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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Quick Hits: What Impact Will Next Year's Games Season Changes Have?

In a surprise announcement following the conclusion of the 2014 CrossFit Invitational, Dave Castro unveiled some changes to next year's Games season.  The details are still a little sketchy, and it sounds like HQ may be leaving themselves a little wiggle room to change their minds, but on the surface, the changes seem pretty substantial.

There were three key changes that Castro mentioned:

  1. Add a scaled division to the Open
  2. Limit each of the current regions to somewhere around 20 athletes qualifying for the second level of competition (formerly "Regionals")
  3. Regions will then be combined (likely in pairs) to produce "Super-Regionals," each of which will qualify 5 athletes to the Games
First of all, I'll say that like many of the changes HQ has made in the past, I am initially skeptical.  That being said, many of those past controversial decisions (moving the Games from Aromas, partnering with Reebok, replacing in-person sectionals with the Open) have worked out well.  So I won't pass judgment just yet.

But that doesn't mean we can't start trying to assess what the impact will be (without labeling that impact "good" or "bad").  I'll address each of the three changes and what impact I believe they will have next season.

Add a scaled division to the Open
  • The reason has to be money, right?  Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that.  But HQ is likely seeing that there is an untapped market of athletes looking to compete who may not have quite the capacity to handle the Open.  
  • That being said, I have to believe that market is not huge.  What I would expect is a lot of beginner-level athletes who would otherwise have entered the Open will switch to the scaled division.  I'm not sure there will be a ton of increased participation solely due to this division.  Measuring this will be tricky, to be sure.
  • For the Rx division, my guess is this means the loading could increase a bit, but what is more likely is that HQ will start workouts with heavier loads.  For instance, 14.3 was a heavy workout, but it started very light.  It wasn't until the third round that things even got close to a 1.00 relative weight.  I'd expect that workouts like 11.3 (AMRAP-5 of squat clean thrusters at 165/110) could be fair game again, as well as something like the snatch ladder in the Team Series, which started at 135/95.
  • I don't expect the types of movements tested to change much.  I believe HQ still wants the Open to be a test of conditioning with mostly basic movements.  They will leave the more advanced movements and extremely heavy loads to regionals and the Games.  Maybe we'll see some handstand push-ups thrown in, but I still wouldn't expect rope climbs or dumbbell snatch.

Limit regions to 20 qualifying spots out of the Open
  • Yikes.  The Open will be even more cutthroat this year, and absolutely only the very serious athletes will be contending for spots in the next stage of competition.  
  • My fear is that this further intensifies any potential judging problems.  Athletes are going to be pushing the boundaries on range-of-motion in order to get into that top 20, which means more likelihood of complaints from those who don't approve.  The good news is that HQ requires video for all qualifiers, so the evidence will be out there.
  • Here is the list of 2014 Games-qualifying athletes who would not have made it past the Open last year under this format:
    • Quinton Z Van Rooyen (Africa, 40th)
    • Tyson Takasaki (Canada West, 22nd)
    • Cody Anderson (North West, 45th)
    • Kenneth Leverich (Southern California, 31st)
    • Paul Tremblay, who competed on Team Canada at the Invitational, would have been right on the border in 20th.
    • Interestingly, no females would have missed the cut.  This is likely due to the fact that the women's field still doesn't have quite the depth of the men's field.
  • It will be interesting if this number varies by region.  Will 20 athletes still qualify from Africa? Will only 20 be allowed from the South East, which had nearly 5,900 athletes complete all five workouts last year?

Combine regions to make "Super-Regionals"
  • It seems this was done to address some of the issues that have arisen the past few years with some elite athletes from talent-rich regions missing out on the Games despite posting results that would have won many other regions (Graham Holmberg 2014, Nick Fory 2013, Kristine Andali 2014).  
  • The issue here is combining the right regions.  Sticking Northern California and Southern California together isn't going to make it any easier to get out, and putting South West and Latin America together would still make for a pretty weak Super-Regional.  However, it sounds like HQ wants to combine regions based on geography, so we still may end up with some of the same issues.
  • You could (and probably will) see some of the old regions not have any athletes qualify.  For instance, if Central East and North Central were combined last year, Kyle Kasperbauer would have been the only male North Central representative in the top 6 based on the Cross Regional Comparison (even after my adjustments for the week of competition, this would still be true).  Depending on how they combine the regions, we may not see any athletes from Asia, Africa or Latin America.
  • We will potentially see the loading and skill levels increased even further since the bottom half of each region has been weeded out.  However, I think any changes here will be modest, since HQ likely wants each level of competition to maintain its own identity.  I believe the Regionals are still a test of classic CrossFit movements tested at high loads and short-to-medium time frames.  I think HQ will leave the crazy stuff for the Games.
I'd be interested to hear the thoughts of others on this.  I'm still planning on publishing my "What to Expect from the 2015 Open" post in the next few weeks, but there are certainly a few more unknowns than there have been the past two years.  It should be interesting, if nothing else!


  1. Could Central East possibly be it's own Super Region? With Rich going team this year it certainly leaves a hole, but both the men's and women's sides were loaded with talent last year. Having 0 athletes from some of the old regions is a good thing and better for the Games in my opinion. Some regions just don't have anyone competitive on the world level.

    I think having the scaled division could open things up a bit like we saw in the Team Series. I agree it won't increase participation a ton, but should bump the numbers some.

  2. Thanks Anders! As always very insightful and helpful.