Elite Athletes Have Their Say at FitFest UK

December 11, 20238 min read

Written by Rebecca Birch

Image Credit: NWR Productions

Note from Brian: While Patrick and I were busy in Dubai taking part in the Dubai Fitness Championship, we are grateful to Ms. Birch, and Nikolaj Ronnow, who were both on sight in Birmingham, UK to experience FitFest this weekend. 

All the content on the B.Friendly Instagram was provided by Ronnow, while Birch, a volunteer on the event team, took on the task of providing this overview of the competition and the event as a whole. We appreciate both of them for contributing to our efforts to be as involved as possible with an event running simultaneously to the DFC.

Ms. Birch: 

Split over two halls at the National Exhibition Centre in the ‘second city’ of Birmingham, FitFest 2023 delivered one of the largest functional fitness based events the UK has seen. 

Friday: Day One 

The event began on Friday with the English Weightlifting and Para Powerlifting Championships, which for the first time in its history was delivered over three competition platforms. No less than nine titles were decided on the first day, across seven different classes. 

Friday evening saw the start of the elite athlete showcase, where the three teams of six split into pairs and took on the ATHX Pro Endurance workout in mixed sex pairs. Early leaders Jelle Hoste and Kelsey Keil were quickly overtaken by Jayson Hopper and Thuri Helgadottir, with Emma Lawson & Brent Fikowski in close pursuit. With the leading pairs choosing to leave the females on the run while the males took care of business on the Machines. 

Hopper was the first to complete the erg work (1k ski / 2k row / 5k bike) and joined Helgadottir on the run, closely followed by Fikowski and Lawson, with the Canadian pair managing to finish strong and complete the run in the fastest time.

The day ended with team Brandon coming out on top in the overall standings with team Lawson second and team Wunger in third. 

Saturday: Day Two

Day two added the British Rowing Championships and the SiD Triple Threat CrossFit competition into the mix, with another 14 weightlifting classes, ATHX, and 4 elite athlete events. 

The SiD competition split Scaled, RX, RX+, and Masters categories over two days of competition, with the Scaled and RX teams taking on all four of their workouts on Saturday. The workouts were split into two sessions that were sandwiched by the elite athlete showcase events, which really drew in the crowds all the way to the end of the day. 

The first elite event of the day was a test of team coordination, with sets of 6 ground to overhead with the six person worm separated by 3 legless rope climbs for each athlete while the rest of their team held the worm. Team Brandon and team Lawson were out in front early, but there was a storming comeback by male athletes on team Wunger as they all went touch and go on the rope climbs to take the event win. 

Elite event three was the first of the weekend to be amended following discussions with the athletes, with the handstand ramps removed and replaced with backwards handstand walks due to concerns over the equipment. Athletes took on this event solo and there were no surprises when Danielle Brandon dominated the field and took the win by a clear margin. For the men it was Dalin Pepper and Brent Fikowski leading most of the way, with FIkowski taking the win from Enrico Zenoni who came in hot towards the end to overtake Pepper. 

Elite events four and five both saw close finishes and wins for team Wunger and team Lawson respectively, but it was team Brandon who maintained their position at the top of the leaderboard. 

Sunday – Day Three 

It was the turn of the Masters and RX+ athletes to take on the SiD Triple Threat competition on Sunday, alongside the final day, and 13 classes, of the weightlifting championships and the ATHX finals. Both events drew significant crowds, with standing room only at the weightlifting platforms throughout the day. 

The elite athletes took on a clean speed ladder as Event 6, with three rounds of increasing volume and decreasing reps. Emma Lawson and BKG took the first round, Jen Muir and Brent Fikowski took the second, and Kelsey Keil and Jack Farlow took the third after a tight race in the men’s field. While team Wunger took the overall win, the standout performer was Lucy McGonigle of team Lawson, the two time CrossFit Games teen champion, who took on the heaviest round for her team up against Kelsey Keil and Arielle Loewen and held her own against the senior games athletes. 

Elite event seven went through several programming iterations following discussions between the event organisers and the athletes. Due to be a showdown version of Isabel between one male and one female athlete from each team, the final version saw four athletes from each team taking on a slightly heavier bar in a tag team style waterfall format. In a super fast, super tight race, it was team Brandon who took a narrow win over team Wunger. 

The final event had all eighteen athletes back on the floor for more action on the worm and some synchro pair work. Another close race resulted in a win for team Lawson and a second for team Wunger, leaving the overall standings tied, with team Brandon taking the title on event wins over Team Lawson. 

Closing Thoughts 

FitFest certainly delivered, with National Championships for two sports set alongside community and elite CrossFit events, giving spectators plenty to enjoy under one roof.  

The showcase nature of the elite competition gave the athletes an opportunity to work with the event organisers and make changes to the workouts to suit their workload and keep things fun, albeit with a healthy competitive edge. For many of them it was a first visit to the UK, and hopefully the first of many in the years to come. 

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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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