Years ago, when training for an OPEX certification, one of many principles the original CrossFit Games champion, James Fitzgerald, taught was that “the pacer always wins.”
It was an intriguing concept, and that intrigue has grown over time — especially thanks to current two-time CrossFit Games champion Justin Medeiros, who seems to understand this principle incredibly well. His ability to execute consistently at the highest level, with the broadest ranges of time domains and tests, has set him apart from the field over the past two years.
Below, we dissect Medeiros’s impressive ability to win the Games while only winning a single event between his two Games, proving that Fitzgerald’s wisdom still holds up.
Lack of Event Wins
Despite winning the last two Games (2021, 2022), the 23-year-old Medeiros has actually done very little winning at the Games. In two years at the Games, he’s only managed one event win (the final event of 2021), which is low for a two-time Games champion.
The chart below shows how multiple-time champions fared event-to-event in their first two Games wins.
|Athlete||First Year||Event Wins||Second Year||Event Wins||Total Event Wins|
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So How’s He Doing It?
To examine Medeiros’s consistency in action, I rewatched every heat he competed in at the 2021 and 2022 Games to see where he was relative to his heat after one-third of the workout, two-thirds of the workout, and at the end of the workout.
In many instances, there are also people from other heats who ended up beating him on a workout, but it’s tough to pace against ghosts.
As such, the stats in both charts below represent how Medeiros did in his heat at the beginning, middle, and end of each workout.
2021 CrossFit Games Events
In his first championship run, Medeiros established a pattern that held true for 10 of the 14 (71%) relevant events; he never gave away a single position as the workout progressed. Instead, he picked people off who started ahead of him nearly every time.
|2021 CrossFit Games Event||First Third||Second Third||Heat Finish||Overall Finish|
|Event 1||not in top 5||?||5||5|
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The exceptions were on:
- Event 2 with the pig flip/sled drag combo at the end of that workout.
- Event 10, where he gave away ground on the second one-and-a-half-mile run.
- Event 14, where he went from tied with Patrick Vellner to narrowly losing to him at the finish line, well ahead of the rest of the field.
Maintaining this level of discipline is quite impressive. It also requires tremendous self-awareness to presumably allow the field to pull away, trusting that your fitness will prevail as time goes on. However, coming into the 2021 Games, no one was necessarily expecting Medeiros to win.
Once he achieved the title of Fittest Man on Earth®, though, a lot changed for him, including that level of expectation. The question became, could he do it again?
2022 CrossFit Games Events
It only seemed prudent to recognize Skill Speed Medley as three separate and distinct “events” because so much was on the line in each round of the workout. Therefore, for 2022, we are considering 16 opportunities to study Medeiros’s performance relative to his heat.
|2022 CrossFit Games Event||First Third||Second Third||Heat Finish||Overall Finish|
|Bike to work||3||2||3||3|
|skill speed medley QF heat||7||4||2||–|
|skill speed medley SF heat||2||2||2||–|
|skill speed medley Finals||5||2||t-3||3|
|shuttle to overhead A||7||4||?||18|
|shuttle to overhead B||t-1||t-2||3||5|
|Up and Over||5||5||2||2|
|Rinse N Repeat*||4||4||7||7|
Of those 16 opportunities, he only ever gave even a single placement back to the field four times — meaning 75% of the time (a slight increase from 2021); he was able to improve his positioning in his heat as the events wore on.
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The exceptions this year were:
- The skill speed medley finals, where Guilherme Malheiros passed him on the press to handstand plus parallette traverse.
- Shuttle to Overhead B, an event in which he still wound up taking fifth overall.
- Rinse N Repeat, which all came down to the last sprint in the pool and then ripping on the ski erg. (He paced this event incredibly well, and I would consider this one of his more impressive overall performances this year.)
- During Jackie Pro, already having the title in his sights, he gave one position back to Roman Khrennikov on the bar muscle-ups at the end.
In all, it seems that Medeiros was able to improve on an already impressive pattern of out-pacing, or out-strategizing, his opponents and closest competitors (those in his heat, which, by the way, was almost always the final heat).
The Pacer Always Wins
Although the sport is relatively young (2022 was the 16th CrossFit Games), it has evolved in many ways since 2007. Several nuances and changes have gotten us to this point, from location and qualification process to depth of field and scoring systems.
Considering all of that, it’s pretty cool to see, using data, that the current two-time CrossFit Games champion is winning by executing a principle the original CrossFit Games champion uses in his teaching.
Doing it back in 2007 was one thing — to be able to do it now, against a global field of competitors, most of whom have tremendous resources at their disposal, is quite frankly remarkable.
While Medeiros’s resume regarding event wins doesn’t stack up to the five other two-time champions in their first two victories, it almost makes what he’s doing more impressive. Sure, event wins are huge at the CrossFit Games, but the ability to rarely give anything away against the field as workouts wear on has been quite the recipe for success in the case of Medeiros these past two seasons. I guess the question now is, what happens if he also starts to win events?
Featured Image: William Johnson