Image Credit: Adnan Karimjee – DFC
The 14th stop of the offseason tour brings us to the 11th edition of the Dubai Fitness Championship in the United Arab Emirates. My first trip here came back in 2019, I was invited back last year to do the commentary alongside Derek Forrest, and the pair of us returned this season to bring you all the action. It truly is the thing I love the most when given the opportunity and I am grateful to Saud, Diego, Mohammed, and everyone involved in putting this competition together while continuing to trust me to be a part of it.
Arrival and the Dubai Mall
A delay during a layover on the way over meant I got in even later than planned, thankfully the room was waiting and I could sleep in as long as needed. Missed breakfast that morning, but it ended up being alright as I ran into two friends in the lobby in Diego and Mohammed. After an hour or two of conversation catching up on the past year, Mohammed took me to see his new business venture, and then to Dubai Mall, which I had not been to in either of my previous trips to Dubai.
It is my understanding that the Dubai Mall is too big to fully appreciate in one day, so we did not attempt to. Instead we had a nice lunch under the looming shadow of the Burj Khalifa (crazy to think that last year we were on top of that building). Upon returning to the hotel I saw Saud, the competition director for DFC, and just like we did last year, we managed to get a workout in, one of the best ways to immediately reconnect with friends you haven’t seen in a while.
Most of the time at competitions “attending” athlete check-in is mostly a worthless endeavor. If you have specific interest in a certain athlete then you can certainly try to be there to talk to them, but often times the windows allotted to do this are so long, and the number of athletes checking in are so numerous, that you end up standing around for far too long to accomplish far too little. Dubai is different.
In fact, the intimacy of the setting when the competition is at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium is such that from before the competition and all the way throughout it, most athletes, media, fans, etc, stay in the same hotel, which creates an unusual availability to interact with the athletes. It’s not the easiest place to get to for most, but if you make the trip, it can be very rewarding in that regard.
Most of the events had been announced, in part, on the DFC instagram account prior to arrival. However, in nearly every case their were details intentionally omitted which created a certain amount of suspense and anticipation as Saud began to address the athletes on Thursday evening.
He always begins with the rules, and what I love about them is that they are no nonsense. He has a few simple rules which are black and white. He states them clearly. Asks if there are questions, and moves on. No time wasted. No room for misinterpretation.
When he gets to the events you immediately begin to see who the Dubai veterans are, and who is likely competing for the first time. There are no coaches in the briefing, and only the internal media. So any questions are coming from athletes themselves.
The first two events are announced as offsite, and the format elicits some uncertainty amongst a few athletes: primarily that they won’t have any opportunity to practice the obstacle course before their start time, and that they will only have one weight to attempt for each of the two Olympic lifts.
As Saud moves through the remainder of the previously announced events a few questions arise for each one, but the primary concern seems to be for day one. The briefing wraps up and everyone gets ready for an early start on Friday.
Friday: Day One
Buses were loaded early and made the drive to the UAE Swat Training Center. The Gulf Fitness Championship team competition athletes were already there and were meant to start very early on the course, but due to condensation on several of the implements the officers would not let them on the course until it was dry; safety first.
Obstacle number 12 was a rolling, hamster wheel style, never ending monkey bar station. Saud challenged me to try it, and I thought it would be fun. As I jumped up and began I heard a few of the athletes calling my name, cheering you might say. However, the bars were wet and after three or fours rungs I slipped off; the cheers turned to jeers and laughter. What I was able to gather in a few seconds however was that it would be a demanding grip obstacles, and that getting a smooth rhythm with forward momentum (as opposed to side to side) was going to be key.
Eventually the GFC went, and it was team UAE who were up first. Two of their athletes, Mahmood Shalan, and Ahmad Alsehhi were extremely proficient on the course, and since all the DFC athletes were able to watch this, they gathered plenty of valuable intel about how to efficiently navigate the most foreign obstacles. The only remaining question was could they figure out how to do it when they eventually took their turn on the course.
It was a random draw for order, and the women were up first. Right out of the gates Lauren Fisher looked great until the very last obstacle, a tall wall that she failed to get up and over. Right behind her, second to take on the course, Claudia Gluck was even faster getting to the wall, and submitted it rather quickly. As the second athlete to take on the course, and the first to finish it, the early time to beat of 5:24.06 was set for the rest of the women to chase.
In total 29 women took their turn at the course, and while five other women did manage to go under 6:00, no one came within :15 of Gluck. In fact, her time would end up beating all but 5 of the men too. Fifteen of the 29 women finished the course under the 7:00 cap with a majority of those who did not getting stuck on the final wall as Fisher had. Amongst those not to finish were the top two placing women from the Games this past summer, Emma Tall (11th) and Emily Rolfe (12th). Defending champion Karin Frey had a solid start in an event which was difficult to prepare for or predict taking 5th place amongst the women.
Men Event 1
Once again a fast time was set early in the men’s field. This time is was Poland’s Bronislaw Olenkowicz who put up a nearly identical time to Gluck of 5:24.20. His time also stood for a while, until one of the men who has had ample experience on military obstacle courses in his past, Chandler Smith, posted a time of 5:05.20.
Several others took a run at Smith’s time, including Serbia’s Lazar Dukic (5:10.58), Ireland’s Michael Smith (5:14.98), and Spain’s Javier Gonzalez (5:23.82). However, it was the second to last man on the course, and the competition favorite, Roman Khrennikov who not only beat Smith’s time, but left no doubt. He came across the line with a ferocious yell in 4:34.81 sending an ominous message to his competitors and following it up with a simple quote in a post-event interview: “I’m sorry.”
