The 2020 CrossFit Open has just wrapped up. And while the leaderboard is not finalized (video reviews are still underway), we have a pretty good idea of who has already qualified for the 2020 CrossFit Games.
Today is also the start of the 2020 Sanctionals.The CrossFit Filthy 150 just kicked off and is the first of 28 (maybe 27) Sanctionals with the CrossFit Filthy 150. The top athlete of each Sanctional that has not already qualified via the Open will be invited to compete at the CrossFit Games.
This is the first season with the Open in October and a full slate of Sanctional events. But, in my opinion, here is why the order of the Open and Sanctionals are backwards.
The 2020 Open is Too Close to the 2019 Games / No Off-Season
The 2019 CrossFit Games came to a close on August 4. The 2020 CrossFit Open started on October 10. That is just 67 days apart.
For the best athletes in the world, #GamesTraining and competing at the highest level across four grueling days at the Games takes a toll on the athletes both physically and mentally. Jacob Heppner commented on the Talking Elite Fitness podcast that he essentially went straight from the Games to Open training. To him, there was not much of an offseason.
Prior to this season, it was not uncommon to see Games athletes just now starting back up after taking a couple months off. The downtime was used as a way to let the body heal and to mentally prepare for the upcoming season. This is no longer available. After a short break, it is now back to Open training.
For some, however, that training looks different because of injury. While this year’s Games seemed to have fewer injuries (likely because only the Top 10 competed all four days), it did affect at least one…Will Moorad.
Moorad pulled his hamstring on Saturday morning of the Games during the Sprint Course. He was still in the Top 10 after the event and was able to take the floor the rest of the weekend, but many times he was unable to complete the event in fear of further damaging his hamstring.
Moorad, however, was unable to take a lot of time off to let his leg heal. The Open is too important. Not only do the top athletes qualify directly to the Games, almost half of the Sanctionals use the Open as the online qualifier.
So if an athlete skips the Open, there are only a handful of Sanctionals available to get back to the CrossFit Games. Fortunately for Moorad, the Top 10 from the Games get automatic invites to quite a few of the Sanctionals.
Regardless, an athlete who has shown he can compete as a Top 10 athlete, but goes down with an injury might only have a couple Sanctional events to earn an invite to the following year’s CrossFit Games.
Moorad is currently in 54th on the Open leaderboard, well below the Top 20 line. His worst finish was 187th on 20.4.
Top Athletes Already Qualified
Many of the top athletes were able to do the quick turnaround and do well in the Open this year. Barring a major penalty, athletes like Sara Sigmundsdottir, Pat Vellner, Tia-Clair Toomey and Mat Fraser will already have their ticket to the 2020 CrossFit Games secured.
If these athletes wanted to, they could lay low, get that much needed rest and slowly build up their training for the season. Of course, many will end up competing at some of the Sanctionals, but it will be for fun or to earn some of that prize money.
Last year, the 2019 Open fell in the middle of Sanctionals. The first three Sanctionals (Dubai CrossFit Championship, Wodapalooza CrossFit Festival and Australian CrossFit Championship) were held before the start of the 2019 Open.
No one had qualified for the CrossFit Games yet. These events brought a large number of top athletes looking to qualify for the Games early. Each Sanctional had a lot on the line at the time and proved to be very exciting.
Mat Fraser, Sam Briggs, Pat Vellner, Tia-Clair Toomey and James Newbury all won one of these early Sanctionals and guaranteed themselves a trip to the Games.
After the Open, however, the Sanctionals had a different feel.
Sanctionals Will Not Send the Winner
While Fraser, Briggs and Toomey all later qualified for the 2019 CrossFit Games via the Open, their performances at the Sanctionals earlier in the season had significant meaning at the time. Each athlete, not knowing their fate in the Open, had to gun for 1st place to get the invite to the CrossFit Games. Finishing 2nd would not guarantee anything.
This dynamic changed in the remaining Sanctionals between the Open and Games last season. Some of the top athletes continued to compete at various Sanctionals, most had already qualified via the Open.
This meant that the invite to the CrossFit Games would likely not be given out to the athlete who won the competition. Instead, it would end up going to 2nd, 3rd or sometimes 13th as in the case at the Rogue Invitational.
The Rogue Invitational had the look and feel of the CrossFit Games. The exclusive roster featured the who’s who of CrossFit…Fraser, Toomey, Sigmundsdottir, Thorisdottir, Davidsdottir, Vellner and many more. But all of these athletes had already qualified for the Games.
