The first sanctioned event for the 2019 CrossFit Games season is ready to get underway. 37 men, 37 women, and 10 teams have been invited, or qualified to compete. With a substantial prize pool ($50,000 for the individual winners, $3,000 for each event winner, and over $600,000 in total prize money) the qualifying athletes are all excited, and focused, on bringing their best to Dubai. Additionally, the winners of each competition will claim the first coveted ticket to the 2019 CrossFit Games nearly 9 months before the competition kicks off at the end of July. While you may see qualifying athletes competing in other sanctioned events, and participating in the Open this March, the ability to train for that long knowing you’ve already secured a place in Madison will undoubtedly be a huge advantage.
With so much on the line at such a well-established event it’s time to focus in on the athletes with the best opportunity to do well, and possibly win, in Dubai.
- Mat Fraser
- Björgvin Karl Gudmundsson
- Travis Mayer
- Roman Khrennikov
Let’s face it. Until someone beats him, he’s the favorite in every competition he enters. As the 3-time defending champ at the Games there are few other accolades you need. However, he has plenty of others. First of all, the last time he competed in Dubai, in 2016, he won. He’s also won his Regional 5 years in a row, and has won the Worldwide Open 3 of the last 4 years. Wins are impressive, and ultimately they are what count, but perhaps even more impressive than what he’s won, is how dominating his wins have been.
His margin of victory at the Games over the last three years has grown from 197 points (2016) to 216 points (2017), to 220 points (2018). He’s winning by an average of 211 points over the second place finisher. The guys who have taken second in those years (Vellner 2018, Fikowski 2017, Ben Smith 2016) aren’t competing at Dubai.
Some, perhaps most notably Brent Fikowski and Pat Vellner, have gone on record saying they can beat Mat. But they also acknowledge that it will take a group of individuals who are all capable of executing workouts at a high level for someone to have a shot. In his “bad” events, they need to do really well, but they also need a big portion of the field to finish before Mat. If you’re trying to catch him, there is only more bad news in this regard. At the Games Mat’s worst finishes have been getting better and better. In 2016 he finished 23rd in one event, the heavy deadlift, every other finish was in the top 10. In 2017, he had a 20th on Assault Banger, every other event finish was 7th or higher. Last year, his worst event finish was 11th on the Marathon row. If you’re looking for a chance to beat him you need a competition that goes long on a rower, heavy with a deadlift, and has an unusual object with the potential for some to use unconventional methods to complete the task. Then you need to assume he hasn’t improved in those areas (by the way, he has a history of improving dramatically on the things he’s done poorly at in major competitions). And finally, you need a majority of the field to be good at all the things he’s “bad” at.
All this is to say, Mat is the champ for a reason. He’s as good as we’ve ever seen in the sport. He may have an event where he finishes middle of the pack. But unlike everyone else we’ve ever seen at the highest level, he simply doesn’t have bad events. There are plenty of top level competitors in the Men’s field in Dubai, but there is only one man who can win.
If I had to pick a man to win other than Fraser, I’d pick BKG. In Mat’s absence last year BKG won this event, finishing 47 points ahead of second place Travis Mayer. He took 7th at Dubai in 2016 (the year Mat won). He’s established himself as a regular name within the top 10 at the CrossFit Games, finishing 5th, 5th, 8th, and 3rd over the last four years.
What makes BKG so good? I think it’s a combination of his diversity, and his consistency with training. He had only one event finish outside the top 15 this past year at the CF Games (21st in the Clean and Jerk Speed Ladder*), a year which notably had a variety of workouts that featured very isolated elements of fitness (CF Total, 30 MUs, Marathon Row, skilled HS walking, etc.); so we know he can do just about anything the sport demands at the highest level.
*He missed advancing to the next round by 10ths of a second in this event.
