Yet, for Fraser, it was business as usual. He won a record 10 events and finished second in the other two by the smallest of margins. His points total of 1150 was almost double that of the second-place athlete. He also set records in career event wins and consecutive event wins and was the first person to lead the CrossFit Games from start to finish.
His fifth title passed Rich Froning Jr’s tally of four. The mantle of “the Fittest Man in History” had a new pair of rippling shoulders upon which to rest.
Then, at the beginning of February this year, Fraser announced his retirement. The king of CrossFit vacated the throne.
After a two-year hiatus, live CrossFit competition is returning to Madison, Wisconsin. From July 27 to August 1, nearly 40 of the fittest men and fittest women on earth, along with dozens of teams, teens, masters, and adaptive athletes, will run, swim, paddle, row, swing, snatch, and squat their way through grueling physical challenges that last from as little as a minute to a couple of hours. The individual winners will each take home USD $310,000, the largest payout in Games’ history.
Here's who Mat is backing to be the next CrossFit Games champion.
"One of the first people I talked to after I put up my retirement post was Pat Vellner. If he can pull it together, he is one of the best competitors out there. His last two years haven’t lined up the way he or other people expected it to. But he’s one of the very best."
"I’d also take a lot of pleasure seeing [2020 CrossFit Games rookie of the year and third-place finisher] Justin Medeiros do well. After the podium ceremony, I gave him my phone number and told him to call me with any questions. He has a lot of potential."
Björgvin Karl Guðmundsson
"I’ve always been a fan of Björgvin Karl Guðmundsson, too. He’s the full package. I’m excited to watch the athletes compete, take notes and see how they progress. It’ll be fun to be a fan and to make it to some events."
Who else to Watch for in the 2021 CrossFit Games
On the women’s side, all eyes are on Tia-Clair Toomey-Orr, the four-time Games champion. A member of Australia’s Olympic team in 2016 for weightlifting (she took 14th) and potentially a 2022 Olympic team member for bobsledding, she’s undeniably the fittest woman the sport has ever seen. Should she make it through the weekend injury-free, she’ll likely end it by standing on top of the podium.
However, don’t be surprised if you see Haley Adams, Bethany Shadburne, or Laura Horvath up there, too— or if that list includes one (or more) mums. Five women, an eighth of the field, have children.
As for the men, the horse race is essentially wide open after the retirement of Mat Fraser, Toomey-Orr’s former training partner and the champion for the past five years. In contention are Games podium veterans, like Noah Ohlsen, Cole Sager, and Brent Fikowski, along with recent break-outs like Jayson Hopper.
Ultimately, the winner will likely be determined by a mix of strategy, programming, luck — and whoever is best able to handle the known.
What Events Will Be in the 2021 CrossFit Games
While a few events have already been announced, including a 550-yard sprint and a triad of rope climbs, ski erg, and sandbag carries, others have only been teased, like the first event, which will be “swim distance long, and paddle distance even longer.” Many will remain a mystery until a few hours (or minutes) before the buzzer goes off.
Inevitably, there will be surprises. At last year’s Games, which took place at “The Ranch” in California due to Covid-19 restrictions, athletes finished a three-mile trail run—only to be told they then had to turn around and do it all again in reverse. Another year, athletes weren’t ever told the movements or the rep scheme for the event, called “Chaos.” Instead, they worked until their judge told them they could move on.
After such a long time away from Madison, and after only allowing five men and women to compete last year, the Games will likely be especially challenging by design. That might be due to the number of events (say, anything more than 15), the volume of the workload (like another marathon row), the skills required (a handstand obstacle course again) or the quick succession of events (like the infamous barn-burners, Ringer 1 and Ringer 2).
No matter the programming, though, spectators will almost certainly be relieved to be back in the stands watching the sport of fitness. Want to join them and tune in from home? Here's how.