The women’s invite would end up going to Rachel Gatineau. She finished 11th overall. The exclusive 20-person field featured two heats throughout the competition. So while there the best-of-the-best fighting to win the competition, the battle for an invite to the Games fell to the first heat where the 11th to 20th ranked athletes competed.
While the Rogue Invitational was an extreme example, there were many cases throughout last season where the Sanctional winner had already qualified for the Open and so the invite fell to 2nd or 3rd place.
Sanctionals’ Reliance on The Open
Not only does the CrossFit Open qualify over 100 men and 100 women, almost half of the Sanctionals use the Open as its online qualifier. One of the good things to come out of Sanctionals last year was the increased variety of workouts used to field the Games roster.
While the Sanctionals will still have that variety, those that utilize the Open to select its field will have a common set of athletes. For all the criticism the Open has received, some warranted while some not, five workouts in one online competition will determine who can go to compete at a large percentage of the Sanctionals.
The problem is, what if an athlete is injured in October or is rehabbing from an injury suffered at the CrossFit Games? What if an athlete gets sick one week and fails to perform at his or her best? Or what if one workout just does not suit an athlete and they fall way down the leaderboard?
There are many different reasons why something could go wrong during the Open. The Sanctionals were a way to get away from the narrow path of Open/Regionals to get to the Games. The reliance on the Open this year has half of the Sanctionals looking much more like the old Open/Regionals format.
Sanctionals First then The Open
My recommendation would be to flip the order of Sanctionals and the Open. The first online qualifier of the season was the International Online Qualifier (IOQ). It began on August 21, just over two weeks after the Games.
While I don’t agree with using one online qualifier for multiple Sanctionals for the same reason as this year’s Open being used as the mass Sanctional qualifier, having such a short turnaround would not require Games athletes to begin their season so quickly.
Those who competed at the Games would not have to begin their next season so quickly and could wait until they are ready to start competing. But without a ton of athletes already qualified for the Games via the Open and then going to Sanctionals, each Sanctional event would have an entire field vying for an invite to the Games.
As the season progressed, there may be some Sanctional winners competing again (similar to Sam Briggs winning the Dubai CrossFit Championship last year and following that up with another win at the Australian CrossFit Championship. However, the ratio of qualified versus non-qualified at the later Sanctionals would still be favorable.
Once the Sanctionals were over, the Open would kick off in May. It would be the “last chance” for athletes to earn a bid to the CrossFit Games that season. The same number of athletes would qualify via the Open (National Champions and the “Top 20”).
Athletes who have already earned their ticket to the Games would not have to subject themselves to five weeks of Open workouts and could focus on Games training. Winning a Sanctional would have greater significance because the winners would have additional time to prepare.
The athletes who end up winning a Sanctional event would likely be the very top athletes of the sport – Mat Fraser, Tia-Clair Toomey, Bjorgvin Gudmundsson, Sara Sigmundsdottir, etc. These would also be the athletes most likely to be gunning for the podium at the Games.
For the rest of the athletes, the Open would be the last chance to make it to the Games. It would include those who failed to win a Sanctional along with those looking to qualify as a National Champion.
Here’s a snapshot of how the season would be scheduled in this scenario.
Fittest on Earth are crowned: 1st week of August
1st Sanctional Online Qualifier begins: end of August. Sanctionals would need to do their own online qualifier as the season progresses. Athletes choose which Sanctionals/qualifiers they want to attempt.
Sanctional Finals begin: November. Without the Open in the fall, the 1st Sanctional (CrossFit Filthy 150) could start a few weeks earlier. Sanctionals would run almost every week through April.
CrossFit Open begins: 1st week of May
CrossFit Games: 1st week of August
This schedule would put more pressure on the Sanctionals to run their own online qualifier. However, by doing so it would eliminate the reliance on the Open to determine Sanctional qualifiers and make the Open the last chance for top athletes and the method to crown National Champions.
The biggest hurdle, however, would be the video validation of the National Champions. My recommendation would be to require videos to be attached to score submissions for all athletes who want to advance to the CrossFit Games. This would open up the video review process to the community that could flag videos as the Open progresses and alert CrossFit HQ to video submissions that may require penalties.
In my opinion, moving Sanctionals to the front of the season would increase the excitement of the Sanctionals while also giving Games athletes more of an off-season. The Open would still play a critical role in the Games, but would allow the Sanctionals to take full advantage of the top athletes vying for an invite to the Games.