2023 Offseason World Tour Memoirs: Dubai Fitness Championship (Part 3 of 3)

December 20, 202316 min read

Image Credit: Athlete’s Eye Photography

Read Part 1 

Read Part 2

Day Three: Sunday

Five scored events are in the books, three scored events remain, and beginning the day the athletes once again were aware of two of them, and were in the dark about what the final would be. 

Another wrinkle which was announced originally on a B.Friendly Fitness podcast, and later on the DFC Instagram, is that the 2023 version of the competition would have two rounds of cuts:

  • After event 6, the first event on Sunday, the field would be cut down to 20 athletes
  • After event 7, before the final, the field would be cut down to 10 athletes. 

Cuts have been a part of the sport of CrossFit for a long time, and have a storied history which some people are big supporters of, some are big opponents of, and most fall somewhere in between. 

One of the critical ways in which cuts affect competition is the balance of what is tested before they happen, compared to what is tested after they happen. And, sometimes just as importantly, is how they alter scoring systems, which end up weighting different events more heavily than others for those who do make it through until the end of the competition. Keeping that in mind, let’s turn our attention back to the final day of action. 

Event 6: The DFC Original Challenge

There are several movements which are historic and associated with the DFC, three of them in particular that would be featured in this event are A Jumps, Deck Squats, and Devil’s Press. 

The workout itself was a down and back chipper of calories on a ski erg, A Jumps, single arm devil’s press, deck squats, and a set of 10 bar muscle ups in the middle. At the very end of the competition Roman Khrennikov admitted in an interview that he knew how badly this one would hurt and didn’t really even want to do it. Of course, he, and the rest of the athletes, did do it, and as always, it elicited some impressive performances. 

Kriger Training Partners Dual

In the final heat of women, a classic back and forth battle between training partners Andrea Solberg and Seher Kaya unfolded as the two Kriger Training athletes exchanged the lead on each implement on the way back down the pyramid style chipper. In the end Kaya beat Solberg by 12 seconds to notch her fist event win of the competition. Solberg continued to be impressive in the tennis stadium with four straight top seven finishes, and overall competition leader Karin Frey continued her streak of top five finishes placing third. 

Dukic Calls His Shot Again

For the second time in the competition Lazar Dukic predicted an event win for himself, and once again he was correct. It was his third event win of the competition through six events, and although Garard finished second, it was behind one of the guys he could not afford to keep losing points to. Alex Kotoulas continued his climb back up the boards after his missed snatch placing third, while Khrennikov stayed steady at the top with a fourth place finish. 

The only notable thing not related to the athlete’s performance is that the ski erg was a late substitute for the Technogym SkillMill runners which were meant to be used at the beginning and end of the chipper. Although it would have been great to see the Technogym equipment in action, I think this was a good last minute change for two reasons:

  1. The runners were not all operating perfectly following being used heavily at a community erg challenge and the GFC competition earlier in the day and it would have been risking an inconsistent experience lane to lane. 
  2. The ski erg took less time than the runners would have (and half of the total athletes, 15 women and 10 men, were capped anyway.
  3. The pulling offered some balance to the programming in terms of upper body pulling as opposed to the runner which would have created even more leg fatigue in a competition that to this point already featured a high volume of jumping and squatting.

Event 7: Grit and Grapple

For the remaining twenty athletes in each division the seventh event featured a 21-15-9 format of power cleans and farmer’s carry with the Jerry Cans (at 100 and 70 lbs) that we’ve seen used the past two years at the Rogue Invitational. 

A short and fast event is almost always fun, but not if no one is able to finish it, and not if there is a five way tie for first place, four way tie for sixth, and five way tie for 10th. Either the reps needed to be less, the time cap needed to be longer, or the tiebreaker needed to be more incremental. Anyway you slice it, what once again should have been a very fun event, was cut short of its drama and excitement because of not dialing in the details outside of simply writing a good workout. 

The ties reference were on the women’s side with Frey, Solberg, Rolfe, Angonese and Kim all finishing on the same portion of the carry. On the men’s side we did have a definitive winner in Ricky Garard who narrowly finished one extra length of carry as compared to Khrennikov, who was one rep ahead of Kalyan Souza, who was one rep ahead of Lazar Dukic. In Garard’s continue efforts to chase the podium he did all he could, but looked back to see strong performances once again from Khrennikov and Lazar Dukic. 

Event 8: The Final

As was the case on Saturday, the final event of the day was announced late in the day. Unlike Saturday, it included an athlete briefing for the top 10 men and women who survived the cuts. However, what was briefed ended up being slightly different than what took place on the floor (as the handstand walking course changed slightly between the original brief and the time the athlete’s competed). 

