2023 Offseason World Tour Memoirs: Rogue Invitational (Part 2 of 2)

November 6, 202316 min read

Photo Credit: Rogue Invitational

Picking up where part one left off, part two starts with midday on Saturday and “The Duel III”.

Event 5: “The Duel III

Will Moorad Rogue 2023 1

B.Friendly Stats and Barclay Dale have already provided an in-depth analysis of this event. If you missed it, we dive into the athlete’s times and how much better (or not) they got each round, the effects of the bye on the top five ranked athletes prior to this event, and more. You can check that out here.

One common talking point about that event is how much time it took to execute it, and in particular how much time between rounds elapsed. From a viewing perspective it was without a doubt the most frustrating part of the Rogue Invitational in 2022, and this year, while it was faster, it was still an area of concern for fans both on site and at home. 

The format of the now expected “Duels” at the Rogue Invitational is fun and creates both a lot of drama, and a big potential for leaderboard shake ups. The most common “solution” I’ve heard discussed is to potentially alternate between rounds for men and women, which would allow for both scoring to have adequate time to do their job accurately, and also give the athletes the rest between rounds that the competition seems to want them to have. Logistically it would require some careful thought with regards to equipment and programming, but it’s definitely something worth considering: twice the excitement in half the time more or less. 

Saturday Night Lights

Alex Gazan Rogue 2023 1

Another feature that fans and athletes alike have come to expect at Rogue is a weightlifting spectacle on Saturday night at Dell Diamond. In 2022 this was the “Texas Oak” event which featured a one rep max clean and jerk with a strongman log. 

This year, Rogue announced a one-rep max deadlift as the Saturday night event, with no other details. Most were expecting Rogue to weave in a Strongman implement of some sort as they did last year, which certainly would have been cool, but that was not to be. 

From a data perspective, I don’t mind the traditional deadlift as a one-rep test because it’s a data point we don’t have a lot of competition data for, and at least now we do for the 37 athletes who did the event. 

The format ended up being the thing which was drawn into question however. A ladder style event is what we ended up having, and the result was a dramatic difference in the amount of work each athlete ended up doing that night.

Performing a task faster is what generally yields more points in CrossFit. However, in certain formats (AMRAPs, lifting ladders, etc) you need to do more work to earn more points. In this case, it was a lot more work. We can’t be sure because we didn’t have exact data on all these athletes prior to this event, but in many cases, athletes who did best on this were lifting several bars above 90% of their 1 rep max during this event. It is a very taxing lift to begin with at upper percentages, not just on the musculature, but on the nervous system. And, like the “Duel”, it took a long time to find the winner. 

Alternate Formats?

While the excitement was palpable inside the arena as four women successfully deadlift 400 or more pounds, and Chandler Smith hit not one, but two lifts above 600 lbs, I’ve heard many speculate as to whether this style of Deadlift Ladder was necessary for a showcase event like the Rogue Invitational. 

The two most common suggestions I’ve heard, which I do think are worth giving thought to are:

  1. An Olympic Lifting style format where each athlete declares an opening weight and gets three total attempts. In this format while you still need to lift more to get the points, everyone will at most do three lifts.
  2. Have a predetermined ladder (as they did), but the athletes get to choose where to enter. This puts it once again on the athlete to decide if they want to enter a little lighter and have more lifts, or if they want to wait until it’s heavier and limit the number of lifts they do while still potentially maximizing their points in the event. 

In the big picture, most want to see the best athletes continuing competing in the offseason as much as possible. And on the programming side, finding the balance between having a valid set of events for the desired outcome, while still preserving the athletes ability to recover and compete well at the next event on their schedule is difficult, but is probably something we need to seriously address. In the case of the deadlift event, it’s two-fold: that’s too many deadlifts and too high of a percentage, and it’s also too much of a disparity in terms of work from athlete to athlete on the middle day of a competition. 

Final Day: Sunday

Sunday was perhaps the most challenging day for the team at the Rogue Invitational as weather continued to be a factor which forced a lot of changes ranging from programming, to field of play, to timing. When everything was said and done here are the known changes which were made to the last day: 

Hulk Hands

  • Changed from walking lunges to reverse lunges in place
  • A sled push up the hill turned into a sandbag pull up the hill

Big Cat

  • 2 peg boards per round were changed to 100 feet of handstand walking per round
  • The run up and down the hill in each round was removed

The Cleanup

  • The weight was reduced from 255/175 to 225/155
  • The event was moved from the main field of play to a covered area in the concourse of the arena
  • Rather than 2 heats of 4, we had 4 heats of 5 due to the limited space in the new area

Event 7: “Hulk Hands

Dallin Pepper Rogue 2023 1

Regardless of the changes to this, it would have been my favorite event of the weekend, and as such, I’ve already done a version of it after getting back home

Making this event even more epic was the fact that it started to rain in the middle of women’s heat one. The media content coming out of this event alone is some of the coolest I’ve ever seen, and if anything the athletes rallied in the elements and were more impressive than ever. 

