Another action-packed CrossFit season is in the books. The 2023 year in CrossFit included many changes, from the first woman in six years not named Tia-Clair Toomey-Orr taking home the Games crown to the first woman ever to coach an athlete to Individual victory at the Games (spoiler: those women are Laura Horvath and Caroline Lambray, respectively).
The 2023 CrossFit Games crowned anointed new Fittest on Earth® in the Individual Women’s, Individual Men’s, and Team divisions, while many in various Age Group and Adaptive divisions continued their reigns. In 2023, CrossFit wasn’t only about the Games. Here’s how the excitement shook out across the whole of 2023 through the lens of BarBend‘s top 10 CrossFit athletes:
[Related: 2024 CrossFit Games Season Schedule Revealed]
Laura Horvath had a phenomenal year. She became the Fittest Woman on Earth® for the first time and successfully defended her Rogue Invitational title in dramatic fashion — she beat Tia-Clair Toomey-Orr in the final moments of the last event to take home gold.
Horvath’s dominance wasn’t only in CrossFit competitions. She won the 2023 Hungarian Weightlifting National Championships (HWNC), competing in the 76-kilogram weight class. She totaled 215 kilograms (474 pounds) and set a new Hungarian National Record in the clean & jerk with a 120-kilo (264.6-pound) lift.
With such a dominant year under her belt, all eyes are on Horvath heading into the 2024 CrossFit season. If 2023 was any indication, her performances should be electrifying.
This woman is the G.O.A.T., plain and simple. With six consecutive CrossFit Games crowns on her resume, Toomey-Orr is the winningest CrossFit Individual athlete of all time. The Australian phenom paused her 2023 CrossFit season to give birth to her first child, Willow. A mere five months later, Toomey-Orr returned to competition with power and style.
Toomey-Orr hadn’t stepped onto the competition floor since bowing out after the 2023 Quarterfinals — yes, she advanced to the 2023 Quarterfinals while pregnant — but that didn’t stop Toomey-Orr from finishing second at the 2023 Rogue Invitational a mere few months after giving birth.
Toomey-Orr and Horvath traded the overall lead at the Rogue Invitational all weekend long — they were tied for first heading into the final event. Toomey-Orr didn’t even wear a weightlifting belt to help her lock up fourth place in the Max Deadlift event — no belt was required for her to pull 16 heavy barbells, the last of which weighed 405 pounds.
Toomey-Orr is aiming to return to the 2024 CrossFit season and will undoubtedly seek to reclaim the Games title from Horvath. It’s a match-up fans clamor to see, and it’s sure to bring fireworks.
In the history of the CrossFit Games, every Individual athlete who has stood atop the podium has been coached by a man. In 2023, coach Caroline Lambray changed that, becoming the first woman CrossFit coach to have her athlete crowned Fittest on Earth®. Her athlete? The 2023 CrossFit Games champ (and her romantic and business partner) Jeff Adler.
Lambray’s programming dramatically changed Adler’s approach to fitness, helping him become more mobile and more precise and tremendously improving his endurance. These factors were ultimately what led Adler to rack up high-ranking event finishes en route to the 2023 Games win.
While the Games famously pay out their women and men athletes the same, the sport is not without its biases — evident in Lambray being the first woman to achieve this victory after so many years. After so much upheaval in recent years about anti-Black racism and sexism at the top of CrossFit leadership, Lambray navigating the space as a woman of color adds even more power to her accomplishment.
It’s worth noting that the second spot on the Men’s podium — occupied by Pat Vellner — was also coached by a woman, Michele Letendre. Letendre has been the force behind Vellner’s three Games podium finishes over the last five years.
Like the Women’s division, the Men’s Individual division of the CrossFit Games also played host to a major shake-up at the top of the leaderboard. Under the direction of his coach and partner Lambray, Adler far exceeded his previous career-best finish at the Games — fifth place — to be crowned Fittest Man on Earth®, unseating two-time champ Justin Medeiros for the title.
Adler displayed an impressive boost to his running game at the 2023 Games. Previously known primarily for his strength, Adler smoked the competition in events featuring running and endurance, smiling and asking the crowd, “Bet you didn’t know I could run, huh?” after his first-place finish in “Helena.” He also took second in the next event, “Cross-Country 5K,” largely thanks to Lambray’s endurance programming.
Adler followed up his consistent performance at the Games with an equally impressive showing at the 2023 Rogue Invitational, where he finished in second place. Though he finished behind his fellow Canadian, Pat Vellner, at the Rogue, Adler still bested rival Roman Khrennikov, who placed third at both the Games and the Invitational.
Casey Acree is one of the most dominant athletes in CrossFit history. In 2023, the number one-ranked Men’s Upper Extremity athlete in the world maintained his first-place spot across every single phase of the CrossFit season. Just as he did in 2021 and 2022, Acree ranked first in the world in Men’s Upper Extremity through the Open and Semifinals (CrossFit does not host Quarterfinals for Adaptive athletes).
