Semifinals: Week 1 Men’s Predictions

May 15, 202313 min read

Photo Credit – Fittest in Cape Town

Africa and North America East Semifinals

For the men, week 1 of SemiFinals has 13 available qualifying spots for the NOBULL CrossFit Games this summer, 12 spots are allocated to the North America East field, and one spot is available in Africa. 

Africa Men’s Field

I think we were robbed of seeing a pretty talented man represent Africa last year at the Games. Kealan Henry was hampered by a hamstring injury at the start of the Games and withdrew after just two events. He comes in as the top qualifier in Africa, but only two points ahead of a very dangerous threat in Darren Zurnamer. 

Zurnamer has been closing in on the top spot in Africa the last two years. In 2021 he was 4th in the Open, 7th in Quarterfinals, and 13th at Semifinals. Last year he improve on every one of those finishes, taking 2nd in the Open, 5th in Quarterfinals, and 3rd at Semifinals. This season, so far he’s done the same, taking 1st in the Open and 2nd to Henry in Quarterfinals. 

The only other threat is the ageless Jason Smith who at 39 years old seems deadset on proving he still has it. The tests aren’t bad for him either, even a podium finish for him would be a nice potential capstone on his individual career. Pencil him in as a threat in the 40-44 division for 2024 if he chooses to pursue it either way.

Brian’s Africa Semifinal Men’s Picks

Africa: 1 spot
1Kealan Henry
2Darren Zurnamer
3Jason Smith
4Ruan Potgieter
5Conrad Winnertz
6Daniel Griesel
7James Van Dongen
8Ross Low
9Dutoit Botha
10Ruan Conradie

North America East Men’s Field

Jeffrey Ader Rogue 2022 1 copy

Acknowledging upfront that in this field it’s a sure thing that something won’t go as planned, I’m going to say there are two distinct groups here when it comes to Games qualifying spots: 

  • Seven men who should qualify rather handily
  • Seven men vying for the final five spots to the Games

The Top Seven

I’ve spent a lot of time combing through this roster of athletes, and as good as I think the field is as a whole, I just don’t see anyway other than injury that these seven men don’t qualify, the only question is in what order:

  • Jeffery Adler: Atlas Games winner last year, fifth at the Games, third at Rogue the last two years, he’s as consistent as they come and when it comes to this specific group of tests against these men, I think he has the fewest holes and therefore the best chance to win.
  • Jayson Hopper: I think he’s coming this year, and I think some questions about his gymnastics will be both asked and answered. He should have incredibly strong showing on tests 1, 3, 4, maybe 5, and 7; which should keep him within touch of the podium from start to finish
  • Roman Khrennikov: Basically it comes down to the muscle ups. And also the one rep max snatch is not a great draw for him compared to other lifts that could be tested. He says he’s ready, and we’re all ready to see him. I’m pretty happy we get to see him in a competitive Semifinal and Games this season, we’ve already missed so many opportunities to see him over the years in competitive fields like this one, so make it worth it Roman, show us what you’ve been up to in Cookeville.
  • Dallin Pepper: The top seed in North America East after quarterfinals, and also an extremely solid second place finish last year at the MACC. The Games weren’t what he wanted, and he has been dialed in ever since. Expect a very mature, clean Semifinal, setting himself up for what I believe will be a very different Games run than he had last year. 
  • Saxon Panchik:  The man who beat Pepper at the MACC last year has a perfect record thus far when it comes to Semifinals. He won the Granite Games in 2021, and the MACC last year, can he make it three for three against the best field he’s seen at this stage yet? I’d say it’s unlikely, but I do think he’s been putting in intentional work with the PRVN team in Nashville, and I think his life has been more stable this year as he’s settled into a rhythm living in a new place and routines with his family. 
  • Noah Ohlsen: One of three men this year looking to qualify for 10 consecutive CrossFit Games (Cole Sager in week two and Bjorgvin Karl Gudmundsson in week three will also have that chance). He had a rough start to Semifinals last year, but a strong finish of 4th, 2nd, 2nd to easily secure his ninth ticket. I don’t see anything about this Semifinal that should trouble Ohlsen too much. Maybe not the homeruns of old, but nice solid top ten finishes in most events is just fine.
  • Samuel Cournoyer: The only one of these seven who did not compete as an individual at the Games last year, though he did win a championship with CrossFit Mayhem Freedom on the team side of things. He comes in as the third qualifier after quarterfinals, and of all the men in this group, he’s both the most unknown and strangely the one I think the programming is best for overall. He has all the physical tools, and after we missed seeing him at any of the major offseason events, it’s finally time for us to see what tricks between the ears he has picked up from Rich Froning.

