Should Chris Schmulbach Have Qualified for the CrossFit Games?

Chris Schmulbach is a neuromuscular adaptive CrossFit athlete. He just came off his best season yet with a 5th place finish in the Semifinals. This should have been enough to clench Schmulbach a ticket to the CrossFit Games. However, Schmulbach found himself in a tie for 5th, and after a tie break, the Games invite was given to someone else.

All of this makes sense at first glance. There was a tie so CrossFit had to determine how to break it…one would qualify for the Games and the other would not. But Schmulbach’s story gets more interesting if you look at the leaderboard. You’ll see a line running through the scores of a disqualified athlete, Jonatan Castro Silva. It might make sense that the athletes’ placements would be recalculated considering that Silva’s scores were not legit. But, CrossFit currently keeps disqualified scores on the leaderboard and considers them for determining who the fittest are and who should be invited to the Games.

Meaning, the placement of those below Silva didn’t change in terms of points. CrossFit did backfill to the next athlete on the leaderboard, but the points would have been different had CrossFit recalculated placement after taking out the disqualified athlete’s scores. Someone was caught cheating, and their scores remained on the leaderboard. Had CrossFit recalculated the placements and rescored the leaderboard, Schmulbach would not have tied for 5th, but rather would have edged his competition out by 4 points. With the disqualified scores remaining during calculation, the tie for 5th was at 430 (vs 484 and 480). Meaning, both athletes tied in 5th lost a significant amount of points.

Schmulbach spoke on the situation saying, “None of us knew that was how it worked. We all thought I was going to make the Games. But his scores still counted basically, and the leaderboard didn’t change.” Schmulbach also cited another issue with the legitimacy of the leaderboard; CrossFit only reviewed two videos. While this is common practice (this is how the process works for the other divisions as well), there was some question about the legitimacy of scores.

Schmulbach told The Barbell Spin, “There were several videos I watched that were clearly no reps. If this is how it’s going to be I’ll just post a fake score and I’ll take the 20% penalty. That’s what I’m afraid will start happening. I almost would rather have a blind leaderboard. Especially in the Open.” This was also an issue seen in the open division of Quarterfinals with the shuttle run workout (workout 3). Many athletes did not do the correct distance on the shuttle run (running half of the prescribed distance) and CrossFit was unable to remedy the situation on the leaderboard. Unfortunately, the leaderboard during these online sections of CrossFit often has incorrect scores with little action for holding athletes accountable.

It could be argued that Schmulbach belonged at the Games based on how the leaderboard could have shaken out had CrossFit rescored placements. Schmulbach also demonstrated his fitness recently at Wodcelona in Spain where he finished first overall and even beat out a neuromuscular Games athlete.

Schmulbach spoke about Wodcelona and how inclusive it was saying, “I think it could be a big competition to go to. We all want to make the Games, but at the end of the day, there are other big competitions out there. I think someone can get all the adaptive divisions at a competition and make it inclusive for everybody, there are more inclusive competitions out there [than the Games]. I think someone can have an Adaptive Games” (referencing the possibility of having a separate event for just the adaptive athletes outside the CrossFit Games).

Schmulbach also spoke on the difficulties with the qualification process for adaptive athletes in CrossFit. “The classification process could be way better, and I know they’re trying to work on that. I think it is a big concern for a lot of athletes.” Chris expanded on this idea and discussed how he thought the neuromuscular division should have different leaderboards for minor and major neuromuscular athletes. “It’s not fair to have to compete against each other. There isn’t a lot of fairness right now in adaptive CrossFit. There are plenty of minors and majors; it’s a lot different than short-stature or vision. The demand is there.”

Regardless of the difficulties that Schmulbach has faced in pursuit of becoming a Games athlete, he also spoke about his passion and gratitude towards CrossFit: “I wish more people would try it. It’s not what people say it is. You’re not going to die. It’s just fitness. It changed my whole attitude towards life; knowing there was better stuff out there, and it was all found through fitness.”

Schmulbach shared how CrossFit had “saved” his life, and that before finding fitness he struggled with drinking and his wife had divorced him because of it. Currently, Schmulbach and his wife have been remarried for over 5 years and own an affiliate together. Schmulbach also explained that he had a 12-hour brain surgery (to remove a tumor) and that thanks to CrossFit he was in the best shape of his life going into the surgery. “If I was overweight and drinking still, I might have not made it.”

Schmulbach has some impressive Games athletes in his corner, including Sam Dancer who introduced him to the adaptive division, and Casey Acree, who is his coach. Schmulbach expressed that he plans to stay with Coach Acree as long as possible. Schmulbach has his eyes set on the Games this year, but his ultimate goal is to qualify in the age-group division for the Games. While Chris’s neuromuscular diagnosis does limit his ability to perform some movements, he expressed his confidence to continue growing his fitness with Acree and the Underdog Athletics crew.

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