Photo Credit: CrossFit LLC
By winning the NOBULL CrossFit Games in 2023 Laura Horvath is now the 10th woman to ever win the Games (including Jeff Adler, nine men have, for those wondering). Tia-Clair Toomey is the undisputed “Fittest” woman of all time with six individual titles and two runner up finishes over eight consecutive years at the Games. The debate for second fittest of all time is officially on.
The Two-Time Winners
Behind Toomey are two extremely talented and formidable candidates who each won back-to-back championships at one time in their career.
Annie Thorisdottir won back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012 after taking 11th as a rookie in Aromas in 2009 and second place the following year in Carson. She has 12 individual Games appearances (a record for men and women), six individual podium finishes (second in 2010 and 2014; third in 2015 and 2021). Annie is second all-time amongst women with 14 career event wins at the Games.
Katrin Davidsdottir won her two titles in 2015 and 2016 and remains the only woman to beat Toomey at the Games (which she did twice). Davidsdottir has 10 individual Games appearances and ran off six consecutive top-5 finishes (including four podium finishes) from 2015 until 2020. Davidsdottir currently has 13 career event wins at the Games, trailing Thorisdottir by one.
The 2023 CrossFit Games Champion, From the Beginning to Now
The year is 2018: Enter a 21-year old rookie from Hungary, Laura Horvath.
While all the titles the two Dottirs from Iceland accumulated came before Toomey had ever won one of her own, Horvath began her career at the Games in 2018- just as Toomey was coming off her first title and seemed to finally have the belief, to accompany the talent and hard work, that she is actually the “fittest” woman alive.
Horvath stormed the 2018 Games with a loud entrance, stringing together five consecutive finishes of 7th or better (2nd, 3rd, 7th, 4th, 1st) culminating in an event win in ‘Battleground’. Her strong start resulted in her donning the leader’s jersey for multiple events. Toomey was of course in prime form herself that year. So much so that despite a championship-caliber performance from Horvath, she came up 64 points behind the now two-time champion Toomey.
- Even with Toomey taking the win (and therefore the most points), Horvath accumulated 77.9% of the available points that season.
- This is a metric I like to track since there are variable point totals every year. With variable point totals and participants by event (and therefore variable scoring tables) it can be misleading how big of a gap a certain margin of victory correlates too. I’ve found the percentage of available points to be more telling.
For reference, Toomey had 82.4% of points available that year, and third place, Katrin Davidsdottir had 72.9% of all points available. This means the margin from Toomey to Horvath was 4.4% and the margin from Horvath to Davidsdottir was 5%. Or that Horvath was closer to Toomey than the next closest competitor that year was to her.
Percentage of Points Available: All Champions Since Scoring Change in 2011
|Male Champion||Fraser||Fraser||Fraser||Fraser||Medeiros||Medeiros||Jeff Adler|
|Male Champion Pts||1132||1162||984||1150||1234||1184||953|
|Total Points Available||1300||1400||1200||1200||1500||1400||1200|
|%age of Pts Earned||87.10%||83%||82%||95.80%||82.30%||84.60%||79.40%|
|Male Champion||Froning||Froning||Froning||Froning||Ben Smith||Fraser|
|Male Champion Pts||856||1089||962||925||915||1096|
|Total Points Available||1000||1300||1200||1200||1200||1350|
|%age of Pts Earned||85.6||83.80%||80.20%||77.10%||76.30%||81.20%|
|Female Champion||Toomey||Toomey||Toomey||Toomey||Toomey||Toomey||Laura Horvath|
|Female Champion Pts||994||1154||1071||1025||1435||1158||966|
|Total Points Available||1300||1400||1200||1200||1500||1400||1200|
|%age of Pts Earned||76.50%||82.40%||89.30%||85.40%||95.70%||82.70%||80.50%|
|Female Champion||Thorisdottir||Thorisdottir||Sam Briggs||Leblanc-Bazinet||Davidsdottir||Davidsdottir|
|Female Champion Pts||842||1062||920||918||790||984|
|Total Points Available||1000||1300||1200||1200||1200||1350|
|%age of Pts Earned||84.20%||81.70%||76.70%||76.50%||65.80%||72.90%|
The Problems with 2019 and 2020
To no one’s surprise, I don’t have much constructive to say about these years at the Games. In the grand scheme of things, we needed them to both learn from them and accommodate the times, respectively. But for athletes who competed during this era, and specifically some who were in the prime of their careers and have had dramatically different results in both the years before and after, these years skew a lot of data when it comes to the trajectory of their careers. Laura Horvath being the most prominent amongst the women; while Canadians Patrick Vellner and Brent Fikowski are the most notable amongst the men.
In 2019 Horvath was cut on the final cut from 20 to 10 along with Danielle Brandon, Carolyne Prevost, Alessandra Pichelli, Annie Thorisdottir, Brooke Wells, Carol-Ann Reason-Thibault, Sara Sigmunndsdottir, Samatha Briggs, and Emily Rolfe. Some might argue this group is more fit first through tenth than the ten who made the final cut. Regardless, she placed 14th (after the removal of a drug failure from the top ten that year).