Björgvin recognized several years ago that his biggest deficit was in the strength events. In 2015, his worst event finishes were in Heavy DT (25th, he got timecapped in this event) and the Clean and Jerk (23rd). His training has been built around improving his absolute strength, and despite the Speed Clean and Jerk result this year, I think it’s quite clear that Björgvin’s strength numbers have improved significantly (15th in CF Total this year), however, he’s still well behind the man he’ll be chasing. (Fraser was 8th in CF Total and 7th in Speed Clean and Jerk).
If BKG is healthy coming into this event, look for him to claim a podium spot in Dubai. Just not the top one.
Travis Mayer should not be underestimated. He has both experience, and success under his belt when it comes to competing in Dubai. Last year he was second to BKG. Two years ago he finished 5th.
In both 2016 and 2017 at the CrossFit Games, where he finished 10th and 12th respectively, he proved he can hang in there with the top male athletes in the sport. Although he didn’t qualify this year (finishing 6th by 10 points in the Atlantic Regional, despite a 29th place finish on Linda), he has had an impressive year. He was a valuable member of the Demo Team at the Games, and then won both the Granite Games and the Team Series male-male pairs with Noah Ohlsen. When I spoke to him congratulating him on a successful season his response was “I’m just getting started for the year.” I expect that we’ll be seeing a fit, aggressive, focused Travis Mayer in Dubai. He may not be able to win, but he certainly will be out to show, once again, that he can compete with the big names in the sport. If I had to pick a third person to be on the podium with Mat and BKG in Dubai this year, give me Travis Mayer.
The biggest unknown heading into Dubai this year is the young Russian named Roman. Last year he had a mediocre Open performance (134th worldwide, and only 4th in Russia). However, he showed up to Regionals and put on a show, winning the European Region and announcing his name to the CrossFit world. The men he beat? How about BKG, a previous podium finisher at the Games, Lukas Högberg, who stood on the podium this year at the Games, Frederik Aegidius and Adrian Mundwiler, two other previous Games athletes.
Leading up to the Games many were excited to see what he could do on the big stage, and several were picking him for a top 10 finish, with the possibility of threatening for a podium spot. I’m not sure anyone was expecting him to beat Mat, but I think there was a certain feel in the community that this may be a guy, like Ricky Garard had been in 2017, who could come in with a free-spirit and really challenge Mat in some workouts.
Unfortunately, Roman was unable to get his Visa to the US approved, and the community was robbed of the chance to see what he could do...until now. At Dubai, Roman will have his chance to compete alongside the best. He hasn’t been sitting idly by either. Since Regionals he’s been competing in several competitions, and he’s done very well. He participated in and won both the Big Games, which are Russia’s national championships, and the Gerakliada compeition, an event that also took place in Russia. He competed in the Aphrodite Games, a more well-known event, where he took second place to Jason Smith.
Jason Smith, you might recall, took 10th place at the CrossFit Games in 2017. He failed to qualify this year out of the Meridian region (perhaps because of an ankle injury, perhaps because he struggled with the bench press). If we’re looking to make any kind of relevant comparison between Roman and Mat, however, we can see that Roman lost to Jason by 2 points at the Aphrodite Games this year, while the last time Mat competed against Jason (2017 CF Games), Mat beat him by 450 points.
Most recently Roman took second place at the European Showdown finishing behind Adrian Mundwiler in early November.
So, can Roman threaten Mat in Dubai? The short answer is no. However, I do expect Roman to be competitive against the field in many of the events, and won’t be surprised if he’s in the mix coming into the final events to claim one of the other podium spots. Either way, this is a something the community has been looking forward to and, thanks to the new format, Dubai gives us all a chance to see this overdue matchup in action.
Top 10 Men’s Predictions:
- Mat Fraser
- Björgvin Karl Gudmundsson
- Travis Mayer
- Roman Khrennikov
- Willy Georges
- Streat Hoerner
- Alex Anderson
- Jason Smith
- Dean Linder Leighton
- Alec Smith