It’s no secret at this point that Jeff Adler was a volunteer at the CrossFit Games back in 2016, and that in the seven years since he’s ascended all the way to the top of the podium at the CrossFit Games. And if I’m being honest, as good as I knew he was becoming, I never thought it would happen. That sentiment had little to do with him. I just thought between Justin Medeiros, Roman Khrennikov, and Ricky Garard (at the very least) there was too much talent at the top of the men’s field for him to ever win. Keep in mind that in all sports there are all time greats who just happen to compete at the same time as sightly better all time greats and because of that, despite successful careers, those players or teams may never win the ultimate prize.
One incredibly unique thing about Adler’s career is the consistent improvement.
He’s improved every year in the Open barring one.
He’s also made consistent improvements at the Qualifying competitions for the Games.
|Regionals / Semifinals|
During the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 seasons he competed in four Sanctionals.
Eventually he started doing well enough to qualify for the Rogue Invitational.
He was good there basically from the beginning, and barring a technical error in running the competition it’s possible he would have won it in 2022.
And then of course there’s the Games, where, similarly to the Open he has improved every year except for one, and that comes with a caveat considering the format and number of participants in 2020.
It is without a doubt impressive the improvement Adler has shown in every format of competition and at every stage of the season. However, let’s zoom in on his performances at the Games to see how he climbed from 33rd as a rookie in 2019, to becoming the Fittest on Earth in 2023.
In 2019 he lasted four events before getting cut. He did extremely well in First Cut with a 5th place finish. Some people contend that the results from First Cut on their own would have been a better representation of fitness than the entirety of the test that year, and I tend to agree. His next three performances were outside the top 20, but all must be considered in the context of the remaining athletes at the time (which changed event by event that year):
- Second Cut: 38th out of 75
- Ruck: 21st out of 50
- Sprint Couplet: 39th out of 40 (only beating Ben Smith who was 8th on First Cut)
A few key takeaways are that he did decently in the Ruck running test even earlier in his career at the Games, and that the Sprint Couplet event has been shown to be suspicious at best and inaccurate at worst due to variability in conditions lane by lane that could have affected the performance of the athletes.
In 2020, Adler snuck into the final five who were able to compete at the Ranch and surrounding areas in California for Stage 2 of the Games that year. Chandler Smith, Jonne Koski, Bjorgvin Karl Gudmundsson, and Patrick Vellner were all within 15 points of Adler following the online portion of that year’s competition and were therefore unable to participate in the second stage. It’s difficult to assess how fit Adler was that year against the entire field, but amongst the men in Aromas, he finished 5th, which was also last.
He had one event win which came on the CrossFit Total and two second place finishes which came on Snatch Speed Triple and Bike Repeater. At this point we started to become aware of Adler’s elite level strength, but could also start piecing together his proficiency at both monostructural implements like running and biking, and also workouts involving legless rope climbs (First Cut and Bike Repeater).
In 2021, for the first time, we actually got to see Adler compete against the entire Games field for the entirety of the competition. He placed 13th, which seemed more appropriate at that time than the 5th place from the previous year relative to the trajectory of his career in general. I remember talking to Adler that year and him having some doubt himself about whether the 5th place finish from the previous year was indicative of where he was actually at. While he wasn’t complaining about it, Adler has always struck me as the type of athlete who wants to earn it, he doesn’t want it to be given to him.
Adler would notch three top five finishes that season. He got his second event win on event 6 (clean and run), backed it up with a second place finish on event 7 (heavier cleans and running), and then notched a fourth place finish on event 13 (which featured GHD sit ups, burpee plus cheese curd over hay bales, and most importantly a heavy yoke carry).
On the other side of the coin, we really got to see this season where some of the remaining holes in Adler’s fitness, relative to the best in the world, were at; something we, nor he, had gotten a chance to really learn during 2019 and 2020.
This is where things start to get cool considering what happened in 2023. Before any cuts, Adler had five finishes outside the top 20:
- 21st on Event 1, Swim/Kayak
- 25th on Event 2, Sled/Pig/BMU/RMU
- 32nd on Event 5, Rope Climb/Ski/Sandbag Carry
- 26th on Event 8, HS obstacle course
- 24th on Event 9, echo bike/power snatch
The reason these event finishes are so notable is that in almost every instance (minus the swim/kayak which didn’t show up in 2023), he showed dramatic improvement against the field just two years later.
Before 2023 however, there is 2022. A year in which Adler validated to everyone that he is in fact capable of a top five finish at the Games.
In the first part of that competition (with the entire field in play) he had one notably bad event finish of 38th on Elevated Elizabeth. With the field cut down he did have one more bottom half finish, 16th out of 30, on the Alpaca (where the omission of one of his specialities- legless rope climbs, surely did not help his cause).
