Lessons Learned from the Dubai CrossFit Championships

Written by Brian Friend

In a year full of changes, uncertainty, and a lot of questions, we finally have some answers. With the conclusion of the Dubai CrossFit Championships we now have our first full experience of what a CrossFit Sanctioned Event might look like, and while everyone will have their opinions about it, today let’s focus on the things we learned as a result of it.

Thank you Ladies!

With only one spot on the line for a trip to the Games, it was uncertain if the level of competition would be higher or lower at these events. But oh my did the women deliver!

Heading into the final event there were four women (Sam Briggs, Jaime Greene, Karin Frey, and Sara Sigmundsdottir) within 7 points at the top of the leaderboard.

The last event was a chipper of couplets, if you will, ending with a single arm dumbbell overhead walking lunge cash out (if you could get to to it). Beginning with 4 rounds of 6 bar muscle ups and 3 heavy devil presses Sam Briggs and Jamie Greene got out to the early lead.

Continuing into 3 rounds of 15 toes to bar and 60 double unders, Sam and Jamie continued going rep for rep and were well ahead of the field.

The final couplet was 2 rounds of 30 heavy wall balls to a tall target and 5 moderately heavy power cleans. Would the wall balls slow Jaime down? Would the cleans prove troublesome for Sam? Honestly, I wasn’t sure if either or both would be true.

It turned out that the wall balls were too much for Jaime. She was forced to take several breaks in the first set allowing both Sam to pull away, and also Sara Sigmundsdottir to catch up to her.

At that point for Sam it was a matter of adrenaline; pick up the dumbbell, finish these lunges, and earn yourself $30,000 for winning the event, another $50,000 for winning the competition, and become the first woman to earn an invitation to the 2019 CrossFit Games. Sam is such a fierce competitor in general, she usually doesn’t need any motivation to dig deep; but with all of that on the line, especially coming off of a season riddled with injury and surgery, there was no doubt that she would finish this event (she was the only woman to do so), and stand atop the podium as the champion of the 2018 Dubai CrossFit Championship!

Congratulations Samantha Briggs! Both an impressive and inspiring performance.

And thank you to Jaime Greene, Sara Sigmundsdottir, Karin Frey, and all the other incredible women who competed at Dubai. Once again the women’s competition was extremely entertaining, right up to the very end.

If you enjoyed watching these women there’s good news. We’ve already seen several of them commit to more sanctioned events in the near future. Sam will be in Australia in January, Jamie will be in London for Strength in Depth at the end of February (she’ll also be on a team at Wodapalooza in January), and Sara will be competing as an individual at Wodapalooza. The women’s field is strong and competitive, Dubai has reminded us once again of the excitement it offers, and will continue to offer as the season goes on.

Independent Events, Means Independent Programming

Historically the programming at Dubai has always been challenging. They are known for using the elements of water and desert which are unique to their location, and once again this year, they did just that. The main talking point when it comes to programming at Dubai ended up being with regards to the team competition.

While this is the first year Dubai has had a team competition, and many have been critical of their programming for it, event coordinator Diego Centeno reminds us that Dubai has been successfully programming CrossFit style events for 6 years. There had been a plan in place for a team competition this year prior to the announcements about the new Games season format. Their mentality in approaching a team format in Dubai was that any team is only as strong as its weakest player, and they are very satisfied with the process which took place in all formats this year.

Dubai knew they were doing things differently, they wanted to take a chance with the team programming; do something no one else had done before; and that they certainly did. As always, when something new comes along there’s a lot of backlash and criticism, but why do we insist on resisting?

CrossFit is, and has always been, about preparing for the unknown and unknowable, in both life, and sport. The best way to do that is to be fit and healthy, and as a result of Greg Glassman we have a definition of what that looks like. If the landscape of the competitive season shifts or changes, or if the programming isn’t what we were expecting or have grown accustomed to, that does not mean that it isn’t effective or appropriate.

When unexpected things come our way in life we always have a choice of how to react; the same should be true in our fitness community. We can either fight against the changes, resist, and be left behind; or we can accept change as it comes our way, roll with it, and be stronger, fitter, and better for it.