Like the opening event of the day, this was a down and back chipper. Like the opening two events from day one, it demanded a high level of execution. Unlike most of the other events from the weekend it had a massive emphasis on shoulder stamina under fatigue. 

The handstand walking course had to be done as an unbroken section both at the beginning and end of the event. In between there were moderately heavy dumbbell shoulder to overhead reps, moderate weight and volume overhead squats, and a set of ring muscle ups before doing the overhead squats and dumbbell shoulder to overhead again. All of that ended up being almost irrelevant as the only thing that mattered in the end was whether or not each athlete could execute a clean run on the handstand walk course after all the shoulder and pressing work in between. 

Women First

The original drama on the women’s side was with Karin Frey. Although she came in with a 97 point lead, she failed the opening handstand walk section a few times. If she didn’t manage to complete it a DNF would have been her score and could have opened the door for Gluck to make up the entire difference with an event win. 

Gluck and Fuliano approached the handstand walk course side by side, and both failed, multiple times. Veteran athletes Andrea Solberg, Emily Rolfe, and Mia Hesketh proved a little more patient and took the top three spots. With the scoring system now rewarding 10 point gaps per place, Solberg, with the help of Rolfe and Hesketh, had already done enough to make up the gap on Gluck for second place overall. Solberg closed with four consecutive top-3 finishes including event wins on the last two events to claim the second spot and warp up what has to be the best individual competition performance of her career. 

Karin Frey did eventually finish the first course, and finished in a five way tie for sixth with half of the field who never completed the return course. One again something you really would prefer not to see on a leaderboard at such a prestigious competition. Gluck did eventually finished and claimed the third podium spot in a performance from beginning to end that offers a lot of promise to what could be in store for her in 2024. 

Dramatic Men’s Finish?

After watching the women struggle mightily with the demand of the closing handstand walk course, and understanding the way the new points system could topple the leaderboard, there was plenty of uncertainty about how things would play out for the men as well. 

From start to finish, this event belonged to Ricky Garard. He took the lead early, did every implement unbroken and without error, finished in 4:40, and waited :50 for the next man to cross the finish line. That man was Roman Khrennikov who remained untouchable from start to finish and would reclaim his title from 2021 (he didn’t compete in Dubai in 2022); which mean the big story was where was Lazar Dukic and could he finish soon enough to fend off the charge Garard had been making. 

Lazar was in the mix with several other men, but continued to fail at the same spot on the course once, twice, three, and then four times. As Kotoulas, Olenkowicz, and then Fiebig finished the points gap had been erased. There was nothing else Lazar could do about it. However, with the lane next to him opening up he decided to use it. I’m still not sure if that is technically allowed or not, but moving one lane over, he finished the handstand course in one try. This caught my attention as you would have expected fatigue to be setting in, and it made me wonder why he switched lanes. 

After the event I went out to the floor and sure enough, in the middle of his lane, at the spot he kept failing, it was wet and sticky. Lazar handled the situation with a ton of class and congratulated Ricky on a great fight and climb back up the leaderboard. And you have to give it to Ricky, his last four event finishes were identical to Solberg (who took second on the women’s side); third, second, first, first. 

Alex Kotoulas also rebounded from that missed snatch on day one with an epic closing performance of 4th, 3rd, 5th, and 3rd to jump into the final big paying position of 6th overall. 

Final Thoughts

Though there are several things about the execution of the competition that I would have liked to see be a little smoother, it’s hard to argue with the results when everything was said and done. Roman, Ricky, and Lazar on the podium makes sense, and their performances were phenomenal. Karin Frey defended her title admirably, and even if she was deprived of the chance for more points, she was so good everywhere that it made little difference. Solberg and Gluck showed their class and were rewarded for the work they put in during the build up and throughout the weekend. 

Dubai continues to provide a unique experience for athletes, many of whom return year after year. For those who were questioning if the Dubai Fitness Championships were done after 2022, the answer is a resounding no. For those who have neglected to include them in conversations about marquee offseason events, it seems from the payouts, to the caliber of athlete, there is reason to reconsider that. 

In the pursuit of unifying the sport on a global level, it seems that has to be done. I am led to believe that the DFC will be back, and potentially with some changes for 2024, and I hope that there is a commitment to that earlier on so that athletes who passed on, or missed the chance to compete their this year, can get to one of the most influential competitions in the history of this sport, which continues to lay claim to one of the premier competitions year after year. 

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Brian Friend

Brian stumbled upon CrossFit in the Fall of 2013. He has been a writer, data analyst, content creator, commentator, and broadcast coordinator. He's worked at a majority of the largest CrossFit competitions over the last three seasons, is a regular guest on the Sevan Podcast, and has been amongst the leading sports analysts in the sport in recent years. He has a passion for advancing the sport of CrossFit, and spreading the CrossFit methodology, by living it out in both his personal and professional life.


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