Image Credits: CrossFit LLC
This is the second in a series of articles that selects the best CrossFit Games athletes by era – with the era being determined by the location of the Games. The first era is “The Ranch Era”, consisting of the years 2007, 2008, and 2009 when the Games took place at Dave Castro family’s ranch in Aromas, California.
Although many of the athletes on this list (and many others who are not on this list) would go on to continue competing in subsequent years at different locations; only the accomplishments from these three years were considered for this list.
With such a limited sample size in terms of not just years, but total number of workouts (in 2007 there were 3, in 2008 there were 4, and in 2009 there were 8- that’s 15 total, which is the number we often see in just one year now), a lot of self negotiation about how to weight the relative performance of athletes who only competed once would compare to athletes who competed three times.
The general assumption is that, especially during these three years, the level of competition got dramatically more robust each year. So how does a fifth place finish in 2009 compare to winning in 2007? Becomes a viable question.
In general I try to strike a balance, rewarding both excellence and longevity. Some athletes make that easy, others difficult, but for the “Ranch Era” is fairly straightforward. Every podium finisher from this time period is on the list, and the only athletes with one appearance that make their way into the top-10 are the top four finishers from 2009.
1. Tanya Wagner
The only two time podium finisher during this era for the women, including a win in the most robust year (there were 8 tests in 2009 and a total of 7 in the previous two years). Although she had no individual event wins in her championship run, after taking 11th on the 7k Hill Run, she was top ten on everything else across the weekend with her best finish being 2nd on the Snatch at 135 lbs.
The previous year, when she came second overall, it was by a mere :10 across 19:00 of total work on those four workouts. Once again she showed tremendous consistency with finishines of 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th on the four scored events. She’s one of three champions from this era, but stands out from the others for the overall consistency in the two years she competed.
2. Jolie Gentry
Jolie Gentry, like James Fitzgerald, was the original CrossFit Games champion, and also stayed with it throughout the duration of the Ranch Era. She notched her only event win in the same year she won the title (2007), but had several other impressive individual event finishes across those three years.
- Besides taking first in the Hopper, she was 2nd on both the Trail Run and the CrossFit Total in 2007. She amassed 290 of a possible 300 points, which for what it is still stands as the most possible points earned compared to points available by any Games athlete in any year.
- In 2008 she rode finishes of 3rd on Fran and 4th on Hill Run to a top 5 overall finish.
- In 2009 she had strong finishes of 9th (Snatch) and 3rd (Triplet), en route to her third consecutive top seven finish- the only person man or woman to accomplish that over this three year span.
3. Caity Matter
|2008||1st||Clean and Jerk|
The only woman to beat Tanya Wagner at the Ranch, Caity Matter (now Henniger) rounds out the top three. And unlike it was on the men’s side, to get into the top three for the women, it turns out you had to win. It helps that they each competed multiple years, though in Matter’s case, the second year doesn’t do much for her case, which is why she’s third amongst the Ranch era female champions.
In the year she won, although it ended up being close against Wagner, it was her ability to get a win (which Wagner did not), but a win by a significant amount of time on the Squat Grace finale. She was also second on Deadlift/Burpee, but 8th on Fran and 7th on Trail Run gave her a two-two split on events head to head with Wagner. It’s the funny nature of CrossFit competition, on average you want to be the best across all tests, but in practice sometimes being the best on some things and not quite as good at others works out favorably.
In this case, Wagner averaged a 3.5 event finish compared to Matter’s 4.5, but the scoring system worked out in her favor. There is absolutely nothing an athlete can do other than show up and compete, it’s just fascinating how these same topics continue to be debated today when they have in fact been telling stories in this sport from the beginning.
4. Charity Vale
Wagner’s win in 2009 was significant, 54 points compared to second place Vale’s 72. Two other women tied on third at 75 points, which is where the real race was that year. Very similarly to Mikko Salo who capitalized on great finishes on the final two events en route to his victory, Vale had the exact same final two results (2nd on Triplet, 1st on Chipper) to catapult herself ahead of one woman, and keep herself slightly ahead of the other she was battling with.
5. Carey Kepler
Kepler and Kristan Clever (see below) were the two women tied on 75 points (just three points behind Vale) in 2009. The tie break was actually wild. Both women had one event win. Both women had one second place finish. But Kepler had three third place finishes to Clever’s two…probably the closest any tiebreak for a podium spot has ever been at the Games (although in modern times most would point to Hogberg and Fikowski from 2018).
Kepler would continue to compete for two more years at the Games after this. And while her trajectory and Clever’s went in opposite directions, in the year that matters for this Kepler edged her out for the podium, and therefore edges her out on this list as well.
6. Kristan Clever
Really this 4th place finish ends up being somewhat of a bad beat for Clever. We just saw how close it was against Kepler. And we know Vale had a near perfect finish to the competition to maintain that slim lead. The thing is, Clever’s finish was just as good, she was 1st on the Triplet to Vale’s 2nd, while she was 2nd on the Chipper to Vale’s 1st (note that Kepler was third on that beast of a workout).
The sandbag sprint really did Clever in, she took 34th and it was too much for her to overcome despite strong finishes pretty much everywhere else. Clever would go on to do great things over the next several seasons, but that’s for a different article and era.
7. Gillian Mounsey
Third in 2008 behind Matter and Wagner, Mounsey rounded out that very impressive trio who all finished within :38 of each other in the “every second counts” scoring system. Mounsey in third at 19:48 was almost two minutes ahead of fourth place Tamara Holmes who finished with a total working time of 21:36.
Mounsey slides down a bit on this list because there wasn’t much room for separating the three women ranked four through six, but her performance in 2008 was quite notable against a majority of women to compete during the “Ranch Era”. She was 2nd on Fran and 4th on Squat Grace. She added a third top-10 finish with a 9th place on Deadlift/Burpee and suffered her worst finish of 16th on Hill Run. It certainly proved to be strong that year and to give a little away on the run, and Mounsey fit that bill.
Much like Caity Matter, she was unable to follow that up next year, and then didn’t compete again after 2009. But for one year, she was going toe-to-toe with two eventual Games champions for the title of Fittest on Earth.
8. Tamara Holmes
Holmes was the woman in fourth (previously referenced) in 2008. Unlike Matter and Mounsey, she was able to have a decent follow up season in 2009.
Clearly known for her prowess with the barbell, Holmes was second to Matter on Squat Grace in 2008, and won the Snatch workout in 2009 at 145 pounds. She was also 5th on the Deadlift and 11th on the Sandbag Sprint- a power athlete through and through.
9. Libby Dibiase
The third non-podium finisher on the list, but her 6th place finish in 2008 is behind only women who are on this list, and she did manage an event win that year. She also edged out future Games legend Rebecca Voigt who was 7th that year. Neither Dibiase or Voigt did great the following year, though Voigt was much better at 20th than Dibiase’s 47th. However, as we mentioned on the men’s side, it pays to win. Dibiase had the best individual finish of the two, and the only event win of the two, so she gets the nine spot. Voigt gets the mention, and we’ll hear about her again in the “Carson Era” list.
10/11. Mary Rigney and Nicole Dehart
At this point in the list I spent a decent amount of time filtering through the three years of competition and ultimately didn’t see anyone from 2008 or 2009 to deter me from giving credit to the podium finishers from 2007.
Mary Rigney was second in 2007 with event finishes of 2nd on the Hopper, 6th on the Trail Run, and 4th on the Total.
Nicole Dehart rounded out the podium in the inaugural year with a 1st on the Total (530 lbs), 3rd on the Hopper (only the top two women- Gentry and Rigney- beat the time cap), and 13th on the Trail Run.