One of the developments that had the biggest impact on CrossFit since its inception in 2000 in Santa Cruz, California, had nothing to do with an athlete or competition. In fact it was one headline, seven words, that had a monumental effect on the branded fitness regime during its infancy and start-up phase. A 2005 article in The New York Times, by Stephanie Cooperman, had a rather inflammatory headline — “Getting Fit, Even if It Kills You”. The article went on to suggest the workout regime was dangerous. Even putting aside the fact that all sports are dangerous, even non-contact ones like running and biking, it's still easy to see how CrossFit got the short end of the stick on this one. CrossFit founder Greg Glassman told the Post that they “still haven’t recovered” from the piece to this day, and are still fighting the stigma that CrossFit is dangerous, injury prone and filled with cult-like members. In 2015, 10 years after, The New York Times wrote another piece: “When Some Turn to Church, Others Go to CrossFit”. Once again the headline did the sport no favours, but it’s a lot more positive, showcasing how some people have found solace, fitness and well-being outside religion. Mainstream media’s aversion towards CrossFit is understandable — branded fitness regimes like PX90, Tough Mudder and most recently Peloton and its much maligned commercial — are all easy to take shots at. People buy products and sign up for classes and don T-shirts looking for community, acceptance and social status as much as health and wellness. But in maligning people’s push to get fit, however misguided, we are taking a shot at a certain aspect of society we should probably be taking out of our cynical scope, rather than zeroing in on it. When it comes to the sport itself, three names dominated and one of them will have the chance in 2020 to be immortalised as the best CrossFit athlete of all time. Mat Fraser has taken the last four CrossFit Games titles in the men’s division dating back to 2016, and before that he came second in 2014 and 2015. His demeanour is one of all business — a man on a mission, driven by the undying goal of being the fittest and readily, willingly testing himself against the best. Fraser has become an icon of the sport, showing everyone what it takes to remain at the top, and in the age of YouTube and social media, which CrossFit has embraced wholeheartedly in the absence of mainstream media coverage — his entire life and philosophy are right there for your viewing pleasure. Fraser and his followers online will also be salivating in 2020 for one reason. If the American wins his fifth straight CrossFit title, he will pass the sport’s other icon, Rich Froning, who won four straight titles from 2011 to 2014, and has since won four team titles as well. When the sport was just getting started, he provided its first star and has embraced his role as icon, spokesperson, and ultimately, de facto brand ambassador. Punch his name into YouTube, and you will find thousands of videos featuring him as well as a full-length documentary Froning: The Fittest Man in History . The final icon of the sport is one still in the making: Australia’s Tia-Clair Toomey. Her story is the most endearing. A three-time defending champion, she was the runner-up twice, like Fraser, but her missteps were quite publicly plastered over two documentaries. Finally overcoming a mental hurdle which featured self-sabotage and self-doubt, it now looks like 2020 and her fourth straight CrossFit Games title is a foregone conclusion. If you’re looking for a great story of overcoming mental adversity, watching Toomey triumph in The Redeemed and The Dominant , a 2018 documentary about the 2017 CrossFit Games is not only a must-see for fans, but also a solid sporting movie with a great character arc. CrossFit’s reliance on digital marketing has made it an outlier when it comes to professional sports. While most big leagues have embraced social media because they felt obliged to, CrossFit did it because it had to. Fraser has 1.8 million followers on Instagram, but you would be hard pressed to find a lot of in-depth pieces about him from big-name media outlets. Same goes for Froning and Toomey — all have endorsement deals with companies like Nike and Reebok, but they are virtually unknown outside the sport. In May of this year, the company did one of the strangest things it’s ever done — it closed its Facebook and Instagram accounts — two of its massive bread-and-butter marketing outlets, branding Mark Zuckerberg’s social media handles as “utopian socialists”. The move was ill-timed and really did nothing but shoot CrossFit in the foot to offer up the sport as a sacrificial lamb, which in turn received zero praise and next to nothing in terms of attention. Questions about Glassman’s leadership after so many years are abound when you head to a CrossFit event and talk to those close to the sport, and one wonders if maybe it’s time for the founder to step aside and let the next generation of this sport take it in a new, fresh direction? CrossFit may never reach the heights of a mainstream sporting league. Its scope is too niche and its following too narrow. But it has found footholds across the planet in various pockets outside the US, where its mecca remains — check out its massive growth in places like Brazil, Southeast Asia and Australia if you have any doubts — and while it’s not going to become a household workout favourite, it is in no way fading away as the world continues to embrace all forms of functional, marketed fitness regimes en masse.