When he got to Madison, Acree swept every event for his division. He left absolutely no doubt of his impending victory, establishing a perfect score of 800 points while his closest competitor, France’s Alexis Fiorucci, scored 460 points.
The year wrapped up with an announcement from CrossFit that the Age Group and Adaptive divisions would no longer compete as part of the CrossFit Games. In 2024, WheelWOD will be in charge of the entire Adaptive season.
So, Acree has officially wrapped up a sweep of the entire history of the CrossFit Games for his division. He will forever remain the champ of the Games — and if he decides to compete in WheelWOD 2024, he’s sure to be the athlete to beat.
Six-time CrossFit Games Age Group champion Susan Clarke doesn’t define retirement like most people. In 2021, Clarke won her fifth consecutive CrossFit Games in her Age Group division and subsequently announced her retirement from the sport. In 2023, the champ returned.
At 64 years old, Clarke was on the older edge of the Women’s 60-64 division, but that didn’t slow her down in the slightest. With her sixth Fittest on Earth® title, Clarke became one of the winningest athletes in CrossFit history — tying legend Toomey-Orr for the most Individual division wins ever.
One of the youngest Individual athletes on the field, Canadian teen Emma Lawson became the youngest Individual woman to podium at the CrossFit Games. She took second place at the 2023 Games, behind Horvath and ahead of American Arielle Loewen.
After finishing the 2023 Open third worldwide and claiming fourth at the North American East Semifinal, Lawson set the stage for a promising Games performance. All eyes not on Horvath were on Lawson throughout the competition, especially after Lawson blazed to a first-place finish at the weekend’s opening event, “Ride.”
Lawson’s second-place rank at the Games was a four-place improvement on her sixth-place finish at the 2022 Games. If that jump is any indication, Lawson will remain a Games podium contender in 2024.
Patrick Vellner is arguably the fittest man on earth who’s never been crowned the Fittest Man on Earth®. He took the podium for a ride in 2023, coming in second place at the Games for the third time in his career — and that wasn’t the end of the Canadian’s season.
Vellner won the 2023 Rogue Invitational, taking home his second career victory in that contest (his first was in 2020). Though Vellner started with an unflattering 13th-place finish in the opening event of the weekend, Vellner did what Vellner does — steadily climbed his way up the leaderboard. He finished the weekend 20 points ahead of second-place finisher Jeff Adler.
Vellner undoubtedly hopes to maintain his momentum and bring the same energy to the Games in 2024. With coach Letendre in his corner, Vellner will undoubtedly continue to be a top pick to win the Games.
In 2022, team CrossFit Invictus battled their way to first place at the CrossFit Games after a disappointing 19th-place finish in 2021. In 2023, the team out of San Diego, CA, brought their second Affiliate Cup home from the CrossFit Games.
CrossFit Invictus podiumed in 2019 and 2022. This was their first time on top since their only other first-place finish at the 2014 Games.
After 2014, Invictus — and the rest of the teams at the Games each year — were supplanted by the dominance of CrossFit Mayhem Freedom (CMF). With the exception of 2017, Mayhem Freedom won each year from 2015 to 2022. When CMF leader Rich Froning retired from the Team division, Invictus rose to the top.
While teams at the Games rarely stay the same year after year, Invictus stuck with its third-place squad after the 2022 season. Throughout 2023, Jorge Fernandez, Joshua Al-chamaa, Brittany Weiss, and Devyn Kim trained together to up their game.
Invictus had a dominant performance throughout the Games weekend, winning three events and all but locking up the overall win before the final event began. They’d had to rank 15th or better in the final event to step atop the podium. They didn’t finish outside the top 10 in any event during the competition.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t include 10-time CrossFit Games vet Noah Ohlsen on this list. Ohlsen is well-known as one of the most spirited athletes at the Games, frequently finishing events before doubling back to cheer on his competitors who are approaching the time cap.
One of the most storied athletes in the game, Ohlsen brought his career as an Individual competitor to a close in 2023, finishing what he said would be his final Games as a solo athlete with an impressive 16th place.
Outside of the Games, Ohlsen teamed up with CrossFit powerhouses Chandler Smith and Tola Morakinyo for the Down Under Championships, where the Ombrè Hombres landed on the podium with a third-place finish.
Ohlsen is likely to continue competing in team competition and further supporting his fellow competitors, both past and present. It’ll be fun to see what 2024 brings for Ohlsen.
Onward to 2024
The 2023 CrossFit season was action-packed and filled with historical upsets. With the 2024 CrossFit Open on the horizon — workout 24.1 will be released on Feb. 29, 2024 — many athletes on this list will continue their trends toward victory. The question now is which athletes will push them off this list in 2024?
Featured Image: @lambrayliving / Instagram