Given everything going on in the world and in the CrossFit community, I went back and forth a number of times on whether I would even post elite athlete rankings for the upcoming CrossFit Games. It wasn’t until Jessica Danger asked me for my input that I figured it wouldn’t hurt to lend some expertise to the world.
These rankings (in some ways) are very different from what you’d have expected if you asked pundits for their insight only a few short months ago. Athletes are training alone in quarantine. The CrossFit Games will run almost entirely digitally for the first time in their history. For insight into the full list of qualified athletes, check out the recent quick guide I put together to help you understand the changes we’ve seen this year.
Almost as important to me as the list of athletes I expect to see at the top is a number of athletes I’d have expected great things from if the season had played out as expected. I’ve added those to the list, just for fun.
Top 5 Female CrossFit Games Athletes in 2020
I have us slated for a big upset in the women’s field this year, predicting that Sarah Sigmundsdottir will unseat the reigning Fittest Woman on Earth Tia-Clair Toomey.
1. Sarah Sigmundsdottir (Up)
I hope everyone’s reaction is “Wait…what?” I won’t argue that they may have a valid reason to be concerned about this ranking. Sigmundsdottir has always had one of the highest potential ceilings for elite performances, but has failed to overcome a myriad of mental mistakes at pivotal moments in her career. Here’s the difference this year: quarantine. Early in the 2019 season, Sarah dropped Phil Mansfield as her coach and began training herself. Since then, we’ve seen SEVEN podium performances from her at Sanctional events and two overall CrossFit Open titles. She has proven she is more successful training alone, and there is no greater impetus for solo training than that of COVID-19. Without the poorly-planned cuts at the 2019 CrossFit Games, Sara would likely have stayed in everyone’s top-five headed into this year’s Games. Don’t forget the change in format this year – as an athlete who thrives in her own gym, there’s no greater gift to Signumdsdottir than letting her compete from home.
2. Tia-Clair Toomey (Down)
The only reason I’m second-guessing my ranking for Sigmundsdottir this year is because it means I have to move Toomey down one spot. She’s young, she’s been at the top for three years, and there’s no evidence to say her reign is going anywhere. In fact, I see Toomey as still having plenty of room left to improve. She fits into a category of athletes with great mastery of fundamental skills, but lacking slightly with overall strength. That sounds preposterous given that she’s an Olympic-level weightlifter and she won 2019’s Clean event, but it’s true. At 5’4” and 130-ish pounds, she’s not a very big athlete. If she continues to grow her weightlifting and stays hungry for improvement, she’s going to have a career longer than Rich Froning’s. You read it here first.
3. Katrin Davidsdottir (Up)
Davidsdottir had a lot going in 2019, including a book release and building her Dottir brand with Annie Thorisdottir. I don’t know of a single athlete (male, female, or team) with more mental fortitude. Training physical skills is one thing, but becoming mentally strong for trying times (activism and COVID, anyone?) is something I think the Davidsdottir-Bergeron powerhouse is uniquely suited to overcome.
4. Danni Speegle (Up)
What do Danni Speegle and Justin Timberlake have in common? If we look at the final class of upcoming Regional-level athletes in 2018 and tried to make predictions as to who was going to make the big leap in 2019, it would’ve been as difficult as trying to determine which Nsync member would become one of the world’s biggest solo acts. Turns out it was Dani Speegle and Justin Timberlake.
5. Kristin Holte (Down)
There’s a great Dilated Peoples song that starts, “Back again, for the very fourth time.” Kind of like Kristin Holte, an athlete who has quietly racked up three consecutive top-ten finishes and made her first podium placing in 2019. Yeah, she’s been around. We’ve just never given her the credit she has due, and I expect her to hit the top-ten a fourth time this year.
Who I’ll Miss: Steph Chung
This year was supposed to be the return of a healthy and refocused Chung. Unfortunately, COVID-19 shut down a pending comeback before she was able to take her momentum into the Sanctional season.
Top 5 Male CrossFit Games Athletes in 2020
The list of top athletes on the men’s side is a little less dramatic, but I think we’re all hoping for a change in the status quo up top.
1. Mat Fraser (Same)
I’m not saying I have to like it, but this seems like the logical bet. Not a lot has changed for Fraser in quarantine – the guy has been the epitome of hard work paying off since 2016. While watching The Last Dance this year, I noticed an important similarity between Fraser and (dare I say it?) Michael Jordan. I won’t share the details of a specific interaction I have in mind, but I will say Mat Fraser will go out of his way to maintain a chip on his shoulder. His attitude doesn’t make him a thought leader or even a moral leader in a time of divisiveness in the sport, but it’s hard to argue against his work ethic until he proves us otherwise.
2. Patrick Vellner (Up)
In all the ways I’ll say later in this write-up that Noah Ohlsen got lucky in 2019, Patrick Vellner was the equivalent version of unlucky. A bad performance in the Sprint Couplet (cue drama) and a penalty on the Sprint saw Vellner get cut before getting to the events we knew he would excel at. He’s still one of the best true CrossFit athletes out there and I maintain that he and Chandler Smith are the two people in best size and shape to unseat Fraser.
3. Chandler Smith (Up)
Chandler has put himself in a unique training position not seen before in this (or really any) sport. He’s literally being paid by the US Army to train for CrossFit. Seems ideal. For anyone who would make an argument that his ranking on this list is a knee-jerk reaction to the energized spotlight on race disparity in our gyms, I point you to the 2019 Rogue Invitational. The Sanctional proved to be a mini CrossFit Games, with Smith placing fourth overall, defeating heavyweights like Jacob Heppner, Ben Smith, and Cole Sager. Tracking Chandler’s growth from previous years, through his outright win at 2020’s Mayhem Classic, there’s an inarguable momentum which has him on course for the top-five this year.
4. Bjorgvin Karl Gudmundsson (Down)
Gudmundsson has two podium finishes. Why are we still ignoring this guy? Yeah, fourth is lower than his placing last year, but he deserves to be in the top-five conversation.
5. Noah Ohlsen (Down)
I wouldn’t expect many people to move Noah this far down their list after he wore the Leader jersey for so long in 2019. Here’s my case for the drop: he got lucky. Is Noah Ohlsen one of the top five male athletes in the sport? Absolutely. Is he so incredible that I expect him to challenge Fraser each year? Probably not. If Patrick Vellner and Ben Smith hadn’t been cut last year, they would’ve seeped valuable points from Ohlsen in the last two days and shook up the resulting podum places.
Who I’ll Miss: Matt McLeod
Talk about a surprise in 2019. McCleod showed up looking (both physically and in performance) like Matt Fraser. He had four top-five finishes in events (including two outright wins). His overall points struggled because of poor performances in the Second Cut and Ruck events, so it would’ve been cool to see how he’d perform this year given time to focus on those two weaknesses.