His consistency across the board was dramatically improved from 2021. His average event finish in 2022 was 11.8, compared to his average event finish of 14.7 in 2021. In a traditional scoring format, that is an improvement of 9 points per event which over the course of 14 events is 126 points. An extra 126 points in 2021 vaults Adler from 13th to 8th.
In addition to the improved consistency, Adler retains his ability to have top finishes at the Games, a critical feature of anyone who aspires to be on the podium at all. This year Adler had three top four finishes (and two additional sixth place finishes):
- 4th Bike to Work- showing again his proficiency on the Bike
- 1st Shuttle to Overhead B- showing his continued proficiency with a heavy barbell
- 6th the Capitol- showing his running capacity PLUS his improved abilities with both Pig and the sandbag that hampered him the previous year
- 1st Back Nine- more elite level top end strength, especially with an elevated heart rate. We can at this point safely move the Yoke into a category Adler dominates in.
- 6th Jackie Pro- again showing his capacity to manage demanding paces this time when it comes to monostructural. And also dispelling any concern about his bar muscle up capacity from Sprint Couplet way back in 2019.
That brings us to 2023, his championship year, where we saw an evolved version of Adler in several ways.
- This year he had top five finishes on exactly half the tests (6 out of 12)
- Most of those top finishes came on things we already knew him to be great at:
- 2nd Ride (biking)
- 1st Helena (running, db snatch, bar muscle up)
- 2nd Cross Country 5K (running)
- 4th Olympic Total (Snatch + Clean and Jerk)
- 1st Muscle-Up Logs (Ring muscle ups, sandbag over long + carry)
- 5th Echo Thruster (echo bike, thruster, lunge)
- The improvement on the final, which involved a barbell and echo bike just like event 9 in 2021 is one notable thing he clearly improved in amongst this group.
- A second would be the ring muscle up workout that featured moving a sandbag, both things that have been part of some of his worse showing in previous years.
On the other side of things, Adler seems to have cleaned up a few other elements:
- 8th Alpaca Redux- as mentioned, the legeless rope climbs surely helped him have a better finish here
- 15th Inverted Medley- a notable improvement from his 26th on Event 8 in 2021
- 8th Ski Bag- he has poor performances to his credit with both Sandbags and Ski ergs in the past, and specifically in combination with each other during Event 5 of 2021- doesn’t seem to be an issue anymore.
- 7th Parallel Bar Pull- a much, much better performance on the parallel bars than his near last place finish on Elevated Elizabeth the year before. And this is probably the thing that captures the reason Adler has had so much success and a consistent climb in the sport. The foundation he and his coach Caroline Lambray have built by following .com programming as the base of his training for so many years means he has the fundamentals dialed in. Therefore, when he needs to apply himself to learning new skills and movements, his body is both prepared and capable of doing so.
Was Adler the Fittest at the Games in 2023?
If you watched closely, Adler did not celebrate in traditional fashion as one typically would after crossing the finish line for the final time and realizing he had just claimed the title of Fittest man on Earth.
I’ve said it many times, and I’ll say it again, there is absolutely nothing an athlete can do about the field he or she is competing against. Show up, compete hard, see where you end up. And yet, I feel that Adler, as many of us did, was wondering if he would have beaten Roman if he hadn’t broken his foot. And no matter what your instincts tell you, the fact is that we’ll never know.
Watching Adler on the last two tests, I’m not sure if he competed with the same tenacity and intensity he would have if a healthy Russian were flanking him in the adjacent lane. He had no need to. Move well, don’t get injured, cross the line, claim the title.
Was Adler more fit than Khrennikov? I don’t know. But he lasted the entirety of the test, and that counts for something. We cannot take away what Adler accomplished- by every measure, he earned his victory.
What About Mr. Vellner?
If you, like me, are wondering if perhaps Vellner was more fit than Adler at the Games this year. I won’t say you are wrong for speculating. But I will remind you that Adler has now beaten Vellner at four straight live, in person competitions: Atlas Games Semifinals 2022, CrossFit Games 2022, Rogue Invitational 2022, CrossFit Game 2023.
As usual, Vellner gave away some critical points (at least 50 on Alpaca Redux alone). But even with those points, he comes up around 70 shy of what he’d need to beat Adler. Now, Vellner, like Adler, didn’t have a ton of incentive to ‘send it’ on the finale since he was essentially locked into second place. And no matter how many times I look back at the leaderboard, the events, the mistakes, etc. I just can’t see a way where Adler doesn’t beat Vellner.
The Consummate CrossFitter
If you are unfamiliar with the word consummate, here’s the definition I’m referring to:
- Showing a high degree of skill and flair; complete or perfect
And while Adler is by no means the perfect competitor. I do believe that his trajectory in this sport is what the methodology is all about. Consistent application of the basics tenants over a period of time produce improved fitness. Adler and Lambray have found a way to put that practice into work at the highest level of sport and competition. And in that regard, they should be the model all of us strive to replicate in our own pursuit of health and fitness.