Of the events she competed in she was 19th or better on five of the six despite the massive number of participating athletes in the early workouts. She did not advance to the back half of that years’ competition because of the inclusion of the benchmark workouts “Mary“, a 20 minute AMRAP of the body weight movements: handstand push-ups, single leg squats, and chest to bar pull-ups at a massively critical stage of the competition, in which she took 27th out of the remaining 30 women.
Stage One of the 2020 Games took place online. Laura Horvath placed 24th out of 30. I never saw her performances from this year and I therefore have nothing to say about them. What I will say is that I care much more about an athlete who excels at live, in-person competitions than anything else.
2021 CrossFit Games: Horvath’s Best Ever Competition
What happened to Horvath in 2021 is one of the things CrossFit should be most embarrassed by in terms of its coverage of the sport during its young tenure. Caught in between two other compelling stories, what is possibly the second best performance a woman has ever had at the Games was all but lost in their storytelling both during and after the competition.
Toomey had the best performance in the history of the CrossFit Games this season. She won nine of the fifteen events and earned 95.7% of the available points. Insane.
Thorisdottir returned to the podium by placing third after giving birth to her daughter and got all the remaining spotlight of the competition for the women.
In the midst of all that, Horvath had what I believe is the second-best performance in the history of the CrossFit Games. Over 15 events she had 11 top-ten finishes including seven top-threes (keep in mind Toomey is occupying one of those on nearly every event as well). Her four ‘bad’ events were a 12th, two 15ths, and a 19th; never outside the top half of the field. She earned 78.6% of the available points (comparable to the percentage she had in 2018), while third place Thorisdottir had 73.2% of points available.
2022 CrossFit Games: An Up-Hill Battle for Horvath
The 2022 CrossFit Games were the first to be programmed by Adrian Bozman. And whether that had a direct bearing on what I’m about to tell you or not, the leaderboard did not get as spread out this year as in 2018 and 2021.
Toomey still wins despite being in an early ‘deficit’ to young phenoms Haley Adams, then Emma Lawson, and finally Mallory O’Brien.
- Toomey earned 82.7% of all available points – a return to a similar percentage we saw her earn in 2018.
- O’Brien would ascend to second and become the first woman to beat Horvath in live CrossFit Games competition other than Toomey. O’Brien had 74.6% of all points, suggesting she was not as close to Toomey this season as Horvath had been in her first year in 2018.
- That left Horvath in third with 70.1% of all points available. After a slow start which culminated with a 39th place finish on Echo Press, Horvath reeled off six-straight finishes of 9th or better, including five which were 4th place or better and two consecutive event wins to start Sunday catapulting herself up the leaderboard onto the podium once again.
At this point in her career Horvath had earned the title of second “Fittest Woman on Earth” twice, and third “fittest” once. Those three podium appearances tied her with Katrin Davidsdottir for third all-time amongst women, Toomey leads with eight and Thorisdottir has six.
Her two event wins brought her to six total at this point which were tied for seventh best all-time for the women.
2023 CrossFit Games: Title Hunting
Six-time defending champion Toomey informed the CrossFit world she was pregnant and would not be competing in the 2023 Games season before it even began.
Speculation and debate immediately descended upon the question of who would claim the vacant spot atop the podium come August; two names emerged. Horvath and O’Brien, the two podium finishers from the year before, were the only two names anyone seemed willing to throw into the mix at that point. The margins between them were unknown, and the inclusion of Horvath’s biggest kryptonite movement at the Games loomed as the potential deciding factor between these two women.
It turned out not to matter as O’Brien surprised the CrossFit community just days before the North American East Semifinal that she would not be continuing with the remainder of the season. While many have speculated as to why, the nature of that decision in its entirety remains, at this point, for those who were intimately involved with it to begin with.
Knowing that, you would think the stage was set – Horvath should be everyone’s remaining choice to win the 2023 Games. However, when she took third at the European Semifinal in Berlin, suddenly several other names were being thrown into the mix. I myself said that while Horvath is the favorite, I could see a scenario for five other women to potentially win the Games (Thorisdottir, Migala, Brandon, Lawson and Cary being the names I included).
Emma Lawson Threatens to Win
Just like the previous season, a few youngsters emerged early and claimed the white leader’s jersey for several events in a row. At first it was 2022 10th place finisher Alexis Raptis, and then it became 2022 Rookie of the Year and sixth place finisher Emma Lawson.
Lawson retained the jersey going into Saturday night’s Olympic Total, an event everyone was expecting Horvath to win. And win she did; in the process she snatched 205 before going on to match a live record for the CrossFit Games season with a 265 LB clean and jerk (seven LBs more than she needed for the outright win).
