Middle East Competition Review: Sandclash and Eurasia Throwdown

March 26, 202415 min read

Image Credit: SandClash

While the world was largely focused on the Open, I was on the road in the Middle East covering two different CrossFit competitions in two different countries. 

One of the difficulties for competitions when scheduling is to try and navigate the Games season dates when they typically aren’t known until it’s too late to book venues or choose dates. 

One of the notable things about that however is that the athletes don’t seem to mind. Even some extremely good athletes are more than happy to sign up for and compete in live competition during Open weeks. There seems to be less desire from competition organizers to run them during this time of year in North America, but it turns out that CrossFit competitions exist all year long, all around the world- and it’s one of our goals to make that more well known, by increasing the visibility of them, more frequently throughout the year. 


Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Pretty cool to travel halfway across the world, to the middle of a desert, for a three-day competition with nearly a thousand athletes from close to 60 different countries. And despite how different certain things are there, the common threads remain:

  • There are a lot of people who get excited about competing in this sport.
  • There are a lot of people who will volunteer time, or work for very little, to make it happen.
  • Many of the similar and common mistakes when it comes to running competitions, especially for elite athletes, and especially when incorporating a broadcast, exist there too. 
  • The people who invest the most in making these happen, continue to impress me with how open they are to receiving my point of view after traveling to and working at so many competitions. To the point where whenever possible, they are open to making late changes for a better presentation or preservation of the competition experience. 

Cultural Learning

Through a variety of different people and conversations I learned a ton about several different topics: 

  • The way Saudi Arabia is opening up in recent years including a synopsis of political and social history from people who have lived through it
  • Both the passion for, and evolution of, fitness in that part of the world
  • The Elfit Arab Open and Championships which are running parallel to the Games season this year.
  • The migration of “western” things to the desert

Notable Performances

As far as the competition goes there were several athletes who I am very glad I got to see compete one extra time in person before the critical parts of the Games season begin:

  • Kalyan Souza – the young Brazilian won this competition, finally getting the better of a man he’s gotten a lot of competition experience against this offseason, Luka Đukić. Souza displayed his strengths as expected, and took his two worse finishes on workouts that involved the combination of upper body pulling gymnastics and barbell cycling.
  • Luka Đukić – pretty much as expected from him, but without a deep field one or two small things can derail the plan. He finished one point behind Souza, who was able to beat him on the run and the lift and also executed a handstand pirouette in the first attempt when Đukić did not. Đukić was better on the traditional CrossFit stuff, winning the workouts Souza struggled with most, and quite frankly the workouts you’d want to excel at in this sport most. 
  • Toby Buckland – the only workout that took the young, up and coming athlete from the UK out of contention for the win was his 8th place finish on the 5k run (compared to Souza’s 1st, and Đukić’s 2nd on the same workout). What I like most about watching Buckland in this competition is that when it mattered most, he buckled down and got it done. 
  • Artur Semenov – finished 4th to Buckland by 1 point (6 seconds behind him on the final workout which they came into tied of points). It was mostly what I’ve come to know from the big Russian, who was very consistent with the exception of a workout that quite frankly isn’t the most friendly for him (chest to bars, light overhead squats, and burpees over the barbell), however, Souza, who is a similar length and size took 3rd on that whereas Semenov finished nearly 45 seconds later and wound up 6th. He likely still has a stranglehold on the men’s field in Europe, but will be looking to improve at the Games should he make it back there. 
  • Julia Kato – The field was tremendously strong, but Kato sure did look good taking two firsts, three seconds, and a fourth on a very fast lifting event (her time was :40 for reference). There is nothing easy about qualifying for the CrossFit Games out of South America these days, but I do think Kato will be in the mix once again. 
  • Evie Hollis– Although she’s from the UK, she has been living in the UAE for a long enough time now to get an exemption to compete where she lives, rather than where she’s from. She sits fifth on the Open leaderboard for women in Asia, behind the names you’d expect. Seher Kaya and Seungyeon Choi should still be the women to beat at the Semi, but it won’t be as comfortable with Hollis in the mix. 