Whereas nearly half of the women’s field failed to finish under the 7:00 cap, that was only the case for 3 men, however, the 3 men to whom that happened was quite surprising as all of them are both experienced and amongst the fittest on earth: Ricky Garard, Moritz Fiebig, and Girogos Karavis. With Khrennikov, Smith, and Lazar Dukic off to a hot start, it would be a big hole for these three to attempt to climb out of over the remainder of the competition.
Event 2: Olympic Lifting Total
Athletes, media, judges, and the like made a nearly half an hour journey across Dubai to the recently renovated Dubai Police Training Academy. Saud himself was involved in creating this state of the art training center for the Dubai Police and selected it as one of the offsite locations to highlight the way fitness is being integrated into the police force in Dubai. Once again the GFC athletes lifted first setting the stage for a tense Olympic Lifting Total test due to the fact that each athlete could declare one weight to snatch, one to clean and jerk, and would have one minute and a maximum of three attempts to either hit it or not.
There were only two platforms set up for this event- one for the women, and one for the men. Once the final weight declarations were in, athletes were called in order from lightest declared weight to heaviest with one male and one female athlete lifting at the same time.
When it was your turn to lift the declared weight was set for you. At the call of 3-2-1 GO you had a 1:00 window within which to attempt the lift UP TO three times. If you hit it in your first attempt you would of course get credit for the weight, but in addition got a secondary score of ‘9 points’. If you hit it in your second attempt, ‘6 points’, and on the third attempt ‘3 points’. The points would only come into play if two or more athletes had the same total at the conclusion of both the snatch and the clean and jerk.
Of all the athletes to attempt a snatch, only Alex Kotoulas failed to hit his declared weight in the 1:00 interval, which all but guaranteed him a bottom finish. The day was proving more and more to not just be about fitness, but applying it without error.
In terms of the biggest lifts, Mia Hesketh snatched 87 kgs and Karin Frey followed that up with 90 kgs for a 3 kg lead after the snatch. On the men’s side, Bronislaw Olenkowicz and Griffin Roelle had made a gentleman’s agreement that the rest of us can only smile and laugh about- a conservative 135 kgs, which they both hit in one attempt.
The Clean and Jerk
One of the strongest athletes on the men’s side of the field, was also one with perhaps the least recent elite competition experience, Kristof Horvath. Prior to the event he told me his intentions were to go for it, that’s what competition is about. After snatching 130 kgs putting him near the top of the men’s field after the first lift, he had the heaviest declared weight for the clean and jerk at 170 kgs. He gave it two valiant attempts during the 1:00 window and gave the barbell a smirk on his way off the platform. A successful lift there would have tied him for the overall win at 300 kgs. Alas, he did not hit it, so he lost out on 90 points and some event win cash there.
The same two men, Olenkowicz and Roelle ran back their friendly agreement and successfully hit 165 kgs towards the end of the proceedings to split the event win on that number of 300 kgs.
Fiebig, who took third to those two, and Garard, who took sixth on the lifting total, began their climbs back up the leaderboard. Lazar Dukic (13th) and Roman Khrennikov (8th) made rather conservative lifts knowing that giving up a couple places would be far better than giving up 60-80 points with a missed lift.
For the women it came down to Frey and Hesketh once again, and after Frey hit 110 kgs on her second attempt and Hesketh followed it up with 112 kgs, it was just 1 kg separating Frey (200 kgs total) from Hesekth (199 kgs total) atop the standings.
After no women missed on the snatch, three of them missed on the clean and jerk (while Argentinian Alexia Williams did not lift at all and would eventually withdraw prior to event 3). Hannah Karlsson. Tayla Howe, and Devyn Kim were the three others who missed, all of whom were in line for a top 10 finish with a successful lift.
Event 1 winner, Claudia Gluck, had a clean run en route to a 12th place finish at 182 kgs showing some improvements in the strength department. Italian Elisa Fuliano capped off a smooth showing on day one with a sixth on the Obstacle Course and a fourth place on the lifting at 194 kgs putting her in a great overall position after two events.
Day One “Livestream”
The DFC is one of the biggest competitions every year, bringing elite athletes from around the globe and offering a prize purse very few competitions can match. Choosing to have two unique and entertaining events offsite without a formal broadcast certainly was met with some scrutiny by the global viewers hoping to watch the athletes in action.
Personally, I don’t think it always makes sense to do a full broadcast of offsite events for several reasons (that’s not to say it should never be done), but if possible to make some efforts to see elements of what took place exists it’s perfectly fine to pursue that.
If you missed it, I did a livestream of most of the action from the day which can be found here:
- Obstacle Course, first dozen women
- Obstacle course, last half dozen women, all men
- Snatch, last half of the field
- Clean and Jerk, full field
We also did a post production edit to give some insights from the athletes throughout the day:
Day One Thoughts
Event Director Saud Al Shamsi places a high premium on the athlete’s ability to perform under pressure. He recognizes and understands that there is a mental element to the sport of fitness that can and should be tested in addition to the physical ability of the athletes. The first day of competition this year was all about that, and I don’t have any problem with it. Even more so because this was an invite only competition, with cash prizes available on every event.
In speaking with many of the athletes, they understand what is being tested and why, and although many of them do wish they had a second or third chance to lift, or a chance to practice the Obstacles before going on their official run, they are okay with the fact that they didn’t, understanding the playing field was the same for everyone, and the ability to execute under pressure is absolutely something they prepare for.
Part 2 coming soon.