On Christmas Eve 2022, six-time Fittest Woman on Earth®, Tia-Clair Toomey, revealed that she is pregnant and won’t compete in the 2023 CrossFit Games season. So for the first time since 2017, there will be a different champion in the women’s division at the CrossFit Games. Who will it be?
During Toomey’s run as the six-time champ, eight different athletes have occupied the 12 other podium positions:
- Kara Saunders: second in 2017
- Annie Thorisdottir: third in 2017 and 2021
- Laura Horvath: second in 2018 and 2021, third in 2022
- Katrin Davíðsdóttir: third in 2018 and second in 2020
- Kristin Holte: second in 2019
- Jamie Simmonds: third in 2019
- Kari Pearce: third in 2020
- Mallory O’Brien: second in 2022
Most of those names won’t factor into 2023. Kristin Holte and Kari Pearce have retired from competitive CrossFit, while Jamie Simmonds and Katrín Davíðsdóttir failed to qualify for the CrossFit Games in 2022 (though they could in 2023). Annie Thorisdottir competed on Team Reykjavik in 2022, and it’s unknown what Kara Saunders‘ plans are going forward.
Editor’s Note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video 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.
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The Case for Laura Horvath
Laura Horvath has been the Fittest Woman in Hungary since 2017. In 2018, she took second at the European Regional and second place at the Games in her Games debut. Since the qualifying path to the Games began with the Open in 2011, only Josh Bridges (2011), Mat Fraser (2014), and Tia-Clair Toomey (2015) have finished in second place during their first year at the Games.
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These accomplishments put Horvath in the conversation as a potential Games champion every year she qualifies. She has six event wins at the Games in her career, tied for sixth all-time. The women ahead of her on that list have won all but one CrossFit Games since 2010. Horvath finished third at the 2022 Games and won her Semifinals in 2022 and the 2022 Rogue Invitational.
The Case for Mallory O’Brien
Speaking of winning, 18-year-old Mallory O’Brien has already done that, too. When CrossFit canceled all but the Elite Individual divisions in 2020 due to COVID-19, O’Brien, then 16, won the 16-17 division at the Pit Teen Throwdown, which served as a placeholder for the Fittest Teens on Earth that year.
In the last two seasons, O’Brien has been a mainstay in the Elite Individual women’s field. She won the Online Qualifier for Girls 16-17 in 2021 but competed as an Individual after taking second place at the Granite Games Semifinal. She placed seventh at the Games and took home Rookie of the Year honors that season.
In 2022, O’Brien improved across the board. She was the worldwide winner of the Open, won Quarterfinals in North America (and placed fourth worldwide), and won the Granite Games by over 50 points, including wins in four of the six events and finishing fifth or better in all of them. She placed second at the CrossFit Games behind Toomey to cap it all off.
O’Brien is coached by five-time Fittest Man on Earth® Mat Fraser, and her fitness has taken noticeable leaps after their first year working together. With another year of training, it’s exciting to think about what else the duo has been working on. To add to the intrigue, Horvath has also spent time in recent years training with and being coached by Ben Smith, the 2015 Fittest Man on Earth®. Smith happens to be the last man to beat Fraser in a live CrossFit competition.
The Other Podium Spots
If Horvath and O’Brien live up to expectations, they should occupy two of the three podium spots, leaving one open. Here are a few competitors who can take advantage.
Annie Thorisdottir was third at the CrossFit Games in 2021 and second at Rogue in 2022. And while she competed in a team during the 2022 season, she still has what it takes to go up against the best woman in the world. Thorisdottir is likely the only competitor on this part of the list who can upset Horvath and O’Brien and potentially steal the top podium spot.
Forty-four points kept Danielle Brandon off the podium in 2022. She made significant improvement from 11th to fourth between the 2021 and 2022 CrossFit Games — and she did so after leaving her coach less than a month before the Games. With a full year of training that hopefully goes down without injury, Brandon could be a force on the women’s side.
The most intriguing athlete on this list is Brooke Wells. She came in fifth at the Games in 2020 after an elbow injury knocked her out in the middle of the 2021 Games. Wells made her return in 2022, where she again took fifth — a mind-blowing achievement after undergoing Tommy John surgery. She has as much experience as anyone on this list, other than Thorisdottir, and can capitalize on a year of healthy training.
Toomey has been Wells’ primary training partner for the last two years. Now that we have a season in which Toomey, and her husband/coach Shane Orr, are not worried about beating Wells at the Games, can they help her to her best career finish yet?
The 2021 Girls 16-17 CrossFit Games champion, Emma Lawson, passed on an opportunity to go back-to-back in 2022 in pursuit of beginning her elite Individual CrossFit career. She did so in an impressive fashion by taking first at the Atlas Games Semifinal, winning half the events, and taking sixth or better on all of them. She bested O’Brien’s rookie Games finish (of seventh) by ranking sixth and similarly earned Rookie of the Year honors.
Lawson’s most impressive accomplishment came in the off-season when she placed third at the 2022 Rogue Invitational, outdueling several other perennial Games contenders. Many athletes make a leap up the leaderboard in their second year at the Games, and if Lawson can come close to improving in the way O’Brien did in year two, she could be a lock to be in the podium hunt for 2023.
Gabriela Migała‘s career achievements thus far are impressive, but she needs some improvements to podium at the Games. She was declared the Fittest Woman in Poland six times and took third in the 16-17 division at the Games in 2016. She’s since come into her own in the last two seasons.
In 2022 alone, Migała came in 13th in the Open, first at the European Quarterfinals, third at the European Semifinals, and fifth at the 2022 Rogue Invitational. Most impressively, she ranked sixth and eighth at the 2021 and 2022 CrossFit Games, respectively. It’s an impressive resume, but not quite on par with others on this list. The opportunity is there; now, it is just a matter of execution.
Haley Adams has the most robust teenage resume of any woman on this list. She took second in the CrossFit teen division in 2016 and 2017 before winning in 2018. She wasted no time transitioning to the elite women’s division, taking four top-10 finishes (sixth, fourth, fifth, and ninth) from 2019 to 2022. While incredibly impressive, she has stalled out relative to her competition.
This off-season, Adams passed on all competitive opportunities to focus on improving her strength— the primary aspect that has held her back. How much she can improve her strength in one year remains to be seen. However, if she can convert finishes of 32nd, 26th, 23rd, and 21st (the finishes on her worst four events at the 2022 Games) into finishes between 15th and 20th, she can close the gap on a majority of the other athletes on this list.
Those extra 150 or so points would have put Adams very close to, if not ahead of, third-place finisher Horvath this past summer. It’s a big ask to get stronger in one year, but if she does, don’t sleep on Adams scoring the first elite podium finish of her career in 2023.
Featured Image: Patrick Clark Photography | Athlete’s Eye Photography