The Affiliate Cup: Europe has arrived, the British are arriving


Photo credit: photograph by flsportsguy via CrossFit Games (instagram.com/flsportsguy)

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With the dates of the 2022 CrossFit Games season announced and the Affiliate Cup remaining in play, let’s get back to the top of the 2021 Games rankings. It promises to be much more international, with a strong European presence. On closer inspection, it appears that the UK teams are making significant gains in the European rankings.

For the 2021 CrossFit Games season, we have seen the return of the Affiliate Cup and with it we have seen a break from the long-standing dominance of North American teams in the upper echelons of the Games rankings.

Yes, CrossFit Mayhem has stepped onto the podium for the fifth time, but if we look at the flags of the top 10 teams this year, it’s definitely more international than in the past.

Region 2021 2019 2018 2017 2016
North America 4 8 9 ten 6
South America 0 0 0 0 0
Europe 4 1 0 0 2
Asia 0 1 0 0 1
Africa 0 0 0 0 0
Oceania 2 0 1 0 1
Chart: Top 10 CrossFit Games Affiliate Cup by Region

During the Sanctionals, the 2019 season and the ill-fated 2020 season, teams were geographically free to build and compete as they saw fit, and you could argue that North America’s strength in the sport of fitness would allow more teams from that region do both at the Games and excel once there.

However, even in 2017 and 2018, when teams were required to “mainly train in the same gym,” we saw almost complete, if not complete, dominance of North America in the final top 10.

Fast forward to 2021 and it looks very different. Europe placed four of its 10 teams in the top-10 and three in the top-5. Nordic CrossFit were back in the top 10 for the first time since 2016, joined by another Scandinavian team CrossFit Oslo in 2sd. France starts on the podium with CrossFit Genas during movement training (CrossFit Surbiton) finished in 4e. Oceania managed an impressive conversion of their three teams to two top 10 rankings – Plus64 CrossFit (6e) and CrossFit Urban Energy (7e); CrossFit on the sidelines were just outside in 11e.

There is a reasonable assumption that the long recognized strength of the European field forges strong teams as well as individuals; but the author, who would like to back this up with data, will take a more general look at Europe and more specifically at a wave of teams from the UK, which sent three of the 10 European teams to the Games and had a presence even stronger in the semi-finals.

The golden age of CrossFit

In the “golden age” of the Regionals (2014-2018), the British representation in the Regionals was omnipresent and in 2018, at the European Regionals, the United Kingdom had 10 impressive teams on the ground in Berlin. Despite this, no British team made the trip to Madison that year and CrossFit JST remained the only team to reach the top of the sport.

Fans and contestants alike wouldn’t mind seeing this 2018 increase in regional representation as the looming dawn of more British teams at the Games. However, with the imminent reshuffle of the season’s structure, the rulebook has been rewritten and the British squad scene has receded somewhat.

There were still UK-based teams vying for the sacred top spots at the Sanctionals. The athlete program, led by longtime captain Mike Catris has landed at least 4 podiums over the two seasons and JST competition managed to secure a qualifying spot in Reykjavik in 2019. However, we can’t ignore that while the Sanctionals circuit offered an exciting opportunity to travel and compete in amazing places across the world, the only spot in qualification, the likely inclusion of international super-teams and increased travel costs have potentially deterred, if not excluded, more traditional UK teams from affiliates.

Restructuring of the 2021 Games and beyond

Fast forward to the end of the CrossFit Games Open 2021 and things looked very different on the squad side for the UK, and were only expected to continue until the quarterfinals approached.

Now back under the Affiliate Cup structure and with the top 10% of the best teams in Europe eligible to advance to the quarter-finals, UK affiliate teams represented 24% of eligible teams; even eclipsing Sweden with 11 teams that have a long-standing presence on regional podiums with CrossFit Fabriken.

Teams Denmark (6) and Norway (5) all advanced to the semi-finals while the UK saw 12 teams advance, further increasing their dominance on the competition roster. The European teams would then be split between CrossFit Lowlands Throwdown and CrossFit German Throwdown – both delivered virtually.

Norway and Sweden would both send teams to the Games, while Denmark, Finland and France have one team each.

Three British teams made it to the Games, by far the best performance to date. The athlete program from CrossFit Aylesbury, allowed Catris and Charlotte Spence to convert their multiple Sanctionals podiums with the help of Maddy Harris and Owen Roberts. AOD Fitness, comprised of Harry Kean, Michael Allen, Helen Nutter and Georgia Radley, all training on BluePrint CrossFit presented a strong showcase throughout the season with promising individual performances on the National Tour suggesting the future is bright in the West Midlands as well.

Movement, from CrossFit Surbiton, teamed up during the 2020 season. A match made at Swiss Apline Battle, Games Vetrans Jeremy Reijnders and Nienke van Overveld from Vondlegym have moved to live and train in London with Harrison Bell and Grace Lilley of Motion . Delivering eight top 10s in all 13 Games events, including a victory in Event 10 (pegboard and worm squats) showing both no individual holes and exquisite teamwork that even Mayhem couldn’t match!

To conclude, it must be recognized that the 2021 season has remained hampered by confinements and closures of gymnasiums of varying levels depending on the country. Hopefully we will see teams from all over the world regain their strength and fully participate in the 2022 season, qualify for the Games and fight for those podium spots!

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