the LCQ was eight points short of a Games invite.

The Louisiana native competed at the 2020 Games after placing a career-best ninth in the Open in his first year as an Individual competitor. He placed 24th overall at the Games. Christophel has reached the Games as a member of the CrossFit 417 teams that placed 12th in 2017 and fifth in 2018.

Adrian Mundwiler

Mundwiler is a veteran staple of the CrossFit community with four Games appearances, including an eighth-place finish at the 2019 Games. His last Games appearance was in 2021, when he placed 35th after withdrawing due to an undisclosed injury.

A combination of various injuries led to his seventh-place rank at the 2022 Lowlands Throwdown in the Netherlands. The Swiss athlete was in a Games qualifying spot heading into the final event. He earned another shot at an invite to the 2022 Games the LCQ but elected instead to prepare for the 2023 season.

Luka Đukić

Đukić was behind Mundwiler for the final Games qualifying spot by one point heading into the final event of the 2022 Lowlands Throwdown. However, a final event win by Germany’s Moritz Fiebig combined with Đukić’s ninth-place finish kept him in sixth overall — 13 points shy of the final Games spot. 

The younger brother of Lazar Đukić has made it his mission in the offseason to return to the Games after debuting at the 2021 Games at 22 years of age. This offseason, the Serbian kept busy by competing in numerous competitions, including his seventh-place finishes at the Madrid CrossFit Championships and Dubai Fitness Championships.  Đukić also won two competitions in the Middle East: the SFA Sandclash in Saudi Arabia and the Valhalla Signature Games in Kuwait.

Fabian Beneito Selles

After Smith, Selles has had perhaps the most impressive offseason, highlighted by his win at the Dubai Fitness Championship. The Spaniard’s career has been filled with close misses, especially in the last two seasons. He has come up short twice in Semifinals, including a sixth place at the German Throwdown in 2021. His win in Dubai could be what he needs to fuel his confidence as he seeks his Games debut.

Jason Smith

Jason Smith has been the standard of what athletes from Africa strive to be. He is a three-time Games athlete, placing 10th in 2017, the highest finish by any athlete from Africa that season. In 2022, Smith missed a Games trip after placing second in the Fittest in Cape Town Semifinal — an event he won in 2021. At 39 years old, Smith is still a serious contender to return to the Games.

Scott Tetlow

In 2020 Tetlow came out of nowhere to earn a Games invite after he placed 17th in the Open. The Navy veteran placed 17th in his rookie appearance after two trips as an individual Regionals athlete. Since then the 30-year old has made it his mission to return, this time to compete in person in Madison. Last year he placed a career-best ninth in the Open but followed that with a 11th place finish at the Syndicate Crown Semifinal, the same place he had the prior season at the Granite Games.

[Related: How to Watch the 2023 CrossFit Open]

Zach Watts

Watts burst onto the Games scene during the 2021 season when he won the opening event of the MACC with a one-rep max snatch of 310 pounds. That event propelled the 25-year-old to his first Games appearance, where he placed 30th.

Watts returned to the MACC in 2022 despite a rough start to the season, placing 817th worldwide in the Open. He bounced back with a 70th-place worldwide finish in the Quarterfinals. However, his return to MACC did not provide end as he had hoped — he placed 22nd. His Quarterfinal performance suggests he’s not a flash-in-the-pan and he can prove as much in 2023.

Griffin Roelle

“CrossFit Thor” is one always in the discussion of strongest athletes in CrossFit. The former collegiate football player made the Games in 2020, where he won the one-rep max front squat event with a lift of 490 pounds — 33 pounds more than runner-up Christophel.  Roelle finished 25th in the 2020 Games. Since then, he has seen success in the 2022 Quarterfinals, placing eighth in North America and then seventh at the Syndicate Crown Semifinal.

James Sprague

Sprague joined Roelle on the Games Demo team after competing against him at the Syndicate Crown and the LCQ for one of the final two 2022 Games spots. At 20 years old, Sprague had a banner year in 2022 despite coming up short in his Games bid.

