On Feb. 19, 2023, one of CrossFit‘s modern-era greats, Kristi O’Connell, announced on her YouTube Channel that she was closing the curtain on her stellar nine-year career in the sport. O’Connell steps away after seven straight CrossFit Games appearances — six as an Individual competitor.
This year, there will be an extra spot at the Games for the next young girl chasing their dreams.
In her YouTube video titled “I’m Out,” an emotional O’Connell said, “our time is better spent right now growing and giving back to our communities and allowing myself the freedom to take on some different athletic adventures and challenges.” Check out her full statement in the video below:
[Related: Community Gyms Coalition Launches “Fitness Is Essential” Campaign]
Kristi O’Connell’s CrossFit Legacy
O’Connell is considered one of the top United States CrossFit athletes to ever step onto the competition floor. The Westerville, OH, native retires as a perennial top-10 finisher at the Games. Her average placing during her six Individual appearances at the Games is 10th.
The former collegiate swimmer from the University of Louisville found CrossFit in 2013 while competing in triathlons. She qualified for her first Regional less than a year later, placing 16th in the Central East after finishing 92nd in her first worldwide Open.
A 10th-place finish at the 2015 Central Regionals — 30 points out of a Games qualifying spot — resulted in her quitting her job as a full-time accountant to concentrate on pursuing her dream of making the Games. Working part-time at Starbucks in the morning, training in the afternoon, and coaching CrossFit classes in the evening paid off. She placed 21st in the 2016 Open and then secured the coveted Games spot at that year’s star-studded Central Regional, placing fifth.
O’Connell’s rookie year at the 2016 Games saw her place eighth thanks to six top-10 finishes. Her finish was the best among all the female rookies.
Finding Her Stride
In 2017, O’Connell placed 14th in the Open and recorded the first of her back-to-back Central Regional runner-up finishes. Her 2017 Games were highlighted by her and eventual Games champion Tia-Clair Toomey racing to the finish in the opening event, “The Run-Swim-Run.” Toomey beat O’Connell by just two seconds. O’Connell finished 13th overall at the Games that year.
The 2018 season saw O’Connell finish in the top 10 at the Games again, ranking ninth. Her performance was highlighted by her first and only event win at the Games. She and Toomey battled in the “30 Muscle-Up” event, and O’Connell got the upper hand on the six-time Fittest Woman on Earth® by one second, finishing in 2:32.52.
O’Connell took a break from Individual competition during the 2019 season and joined Sam Dancer’s Invictus X team at the Games. The team of Dancer, Holden Rethwill, Margaux Alvarez, and O’Connell placed second at the Granite Games Sanctional to qualify for the 2019 Games. That team finished seventh at the Games, the highest career finish for O’Connell at the Games.
During the 2019 season, the then Kristi Eramo married her longtime boyfriend and former Games athlete Patrick O’Connell. She returned to Individual competition during the 2020 season, which was marred by event cancellations due to the COVID-19 global pandemic and changes within CrossFit. She qualified for the Games thanks to her 14th place finish in the Open but only participated in the online portion of the Games, placing ninth.
The 2021 season was among the most challenging for O’Connell, who experienced highs and lows throughout. She placed a career-best fourth overall and second in the United States in the worldwide Open. She then placed 10th in the North America Quarterfinals to qualify for the Granite Games Semifinals. However, she struggled at the competition and ranked a disappointing seventh, failing to secure a Games invitation.
Her placing did qualify her for the Last-Chance Qualifier, where she competed for the last two Games invitations. She bounced back and placed second overall, punching her sixth ticket to the Games.
Peaking at the Games
At the 2021 Games, O’Connell tied her career-best finish, ranking eighth overall thanks to seven top-10 finishes, including two more runner-up finishes to Toomey. In her final Games season in 2022, she placed 12th in the Open, a career-best fifth in the Quarterfinals. She ranked fourth at the Syndicate Crown Semifinal to secure her seventh-straight Games invitation and sixth career Individual appearance.
O’Connell finished 13th in the 2022 Games, matching her worst finish career. However, she still cemented herself as one of the top athletes in the sport, especially in endurance tests.
During her Individual Games career, O’Connell competed in 79 events. Her average CrossFit event finish was 15.1, with 33 top-10 finishes, including five runner-ups. Those runner-up finishes were all against Toomey — the most of any athlete against the six-time Fittest Woman on Earth® at the Games.
O’Connell and her husband own and run an affiliate in Ohio, CrossFit Polaris. Always looking to test her fitness, she ran a marathon in October 2022. She finished in a time of 3:04, besting her previous time scored before training and competing in CrossFit by six minutes.
O’Connell will remain a part of the CrossFit community while pursuing other fitness goals. She intends to update those interested in her trajectory via videos on her YouTube channel.
Featured image: @kristieramo on Instagram