Event 8: “Big Cat

Danielle Brandon Rogue 2023 2

Due to the changes, we had handstand walking at the Rogue Invitational for the first time in its five-year history. The way that this one played out, we ended up with an all bodyweight event which primarily came down to the handstand walk immediately after an event which was pretty much a test of power output and strength. 

There were a lot of big moves made on the leaderboard that day, and as should be the case in CrossFit, the athletes who are most well balanced across the board capitalize most. Between these two events there were:

  • 2 women with top 5 finishes on both
  • And 5 additional women (7 total) who had top 10 finishes on both 
AthleteHulk Hands” Finish“Big Cat” Finish
Laura Horváth15
Tia-Clair Toomey52
Emma Cary46
Danielle Brandon81
Gabriela Migała28
Emma Lawson77
Arielle Loewen104

On the men’s side:

  • There were also 2 athletes who had top 5 finishes on both
  • And 4 additional athletes (6 total) who had top 10 finishes on both
AthleteHulk Hands” FinishBig Cat” Finish
Dallin Pepper14
Ricky Garard55
Jeffrey Adler68
Lazar Đukić77
Brent Fikowski86
Patrick Vellner910

It probably comes as little surprise that of the 13 athletes who were able to notch top-ten finishes on these two very different events, 12 of them finished the weekend in a top-eight overall position. Another way to say that is that 75% (12 out of 16) of the top-8 athletes finished top-10 on both of these events. 

Event 9: “The Clean Up

Jeffrey Adler Rogue 2023 1

Historically, the eventual winner of the Rogue Invitational does very well on the final event: 

YearRogue ChampionFinal Event Place
2019Tia-Clair Toomey1st
2019Mat Fraser2nd
2020Tia-Clair Toomey1st
2020Pat Vellner2nd
2021Tia-Clair Toomey1st
2021Justin Medeiros3rd
2022Laura Horvath3rd
2022Justin Medeiros5th

Heading into this year’s finale, the scenarios in the men’s field, as compared to the women’s field, were quite different. 

For the men, Vellner had 605 points and held a 65 point lead over second place Jeff Adler. The closer battle was likely going to be for the third overall spot, where fourth place finisher from the 2023 CrossFit Games, Brent Fikowski held a 10 point lead over third place finisher from the Games, Roman Khrennikov. 

  • Adler did all he could do, getting the win, and becoming the only male in the field to win multiple events (he also won the first event) at Rogue this year.
  • Khrennikov and Fikowski both made a push in the last round and finished :08 apart. Unfortunately for Fikowski, Dallin Pepper from a previous heat middle them, meaning Khrennikov exactly closed the 10 point gap. Fikowski would once again miss out on the podium, this time on a tie break (Khrennikov having won event 3, and Fikowski having zero event wins)
  • Vellner made it far more interesting than he would have wanted by taking tenth. Of the top six overall finishers in the men’s field he was the only one to finish outside the top-7 on this event. 

On the women’s side, we had not one, but two, winner take all scenarios. Horvath and Toomey-Orr were tied for 1st, while Lawson and Migala were tied for 3rd. 

  • Horvath and Toomey-Orr pulled ahead early and stayed close for a majority of the event.
  • Entering the final round they were only separated by :07. 
  • Ultimately, Horvath pulled ahead for the event win and finished :30 ahead of Toomey-Orr.
  • Lawson made a late push, passed Toomey-Orr, and took second in the event to lock up third place overall for the second year in a row at Rogue.
  • Migala did pretty well, finishing sixth, but it wasn’t enough for a podium. Nevertheless she has now had three consecutive top-5 finishes at Rogue. 
  • Six of the top seven overall finishers on the women’s field had top-6 times on the final event. 

Between the men and the women, absent Vellner, there was an exceptionally high correlation between the top overall finishers and this event. 

Terry Black’s and First Watch

There are a couple events every year that most big personalities in CrossFit are at. The Games, Rogue, and Wodapalooza. Generally speaking, the more of those people who are there the less of them I’m able to see and spend time with, which I never like. But there’s limited time, and everyone 

This time my priority was to try and have a meal with Justin Cotler who is a dear friend and had been going through a rough period personally. He is about as social as they come, so it was no surprise that a meal with him turned into a meal with many others as well – which was great, not only to see him having fun, but to spend time and catch up with a big group (and several other groups) who all decided that Terry Black’s was the place to be Sunday Evening! 

The following morning I was fortunate enough to have breakfast with another close friend in Facundo, who brought two of the athletes he was there coaching, Karin Frey and Lazar Dukic. Both of whom are absolutely lovely to be around, and as a little bonus, it was Lazar’s birthday. I had celebrated with them in Madrid, where they both won, and despite the fact that Rogue didn’t go as well for either of them, breakfast was just as enjoyable.

The final part of my time in Austin was spent with Patrick Clark at a coffee shop. We both got a little work done and talked about the past and future. He and I have been intertwined within this space for several years now, and we aren’t anywhere near done yet. It was a perfect end to an awesome Rogue Invitational weekend. 

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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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