Hunter McIntyre received a wild-card invitation to the CrossFit Games starting on August 1 in Madison, Wisconsin. Most fans of the sport will be unfamiliar with the athlete, who’s made a name for himself in obstacle course racing (OCR). So who is this athlete who’s been thrown into the arena, a sacrificial lamb or a lion among men, claiming he has the other athletes running scared?

The American grew up on his country’s East Coast, developing his fitness on the trails and climbing trees. He was a champion cross-country runner and wrestler in high school. At 30 years old, he is a similar age to the other top competitors, like three time champion Mat Fraser, 29, and podium finisher Patrick Vellner, 29.

McIntyre, at 6-foot, 2 inches (1.87 metres), is the six times OCR world champion and four times national champion. OCR are long-distance races that require athletes to clear a series of obstacles, be it monkey bars, vaulting fences, lifting huge atlas stones or crawling under wire.

The range of fitness and strength needed in OCR sets McIntyre up well for the CrossFit Games, where athletes have no clue what the event will be until only a couple of days before. Competitors may have to run 10km, perform heavy weight lifts or deal with complete left field surprises, such as firing rifles after a run.

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On my way to Madison!! #crossfitgames

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The transferable skills were not lost on McIntyre who launched a petition – “Get Hunter to the Games”— when he learned about the wild-cards. He received 2,700 signatures of his target 5,000.

Some fans have criticised the decision to invite an athlete from a difference sport at the expense of a crossfitter. After all, most athletes qualified through the gruelling five-week Open, where they uploaded a weekly workout online in the hope of coming first in their nation. McIntyre came 492nd in the US and 1,092nd overall. It was a marked improvement compared with 2017 and 2018 when he came 2,773rd and 1,316th in the US respectively. He has no benchmark stats in CrossFit to compare with other athletes.

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If nothing else, McIntyre will treat the fans to a show. Naturally outgoing, on the side of arrogance, he is not afraid of the limelight. In 2014, he told Men’s Journal: “Some people just have a need to rip off their shirts and go buck wild. I’m one of those people.”

The article added that at his first Spartan race, where he came ninth despite being hungover, he was shouting at other competitors: “I am number one and you cannot take down the champ.”

McIntyre’s path to being a professional athlete was not smooth. Before OCR saved him, he found drugs at a young age, and by the time he was taking acid and mushrooms, McIntyre was in trouble with the police and frequently suspended from school. He worked as a model for Abercrombie and Fitch, but did not feel fulfilled.

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This week, everyone’s interested to see if he can back his chat. As early as May, weeks before his wild-card invitation, McIntyre was calling out other athletes, saying he had what it takes to compete at the top with the likes of Fraser.

“They’re scared. I don’t give a damn,” he told the fitness blog Morning Chalk Up.

“I know I’ve got the talent, I’ve got the strength, I’ve got the capacity, I’ve got the tenacity, I’m focused,” McIntyre said. “A real true champion athlete can walk in different directions and pretty much nail the spot if they want to.”

In between all of his boasting, there are grains of humility. McIntyre conceded that although he has the potential to be a champion crossfitter, he might not be in the correct shape yet.

“I don’t mind getting my ass beat. I love challenges,” he said in May. “I think this is a great opportunity for myself to reassess who I am as a person, define myself as a person and reinvigorate my career.”