Reassessing the Women’s Field Without Mallory O’Brien

May 16, 20238 min read

Photo Credit – Athlete’s Eye

This afternoon Mallory O’Brien announced on her Instagram that she would not competing at this upcoming North America East Semifinal, effectively ending her 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games season. O’Brien’s decision to not compete for the remainder of the season opens the void at the top of the women’s division that much more. She is now the fourth woman from the top ten last year, and sixth of the top 16, who will not be competing this year

That list now includes:

  • Tia-Clair Toomey (1st)
  • Mallory O’Brien (2nd)
  • Kara Saunders (7th)
  • Haley Adams (9th)
  • Kristi Eramo O’Connell (13th)
  • Lucy Campbell (16th)

There’s this weird thing in sports that happens when the defending champion isn’t in the field. The question inevitably comes up: should there be an asterisk next to this champion’s achievements? Would they have won? If such and such person or team had been competing? And while it’s fun to have those conversations, at the end of the day, that is entirely out of the control of the athlete’s or teams remaining in the field. All any athlete can do is prepare, show up, and compete against whomever happens to be there, regardless of who is not. 

In this case, it’s now not just the defending champion missing, but the top two finishers from last season. This means any opportunity the women lurking behind that saw opening before due to Toomey not competing is now twice as big with the absence of O’Brien. Two big gaping holes on the podium, two massive opportunities that at least a half dozen women can realistically capitalize big time on. 

Ready to Pounce

Most of the conversation following Toomey’s announcement regarding her pregnancy and not competing in 2023 centered around O’Brien and Laura Horvath as the two women who would be punching it out for the podium. With O’Brien also out of the equation, Horvath suddenly becomes the favorite for nearly everyone. However, nothing is a given, and there are certainly several talented women who can challenge her. 

Annie Thorisdottir: While several top women from last year are out, there’s one top woman who wasn’t in the individual field last year, and that’s Annie Thorisdottir. Third place at the 2021 Games and second place at Rogue each of the last two years. The only two women who beat her in those competitions are Toomey and Horvath, with each beating her twice. Pretty much anyone else who wants to beat her will have to do something they have not shown the capacity to do at a major competition yet. 

Danielle Brandon: If you just slide everyone up from last year, Brandon settles in behind Horvath and Thorisdottir (she hasn’t beaten either of them in a major competition yet) as a likely third place podium finisher. However, one of the things that often breeds success in this sport is low stress, and a high level of consistency, outside the gym. Brandon had that this past year more so than she ever has previously, meaning as good as she was last year, we can likely expect even better this year

Brooke Wells: Similarly to how Horvath would really cement her legacy with a CrossFit Games title, Wells resume would look a lot more polished if she adds a podium finish to it. Regardless of who is or isn’t in the field, there is reason to believe we could be seeing the best version yet of her either way. The combination of the best version of Wells and some open podium spots could be very promising for her. 

Emma Lawson: The most likely candidate to play spoiler for the plans outlined above for each of those four women. O’Brien went from seventh to second in her first to second year. Many people expect something similar from Lawson after a sixth place finish as a rookie in 2022. While that’s no easy feat to accomplish in any year, it’s certainly easier when the top two finishers from the year before aren’t in the way. The scary part about Lawson is we just don’t know how good she can or will be this year. Recent trends have shown us that 18 is not too young to be highly competitive as a female in this sport. She checks all the boxes of a podium level Games athlete with championship potential in her future, but how close is she to it already this year? 

The Rest of the Field

Those are the four women I think are most likely to capitalize on the huge opportunity the 2023 season offers in terms of podium potential in the women’s division, but the rest of the field should not take my word for it. Looking up and down the rosters of elite female athletes shows promise for dozens of other women to have career years too. 

Wishing O’Brien Well

As a fan of the sport, of course it’s a let down not to have O’Brien in the field. She has the physical attributes, mental strength, and lifestyle setup that is reminiscent of the dominant legends in the sport. However, there’s always more to it than just having the potential to be great. 

We’ve heard several athletes talk about the challenges of being elite in this sport, whether it be for one year, or several. It is not easy, no matter how easy some have made it look. Whatever is going on for O’Brien in her life, we wish her nothing but the best. And if she decides to compete next year or any time in the future, we hope it’s because it’s the best and right thing for you and your overall well being in life. And if not, we feel honored to have seen her compete for the time that she did.

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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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One Comment:

  • Nicole

    May 17, 2023 / at 6:21 pm

    Well said Brian! Wishing Mal all the best.

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