The question was, how many points would Lawson give away. Let me tell you from being there in person, Lawson’s execution on this test, which demanded it under the pressure of time and spotlight, was damn near flawless. Lawson went 4 for 4 with snatches of 185 and 193 LBs before hitting clean and jerks of 227 and 240.
This was the moment I thought Lawson had a chance to win.
Horvath had other thoughts in mind.
Horvath on Sunday at the CrossFit Games
Great champions in this sport have a history of performing well on Sunday at the CrossFit Games.
The greatest of them all being Rich Froning’s perfect sweeps of all the events in 2013, and then backing up with another perfect sweep of the Sunday events in 2014. On the final day of the CrossFit Games which included more than one test, that has never been done before or since.
Take a look at some other champions who had impressive runs over the course of the final three events in their championship years:
|Kristan Clever – 2010||Froning – 2012||Mat Fraser- 2017||Tia-Clair Toomey – 2019|
|The Final 1||1st||Elizabeth||1st||Madison Triplet||3rd||Ringer 1||4th|
|The Final 2||1st||Isabel||1st||2223 Intervals||1st||Ringer 2||3rd|
|The Final 3||2nd||Fran||5th||Fibonacci Final||2nd||The Standard||1st|
|Annie Thorisdottir – 2011||Froning – 2013||Mat Fraser – 2018||Tia-Clair Toomey – 2020|
|The End 1||3rd||Sprint Chipper||1st||Two-Stroke Pull||4th||Swim N Stuff||1st|
|The End 2||3rd||The Cinco 1||1st||Handstand Walk||3rd||Sprint Sled Sprint||1st|
|The End 3||3rd||The Cinco 2||1st||Aeneas||1st||Atalanta||3rd|
|Laura Horvath – 2023||Froning – 2014||Mat Fraser – 2019||Tia-Clair Toomey – 2021|
|Muscle-Up Logs||1st||Midline March||1st||Ringer 1||2nd||Event 13||1st|
|Parallel-Bar Pull||1st||Thick N Quick||1st||Ringer 2||1st||Event 14||3rd|
|Echo Thruster Final||4th||Double Grace||1st||The Standard||1st||Event 15||1st|
|Medeiros – 2021||Mat Fraser – 2020|
|Event 13||3rd||Swim N Stuff||2nd|
|Event 14||2nd||Sprint Sled Sprint||1st|
Less Scored Events
Knowing that Horvath, like the best champions in this sport do, seems to get better and better later and later in the weekend, a year like 2023 with less events and less points is theoretically worse for her. Of note, this is the first time in her career the Games did not have a rest day (the last time it ran four-straight days from Thursday to Sunday was 2017, one year before Horvath’s rookie season).
Despite the lower overall point total, Horvath earned 80.5% of the available points, usurping 80% for the first time in her career. Second place Lawson earned 76.5%, a worthy percentage for the runner-up at the Games.
In addition to her win and the high percentage of points earned, Horvath won five of the 12 events at the Games this year. In the history of the sport only Toomey (3 times) and Fraser (2 times) have ever won five or more events in one year. This brings her total number of event wins at the Games to 11, tying her with Sam Briggs for 4th most amongst women. She’s now within two of Davidsdottir and three of Thorisdottir despite competing four and six times less than them respectively at the Games, and the fact that one of those years only had seven events, which were all online.
Second Fittest Woman in History
At this point we’ve written a short story about Laura Horvath evaluating her career up to the point of her first title in 2023. Although it’s only been six years, and although two of them were likely not well representative of how fit she was those seasons, Horvath has already amassed a resume which holds up against the only other candidates for second “Fittest Woman” in the history of the sport.
Horvath’s career is nowhere near done unless she wants it to be, and as we know, anything can happen in sport. So, regardless of what she does going forward, it feels like the only thing preventing us from already recognizing her in this regard is that her career coincided with Toomey’s. And in sports, this happens all the time. Sometimes the two best players or teams elevate to the top at the same time. But there can only be one winner, there can only be one G.O.A.T., and that’s Toomey.
Which brings me to my last point: there’s a big difference between winning and getting second place. Just because an athlete has the mental and emotional capacity and discipline to finish second, does not mean they have the final element needed to win. Pressure mounts, the cameras and lights get brighter, reality sets in about what’s happening. Fending all of those things off and staying in the moment are a skill unto themselves.
Go watch back the “Olympic Total” event. Pay attention to Horvath as much as you can. If the cameras don’t capture it much, trust me that she was in a world of her own during this one. Sitting on her placard, eyes closed most of the time between lifts, focused. What you can definitely watch is her reaction to each successive lift – I won’t spoil those for you here.
So is she the second fittest woman this sport has seen? There doesn’t need to be a definitive answer to this question. I would prefer that those of you who love this sport as much as I do would take some time to think about it for yourself. If you have a strong opinion, I’d love to hear it.
As for me, I will update my all time rankings in the next month or so. You’ll be able to find my answer there.