In a sport in which we often see many similar names and familiar faces clambering to the top of the leaderboard, it may be surprising to learn just how impressive rookies have been at the CrossFit Games in recent years. Since 2014, at least one rookie has stood on the podium every year.

In 2018 Laura Horvath finished second in the women’s competition; in 2017 Ricky Garard came third (although he had his medal stripped for doping); and Canadian Patrick Vellner came third in 2016.

With the addition of the national champions this year, there are over a hundred rookies joining the competition. Our goal is to narrow the focus to four rookies (two men and two women) who are most likely to continue the streak.

Dani Speegle

Not only is Speegle making her debut, she’s doing so as the national champion for the United States. No US woman has been on the podium since Julie Foucher finished third in 2014. Many people are picking top 10 mainstays Karissa Pearce or Brooke Wells to buck that trend, while others have their eyes on second year Games athlete Amanda Barnhart, but Speegle should not be discounted in the conversation.

After back-to-back top 10 finishes at Regionals in 2017 and 2018, this was a breakout year. Speegle won multiple online qualifiers, impressed at several Sanctionals, and finished fifth in the worldwide Open. She can snatch 220 pounds and walks on her hands as fast as anyone in the sport. When it comes to exciting rookies, Speegle is at the top of the list.

Karin Freyova

Freyova is the four-time reigning fittest woman in Slovakia and she’s only 24 years old. Her Open placements have been trending healthily over those four seasons, culminating with a 12th-place finish worldwide this year. Last year she was competitive at the European regional, where she finished seventh, one spot ahead of Thuri Helgadottir, in a stacked women’s division (10 of the top 11 women from that division will be at the Games this year).

We only saw Freyova compete in one sanctioned event this season and it was back in December at the Dubai CrossFit Championships. That women’s field was very deep and as the top women stood on the starting mats for the final event, Freyova, along with Games powerhouses Sam Briggs, Jamie Greene, and Sara Sigmundsdottir, were all within a handful of points. a Freyova would end up faltering and finished fourth in the competition, but the experience of being in the final heat alongside women of that calibre primes her nicely for Madison.

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Chandler Smith

Until this year Smith was most well known for two things that had nothing to do with the CrossFit Games. One was ripping through sets of heavy dead lifts on the 2016 Regional floor in an epic race with then reigning fittest man on earth Ben Smith (Chandler finished ninth at Regionals that year), and losing a portion of his finger the following year in an incident involving a tank while he was on military duty.

This year, Smith is back onto the competition floor in many capacities. He’s been on teams who have done well (second in Dubai, third in Wodapalooza), he placed 40th worldwide in the Open (a career best, and he earned an invite to the CrossFit Games at the Rogue Invitational by finishing fifth in an elite field. That performance was impressive, but the significance goes beyond the floor. Before the injury to his finger he had an infectious swagger and confidence. Having done so well against such a talented field it appears his confidence and self belief have returned. If that is the case, Smith will be among the most captivating and impressive competitors on the floor.

Bayden Brown

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Brown fits the profile of an athlete worth watching. He’s competed at the Pacific Regional four times, and after participating with a team in the first three years, he placed sixth as an individual in 2018, missing out on the final qualifying spot by a mere four points.

After an impressive second-place finish behind perennial Games athlete James Newbury at the Australian CrossFit Championship, Brown paved his way to Madison by finishing 17th in the worldwide Open, which was good enough to make him the male national champion in Australia this season. His strategy since then seems to be to focusing on training for and preparing to contend at the Games. He’s a member of the CompTrain group who met in Boston this summer for the now famous camp led by coach Ben Bergeron.

Brown got experience there training and competing alongside Katrin Davidsdottir, Brooke Wells and Amanda Barnhart, all while under the watchful eye of Bergeron, the most successful coach in CrossFit Games history. The men’s field is deep and talented, but if we’re zeroing in on rookies who have the best chance to crack the top 10, or potentially even podium, there are few candidates with more appeal.