The Next Seven

These are the other seven men I feel are most likely to get one of the remaining five spots. The big factor will end up being how costly each person’s biggest hole in their game is. 

  • Alexandre Caron: He’s a four time Games athlete, but struggled with a lot of the Games programming last season. Things had been looking up for him prior to that with a podium finish two years ago in Miami and a solid Semifinal in 2022. I guess the question is which Caron do we get? Or, what has he learned from the challenges at the Games last summer? Depending on how the weekend goes, the ace in his sleeve could be event 7. If he needs the points, he might be able to get them as that appears to be the best of these tests on paper for him. 
  • Tyler Christophel: Anyone who knows the story of Tyler Christophel knows how close he’s been. He’s got to be the most consistently close to qualifying and not making over the last two seasons as anyone. And yet, he hasn’t given up. In fact, from what I have seen, this has been the biggest growth year of his career. I think training with Froning as often as he has this year has given him the final polish he needs to get over the hump. 
  • Spencer Panchik: He kind of backdoored it last year as Berman was just a little too far back and Christophel bobbled it at the end. When someone qualifies for their first Games typically one of two things happen- either they start qualifying for a bunch, or they struggle to ever make it back. Given the pedigree in his family, it feels the safe bet for Spencer is the former. Limiting the damage on tests one and three is the key for Spencer, as the weekend goes on it should look better and better for him.
  • Alex Vigneault: Will mostly come down to the wall facing handstand push-ups in test six; everything else actually looks solid for Vigneault
  • James Sprague: Should have some home runs, similarly to Hopper and Khrennikov. It’s not great that those two men are also in this field as they will likely steal some potential wins from him. He just needs to manage the gymnastics; how test two, the one rep max snatch, and the middle of test six go will determine the trajectory of his weekend.
  • Will Moorad: Always sneaking into the picture at the last moment. Learn your lesson, don’t count him out. He’s a good snatcher and a good runner, he should be very good on test two and six, and after the biggest single event comeback in history last year, it might come down to the finale again for Mr. Moorad.
  • Jake Berman: I think this is a pretty promising set of tests for Berman as well. He was only 12 points out of a Games spot last season, and you know he wants it, but he’ll have to earn it. Saturday night with the two snatching / running tests will be the swing vote for him. He needs a clean execution on both of those to stay in contention. Look for a possible score to beat worldwide on test two. 

Brian’s North America East Men’s Picks

NA East: 12 spots
1Jeffrey Adler16Jack Farlow
2Roman Khrennikov17Benoit Boulanger
3Jayson Hopper18Connor Duddy
4Dallin Pepper19Cam Crockett
5Samuel Cournoyer20Griffin Roelle
6Saxon Panchik21Evan Rogers
7Noah Ohlsen22Marquan Jones
8Alexandre Caron23Lee Sharum
9Tyler Christophel24Peter Mason
10Spencer Panchik25Mark Hutchinson
11Alex Vigneault26Jacob Pfaff
12Will Moorad27Denis Samsonov
13Jake Berman28Luke Parker
14James Sprague29Austin Hatfield
15Dylan Pettit30Nate Ackerman

How do you vote?

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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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