The former Games teen alum placed 29th in the Open and one spot shy of a Games invite at the Syndicate Crown, where he ranked sixth. A seventh-place finish at the LCQ ended his season.

Jake Berman

The 26-year-old Berman has been competing in the sport since 2011. The 2022 season was his best yet as it was the closest he came to making his Games debut. He placed a career-best 18th in the Open and then 23rd in the North America Quarterfinals. That led to his second-straight Semifinal appearance at the MACC. He finished 12 points short of a Games spot. In the LCQ, he was one spot and eight points short of a Games invite.

Matt Dlugos

Dlugos falls in that category of athletes who are seeking their first Games appearance. After a slow start at the Granite Games Semifinal this past year, he went on a run during the final three events, including a win in the finale. However, it wasn’t enough. He came up four points short and placed sixth. He moved onto the LCQ but withdrew after suffering a leg injury, ending his bid to compete at the Games. 

Bayley Martin

Martin is considered the future of the men’s field of the Oceania region. The former Games teen division alum answered the call for the second-straight year at the Torian Pro Semifinal. After placing eighth in 2021 as a 21-year-old, he was in a Games spot after four events. However, he struggled in the final two events and placed sixth overall.

Martin built off a career-best 129th rank in the 2022 Open and third-place rank in the Oceania Quarterfinal. His switch to Underdogs Athletics for training has the New Zealander firmly in the hunt for a Games spot.

Bronisław Olenkowicz

Olenkowicz appeared at the Games in 2019, placing 42nd overall — he didn’t make the cut to display his strength in the one-rep max clean event. In 2022, he missed qualifying for the Semifinals. This offseason, Olenkowicz expanded his fitness by joining the Underdogs Athletics training camp to improve his engine. If the other facets of his game catch up to his strength, he will be worth watching in the 2023 European Semifinal he potentially qualifies for.

Ant Hayes

Hayes seeks a return to the Games after debuting in 2019. China’s most decorated CrossFit athlete will be a favorite to do well in the Far East Throwdown Semifinal should he get there. With two guaranteed Games spots on the line and Roman Khrennikov competing in the North America East Semifinal, both spots are up for grabs.

Team Players

These two athletes previously made the Games as individual athletes and then elected to go to the Team division for the 2022 season.

  • Samuel Cournoyer
  • Khan Porter

Samuel Cournoyer

Cournoyer has stood on atop a podium at the Games as a member of the CrossFit Mayhem team and helped Rich Froning win his sixth Affiliate Cup trophy with Andrea Nisler and Taylor Williamson. Already an accomplished Individual athlete with three trips to the Games, including a 10th place finish in 2020.

Cournoyer will return to the Individual division in 2023 to battle Patrick Vellner, Brent Fikowski, and Jeffrey Adler for the title of “Fittest Canadian.”

Khan Porter

Porter has seven career Games appearances but hasn’t competed in Madison as an Individual since the 2018 Games, though he did compete as an Individual in the virtual 2020 Games. He placed 26th. In 2022, he was a member of the star-studded CrossFit Reykjavik team that placed fourth at the Games.

In December 2022, Porter announced that his return for one last Individual Games run in 2023. He will compete in the Oceania region that offers three guaranteed Games spots. In 2022, Porter was in the best shape of his life thanks to his coach Jami Tikkanen and The Training Plan. He will return to Iceland after the Open to continue that training under his tutelage and train alongside Annie Thorisdottir, Björgvin Karl Guðmundsson, and Solveig Sigurdardottir.

The Other 

  • Sam Dancer

Sam Dancer

Dancer competed at the Games as an Individual in 2016 and on a team in 2018 and 2019. His 2018 team placed second to Mayhem Freedom. In 2022, Dancer competed in the 35-39 Masters division at the Games and placed 10th. His 10th-place showing was a result of withdrawing from competition after the first event due to an injury.

Despite his injury, Dancer proved he could compete at the same level as the elite Individual athletes. He hinted at a return to Individual competition. After a healthy run at Wodapalooza with a team, he will return to San Diego to train with the Invictus training camp for the 2023 season.

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Featured image via Patrick Clark.