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How Did Athletes Actually Qualify to the Games – Explaining the Backfilling Process

Who is going to the Games and how did they get there? This question has been a little harder to answer this season, and with backfilling in place, it can get confusing trying to understand exactly why an individual athlete qualified. Here we break down the process for you.

This season, CrossFit scrapped its usual qualification process for the Games (Regionals) and introduced the idea of Sanctionals. These are individual, independently hosted events that program their own workouts and scoring for competition.

Winners of each of the Sanctional events – elite male, female and team that is – earned an invitation to compete at the CrossFit Games. However, according to the rulebook, “If a winner of one of the Sanctionals earns a spot to compete at the Games via another route, the second-place athlete at that Sanctionals competition will earn an invitation to the Games. This process will repeat if the second-place finisher has earned a spot at the Games, and so on.”

Source: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc

Sanctionals are the last step in the qualification process to the Games. It all starts with the Open, and National Champions take priority.

“At the conclusion of the Open, athletes with the top performance across multiple workouts in their country win the competition, are crowned National Champions and qualify to compete at the Games.” – 2019 CrossFit Games Competition Rulebook

Read: every single National Champion qualifies to the CrossFit Games.

They are followed by the top 20 worldwide overall ranked athletes in the Open.


If a National Champion is also one of the top 20 worldwide overall ranked athletes in the Open, that athlete’s top 20 qualifying spot slides to the next athlete (i.e. number 21). Which means: National Champions take priority in the qualification process.

You can find all National Champions here.

Which is why the Top 20 list looks more like top 30 ish.

2019 Women’s Open Leaderboard

The blue line on the men’s and women’s worldwide leaderboard is drawn right after the 20th non-national champion athlete.

Still with us?

Here’s where the rulebook kicks in again:

“If an athlete within the top 20 is also a National Champion, CrossFit Inc. will backfill the top 20 position to the next athlete in line. If an athlete declines to compete in the Games or is a member of a team that has been invited to compete, CrossFit Inc will backfill the position to the next athlete in line.” – 2019 CrossFit Games Competition Rulebook

With top-ranked women Tasia Percevecz, Kristi Eramo, Mia Åkerlund and Alexis Johnson declining their individual invites to compete in teams, four spots on the Top 20 became available.

Their sports have been backfilled like this:

33: Colleen Fotsch (top 20)

34: Jule Nielsen (Fittest in Denmark)

35: Courtney Haley (top 20)

36: Thuri Helgadottir (top 20)

37: Jessica Coughlan (competing in a team with Project X)

38: Cheryl Nasso (top 20)

Chantelle Loehner, who was also ranked within the Top 20, failed a drug test, but the rulebook doesn’t state her position will be backfilled.

Backfilling happened on the men’s side as well. With Rich Froning competing on a team and Devin Ford declining his invite, the two Top 20 spots rippled down to:

2019 Men’s Open Leaderboard

29: Bartek Lipka (Fittest in Poland)

30: Patrick Vellner (top 20)

31: Tim Paulson (top 20)

Basically, imagine drawing that blue line a little lower every time an athlete above it declines their invitation or is a member on a team competing at the Games.


Patrick Vellner also won Wodapalooza – which happened before the Open to make things even more confusing – so technically, winning the Sanctional is his qualification to the Games.


But the Open takes priority and with Rich Froning going team, his place rippled down to Patrick Vellner, earning him qualification to the Games through the Open. This is the effect it has on the Games invitation from Wodapalooza.

The leaderboard looked like this:

  1. 1. Patrick Vellner (top 20)
  2. 2. Travis Mayer (top 20)
  3. 3. Noah Ohlsen (receives invitation to the CrossFit Games)
  4. 4. Drew Wayman
  5. 5. Saxon Panchik

Back to the rulebook:

“If a winner of one of the Sanctionals earns a spot to compete at the Games via another route, the second-place athlete at that Sanctionals competition will earn an invitation to the Games” and so on.

‘Another route’ in this case is the Open, even if it happened after the Sanctional.


Let’s take the Dubai CrossFit Championship.

The leaderboard looked like this:

  1. 1. Mathew Fraser (National Champion)
  2. 2. Björgvin Karl Guðmundsson (National Champion)
  3. 3. Willy Georges (National Champion)
  4. 4. Travis Mayer (Top 20)
  5. 5. Roman Khrennikov (Received Invite)

However, the Russian athlete announced two weeks ago that his application for a US visa was declined and he won’t be able to compete at the Games, so his invitation trickled down…

  1. 6. Streat Hoerner (Top 20)
  2. 7. Jason Smith (National Champion)
  3. 8. Connor Duddy (Received Invite)


Let’s use the CrossFit Italian Showdown as an example.

Invitations from Sanctionals follow a chronological order so, by the time the Italian Showdown came around, it didn’t matter that Roman Khrennikov won the event, as he had already qualified to the Games through the Dubai CrossFit Championship, and his invitation passed down to the next athlete that hadn’t already qualified.


It looked like this:

  1. 1. Roman Khrennikov (received invitation at the Dubai CrossFit Championship / unable to attend the Games)
  2. 2. Scott Panchik (Top 20)
  3. 3. Noah Ohlsen (received invitation at Wodapalooza, see above)
  4. 4. Lukas Esslinger (Received Invite)


This time on the women’s filed with the Rogue Invitational. The invitation to the CrossFit Games went to Rachel Garibay, who finished the Sanctional ranked 11th.

Here’s why:

  1. 1. Tia-Clair Toomey (National Champion)
  2. 2. Sara Sigmundsdottir (National Champion)
  3. 3. Annie Thorisdottir (Top 20)
  4. 4. Katrin Davidsdóttir (Top 20)
  5. 5. Kristin Holte (National Champion)
  6. 6. Kari Pearce (Top 20)
  7. 7. Brooke Wells (Top 20)
  8. 8. Dani Speegle (National Champion)
  9. 9. Kristi Eramo (Top 20)
  10. 10. Brooke Haas (Top 20)
  11. 11. Rachel Garibay (Received Invite)


If an athlete qualified to the Games through a Sanctional without having won it, it was because all athletes above him/her had already qualified via a different route (we know, it’s hard to keep track).

Think of it like this: qualifying to the Games is hierarchical:

  1. 1. National Champion
  2. 2. Top 20 overall worldwide after the Open
  3. 3. Sanctional winner

CrossFit Games scoring systemSource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc

Most athletes won’t qualify to the Games by more than one mean (finishing within the Top 20 and winning a Sanctional or being a National Champion and finishing the Open within the top 20), but it can happen.

With 28 Sanctionals scheduled for next season, the backfilling process is bound to get even more confusing, but we’ll do our best to break it down for you as things come along!

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