Thank you to Dubai for taking a risk and reminding us all that changes are inevitable and it’s best to embrace them when they come our way! Whether you’re competing as an individual, on a team, or even just planning to follow along with sanctioned events throughout the season make sure you learn from Dubai, what we all should always remember, to be the best in this sport, you’ve got to be ready for everything, and anything.

Some Things, However, Haven’t Changed

Mat Fraser is still the man to beat. After a year away from Dubai, he returned and successfully recaptured the title. He’s now two for two there having won in both 2016 and 2018, the only two years he’s competed in Dubai.

Much like we’ve become used to seeing at the Games, Fraser had this thing locked up before the last event even began. He took first place on 7 of the 10 scored events and won by over 100 points. If anything, he’s demonstrated that he is more well-rounded than ever before. And with over 8 months now to prepare for the Games, anyone who wishes to challenge him in Madison must know what they’re going to be up against; the most complete, dominant athlete this sport has yet to see.

Well done once again Mat, see you in Wisconsin! (Note that he has said that we’ll see him at some other sanctioned events before then too.)

The Men’s Chase Pack Grows

We’ve heard it said before by Pat Vellner and Brent Fikowski that if you want to take down Fraser it’s going to take a group of men who rise up at once and challenge him. There have to be enough people who can beat him on events so that when he doesn’t win he’s more than 5 or 10 points behind. But who does that group consist of?

Dubai has shown us that at least four men are ready to be in that group alongside Pat, Brent, and a few others...

  • Bjorgvin Karl Gudmundsson is not an unfamiliar name with four consecutive top 10 finishes at the Games, but I was impressed with his ability to hang in there with Fraser on more events this year than we’ve seen him do in the past. He’s continuing to improve and is certainly going to be lurking around the top 10 once again come August.
  • Willy Georges made a name for himself at the Games this past year, but sometimes we can’t be sure how good someone is after one good week. He backed that performance up in Dubai with 8 out of 10 finishes in the top 6 and being in a podium spot throughout each of the final three days. He has one or two holes yet to fill in, but what I saw this weekend is a young man with talent and potential. If everything stays on track, expect to see him in that final heat in 8 months.
  • Travis Mayer narrowly missed the Games last year, but since then he’s won the Granite Games, won the Team Series with Noah Ohlsen, and now taken a very respectable 4th place finish at Dubai. His best event finish was on event 10 (second place), a devastating combination of movements which really showcase his well-rounded pursuit to be in this elite group. I am hopeful Travis figures out how to navigate this season and get to the Games, because when he’s able to, he’s proven that he can hang with the best of them. (He’s been 10th and 12th at the Games the last two times he’s qualified).
  • And finally, Roman Khrennikov. At last we got to see him compete with the best in the sport. He’s shown that he isn’t ready to challenge Fraser quite yet, but he also demonstrated his potential. With an event win and two second place finishes the ability to compete with the best on multiple events is impressive. We’ll definitely be seeing more of him throughout the season, and hopefully he’ll find a way to get to Madison later this year because he is certainly good enough to be there.

I’m hopeful that in the new format we’ll see this group, plus others like Ohlsen, Cole Sager, Lukas Hogberg and Jacob Heppner each earn a trip to the Games. And that perhaps, with all of these men getting better and better, they’ll have a chance together, to give Mat something to think about next August.

Setting the Stage

With the conclusion of the Dubai CrossFit championships this new era of the CrossFit Games season has officially begun. There are 14 more sanctioned events scheduled between now and the end of June, the Open will take place over 5 weeks in February and March, and it all culminates in what will be a very new CrossFit Games experience the first week of August.

Dubai has set the standard in a spectacular way. All eyes now turn to the upcoming events in Miami, Queensland, and Cape Town that will take place in January. Where we’ll continue to see talented fields of athletes, diverse programming, and the global community of enthusiastic CrossFit fans come together to celebrate the sport that represents the lifestyle we’ve all come to know and love!

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