With the announcement of five-time CrossFit Games Champion Mat Fraser’s retirement from competitive CrossFit on Feb. 3, 2021, the implications for the men’s leaderboard in the 2021 season are interesting.
In the 2020 CrossFit Games Finals, Fraser won in a dominating fashion, clinching 10 of the 12 events. It wasn’t even close. But now that the CrossFit GOAT is hanging up the lifting belt (from competition at least), the question remains: Who will replace Fraser as the Fittest on Earth®?
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Mat Fraser is undoubtedly the greatest male CrossFit athlete of all time. As a budding rookie, Fraser made a massive splash. The now-31-year-old burst onto the elite CrossFit scene in 2014 as a former Olympic weightlifter, winning the Northeast Regional and going on to take second at the CrossFit Games to Rich Froning Jr. — a four-time CrossFit Games Champion in his own right. The following year it was widely accepted that he would step into Froning’s shoes to dominate the CrossFit Games that year. He went on to take second to Ben Smith. However, it was that failure to win in 2015 set the trajectory for his future success.
After learning a hard lesson, he came back to win the 2016 Games by a margin of 197 points — the largest at the time. He went on to beat that margin of victory record in 2017, 2018, and 2020, finishing with a 545 point lead over Samuel Kwant at the 2020 Games. He also holds the record for most event wins of any athlete (29) and has won every live competition he’s participated in since his Games victory in 2016.
In determining who may become the Fittest Man on Earth in 2021, we look to each of the following five competitor’s previous performances and mindset. Games athletes have nailed their nutrition, their recovery, and have their workout splits dialed in to reach the top-level. This is to be expected.
What separates CrossFit Games champions from other elite CrossFit athletes is their mindset. Whoever has the best ability to stay focused, to push through the discomfort and uncertainty of the day, to learn from previous experiences, and to adjust strategy on the fly is who is going to come out on top.
The Fittest on Earth® is not only the physically strongest — but the mentally strongest. With that said, here are five CrossFit athletes that are potential contenders for the top podium spot at the 2021 Games:
American Samuel Kwant finished second-place at the 2020 CrossFit Games. A back injury and a knee injury had held him back from maximizing his performance in previous Games appearances, but opting for knee surgery during the 2018 season has allowed him to come back stronger than ever. Overcoming injury builds serious mental fitness: it requires passion and dedication during a time when every day can feel like a setback.
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Following Fraser’s 2016 Games win, there has been a rash of guys who’ve taken second place at the Games only to fall lower the following years. Ben Smith in 2016, Brent Fikowski in 2017, Pat Vellner in 2018, and Noah Ohlsen in 2019. Can Kwant cap off his comeback with an end to the second-place curse?
- Games Finishes: 2016, 16th; 2017, 20th; 2019, 13th; 2020, second.
- Competing at Regionals or equivalent since 2014.
The 21-year-old Medeiros had an impressive performance last season. It was clear from the 2020 Finals that he loves to compete and has the confidence to dig deep in events. As a rookie, he challenged Fraser in the very first event, losing only by seven seconds. Later in the day, he kept pace with Fraser for much of the Ranch Loop, telling him, “if we get to the finish line and we’re still next to each other, I’m not gonna be chatting anymore. We’re gonna be sprinting,” reflecting a passion for competition that can carry him far in his career. Maturity and experience count, but grit and self-assuredness may win out.
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- Games Finishes: 2020, third.
- Competing at Regionals or equivalent since 2017.
- Won Filthy 150 2020.
CrossFit athlete Chandler Smith has made consistent and noticeable improvements over the years. A West Point graduate and Army officer, he knows how to overcome both physical and mental obstacles. In 2017, he lost a portion of his finger in an Army training accident and thought his CrossFit career was over. Through continued effort in his training, he gained confidence in his ability to come back better than ever, and he’s put in serious work to build a positive and focused mindset. In 2020, he put on his best Games performance to date with a sixth-place finish.
- Games Finishes: 2019, 15th; 2020, sixth.
- Competing at Regionals or equivalent since 2016.
Noah Ohlsen is one of the more consistent top finishers at the Games in recent years, and his elite competition career is on the longer side in the men’s field. Over the years, he’s maintained a positive attitude and hunger for the podium. What’s gotten in Ohlsen’s way of gold, however, are strategic errors. In the Toes to Bar/Kettlebell Lunge event at the Games Finals this year, Ohlsen’s speedy toes to bar strategy gave him an edge on Fraser until his poor kettlebell placement led to slower transitions. It was Fraser who won the event. If Ohlsen can fine-tune his event-specific game plans, then he may be the 2021 Fittest Man on Earth.
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- Games Finishes: 2014-2015, eight; 2016, 15th; 2017, fourth; 2018, sixth; 2019, second; 2020, fourth.
- Competing at Regionals or equivalent since 2012.
Vellner has been a podium favorite for years, and for good reason. With three podium finishes in his career, winning the Open in 2020, and winning two Sanctional events in 2020, Vellner has a track record of success to his name. His last two Games appearances had him finishing lower than his first three years, however, Vellner understands the mental game necessary to experience failure and rise again, and he’s demonstrated his ability to push for the win. Is 2021 the year that Vellner rises to the top?
- Games Finishes: 2016-2017, third; 2018, second; 2019, 16th; 2020, ninth.
- Competing at Regionals or equivalent since 2014.
- Won Wodapalooza 2020 and the Rogue Invitational 2020.
2021 CrossFit Open
The 2021 CrossFit season is set to kick off with the Open on March 11, 2021. There have been many changes made to the Open this year — including a new Adaptive division, an equipment-free Open option, and a new three-step qualification process (which includes a Last-Chance Qualifier.)
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The 2021 CrossFit Games are set to take place from July 27 through August 1 live in Madison, WI. With the COVID-19 pandemic still at large, there are a lot of questions surrounding the CrossFit season (and sports in general) — but the one everyone wants to know. Who will replace Mat Fraser?
Featured image: @justin_medeiros34