Eurasia Throwdown

Istanbul, Turkey

The second week of the Open took me to Istanbul, Turkey for the first iteration of a newly-named and relocated competition in one of the most historic cities in the world. Thankfully I had a couple of days to explore and enjoy (part of) the city before the competition began. Some of the highlights of those days were:

  • A boat tour I took on the Bosphorus Strait
  • A slow walk through the Hagia Sophia while stopping to listening and absorb all the stations for learning about the history of the famous building
  • Walking through a couple markets, including the Grand Bizarre- there’s just nothing like quite like these in North America
  • An afternoon at a Turkish Bath House; always recommend trying something like this at least once in new locations
  • The food; nothing in particular, just stopping at somewhat random Turkish restaurants, street stands, etc and ordering different Turkish foods

The Competition

The organizers of this competition had run different iterations of it, in a different city, with a smaller venue, and smaller overall scope for a few years prior. This year, they took a big step forward investing in the international nature of the competition, which manifested in several ways: 

  • It moved to the Gymnastics Federation Building in Istanbul, a location that accommodates the international travelers and the increased number of overall participants more easily.
    • One great feature of this location is that the building hosting the competition was connected to a hotel (which really seemed more like dorm rooms for the national gymnasts), and additionally had a restaurant on the top floor that provided meals for volunteers, staff, and athletes three times a day.
  • Having two different broadcasts, one in Turkish for the local audience, and one in collaboration with us in English to get some exposure in a different part of the world. 

Certainly there are areas for improvement in terms of fine tuning certain details, but in general, considering all the big changes that were made it was a huge success. One of the coolest things about the competition was that at the end of the final day the entire staff and all the volunteers gathered in the middle of the floor in a circle and after a short speech from one of the organizers they proceeded to celebrate the weekend with a Turkish chant. I have no idea what was said, but it was clear everyone was thrilled with what they had pulled off, and it was very cool to see. 

Notable Performances:

The overall caliber of athletes competing here didn’t have as many big names as SandClash, but one of the beautiful things about going to these competitions is that there is always the possibility of a surprise or two when it comes to athletes. This sport is still so young, that you never know when you’re going to come across an athlete who may just end up being something special. There are no guarantees in sport, and this one in particular is extremely difficult to make it to the big stage in, but there may have been one hidden gem amongst this field. 

  • Nika Maisuradze – We featured him as Friend of the Week following this competition because not only did he win it going away, but the variety of different skills and proficiencies he showed were noteworthy, and he was in the midst of having a pretty good Open performance. He’s raw when it comes to experience, but I expect we will be seeing this kid around more often in the next couple of years. 
  • Agustin Vilicnik – The pre-competition favorite in my eyes, ended up taking second to the previously unknown Maisuradze. He has been the fittest man in Croatia, and finished in the top 30 at Semis this year, but will be competing on a team for the 2024 season. 
  • Natalia Biberica – Also representing Croatia, Biberica proved to be too consistent and too well rounded despite some charges from a few of the other women in the field. She would also go on to have a decent Open finish, but will be joining Vilicnik in the team pursuit this season. Qualifying for Semis in Europe (male, female, or teams) is a huge accomplishment, we’ll be keeping track to see if this team can do it. 
  • Eva Ioanna Arampatzi – 2023 Fittest woman in Greece got off to a slow start with a last place finish on the 5k row. However, once the women hit the main floor she logged only 1st and 3rd place finishes the remainder of the weekend en route to a strong second place finish. It doesn’t look like Arampatzi is competing in the Games season this year, but we may see her on some B.Friendly coverage at the Athens Throwdown in May. 

Next Up! 

Part of the trip to the Middle East was trying out some new strategies when it comes to streaming and broadcasting these competitions. We’ve taken some small steps that we hope make a big difference in terms of your ability to watch them. All events we streamed can be found on the B.Friendly Fitness Youtube channel, and that’s where several other competitions will be watchable throughout the year. 

The next event in that regard will be on March 30 from 11 am EST to 1 pm EST when we will be bringing you live coverage of Reps Ahead Pro Showcase 2 from CrossFit Tailwinds in Jacksonville, Florida. To get caught up on the featured cards matchups check out our podcasts with Dallin Pepper and James Sprague, and Fee Saghafi and Alexis Raptis.

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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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