Click here to read Names To Watch Women in 2021 (Women)
Until last year, there were only about 7 men who could were capable of podiuming at major race (Hobie, Cody, Atkins, Killian, Woods, Hunter, and Albon). All of that changed in 2019. Suddenly, predicting the top finishers was no longer as easy as it used to be. OCR fans may have been surprised to see Johnny, Veejay, Ryan Kempson, Tyler, and Aaron emerge as contenders, but they were all trending in that direction for years. Let’s take a look at some athletes who I think will make a similar jump next year, assuming OCR returns to normal at some point in 2021.
Richard Hynek (@richard_hynek)
If you someone hadn’t heard of Richard Hynek before the Trifecta WC last year, you definitely knew the name afterwards. Richard ran a dominating Beast on the final leg of the Trifecta WC to win the title by 4:13 over Woods, Killian, Atkins, Newell, and the best racers from throughout Europe. However, his performance in Greece shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. After all, he finished 3rd behind Jon Albon and Albert Soley the year before. Additionally, Hynek finished 14th at Tahoe a month earlier and 16th in 2018. Not a bad resume for someone who is only 21.
Richard Hynek is essentially the Veejay Jones of Europe. After collecting his first podium at the ripe-old age of 18, Richard has added over 20 more since. Seven of those podiums have taken place in the Middle East. What do you get if you combine his experience racing on sand in the Middle East, his phenomenal downhill running skills, and confidence from beating the world’s best racers in Greece? A serious threat to podium at the 2021 Spartan Race World Championship in Abu Dhabi.
Mark Gaudet (@markgaudet85)
There haven’t been too many obstacle races in 2020, but there have been several notable challenges involving OCR-specific fitness this season. One of those was the Burpee 10k, which consisted of 12 rounds of running 800m then doing 20 burpees. Mark completed this challenge in an absurd 45:38.
Let’s break that down real quick. If it took Mark 3 seconds per burpee (a very solid pace for 240 total burpees), that’d be 12:00 worth of burpees. Subtract that out and it means Mark would’ve run his 10k in about 33:30 (5:24 mile pace). That’s absolutely ridiculous, especially considering how much of a toll that burpees take on your body. Needless to say, Mark is one of the best compromised runners in OCR.
Then there was the Ultra Virus 12-hour race in which athletes ran as many 5-mile loops as possible within 12 hours. Mark finished 2nd with 85 miles (8:24/mile pace) during that race, just behind another Mark (see below). The 4x Best Ranger competitor also finished 4th at 2018 World’s Toughest Mudder with 85 miles. Between his military background and ultra-endurance performances, Mark can suffer with the best in the sport.
Mark has steadily improved at major races over the past two seasons, improving from 23rd to 11th at West Virginia last year. After closing out 2019 with a 15th place finish at Tahoe, Mark started the 2020 season strong with a 7th place finish at Jacksonville. Now that he has a full US National Series of experience, expect Mark to continue to gain on the lead pack with consistent top-5-10 finishes at major races next season.
Mark Batres (@mgbracing)
Everyone has known about Mark Batres for years. He’s the super-talented runner who has the potential to win every major race, but he hasn’t been able to put it all together for a whole season. Next year will finally be his breakthrough year in OCR.
I honestly thought 2019 was going to be Mark’s breakthrough season. Mark finished top-9 at all 2018 US National Series races, including 3rd in Chicago and 7th at Tahoe. The 2019 season was starting off with two very flat courses in Jacksonville and Alabama. It seemed as though Mark was destined for an amazing 2019 season, but he essentially spent all of 2019 injured.
Finally healthy again to start the 2020 season, Mark narrowly missed the podium with a 5th place finish in Jacksonville. All signs pointed to a great comeback season for Mark, but then Covid-19 happened. As a result, he decided to see how far he could run in 12 hours at ORM’s first Ultra Virus race. He did ok. And by “ok,” I mean ran 85 miles and would have broken the 100-mile world record if he continued that pace after the race ended.
There aren’t too many venues in the US that consist of sandy terrain, but Mark has absolutely dominated those that do (Laughlin and Arizona). Given his quick stride and success on sandy courses, I’d argue that Mark is OCR’s best sand runner in the US, which is great news for him in Abu Dhabi. Additionally, Mark is very heat-acclimated from living in southern California, so he won’t suffer due to the heat in Abu Dhabi. Temperatures in Abu Dhabi in December often reach into the 80s, so athletes who aren’t as heat-acclimated as Mark may not perform as well. Don’t be surprised if Mark is battling for a podium spot at next year’s Spartan Race World Championship.
Mohammed Mira (@mohammedmira5359)
Before I reveal names, which OCR athlete’s running PRs do you think are most impressive?
If you picked “E”, then you chose Mohammed Mira. Here are the rest of the answers: “A” = Max King, “B” = Ryan Woods, “C” = Mark Batres, and “D” = Hobie Call.
As you can see, Mohammed Mira is one of the fastest pure runners in OCR history. All of the other names on that list have had plenty of OCR success, so there’s no reason to think Mohammed won’t follow in their footsteps. In fact, he already has, winning last year’s Spartan Middle East/North Africa (MENA) Regional Championship by over 4 minutes.
You might think to yourself, “Yeah, but he probably didn’t face as good competition as he would in the US or Europe.” That’s true in terms of depth of the field, but the top athletes who race in the Middle East are truly world-class OCR athletes. Mira beat Egor Belousov (13th at Tahoe last year), Sergei Perelygin (3 straight podiums at OCRWC 3k and the 2018 Spartan European Regional champion), and Armin Botha (14:16 5k PR and one the best obstacle racers in South Africa), among others.
Based on the research I’ve done, I’d put Mohammed Mira as one of my dark-horse podium picks for the 2021 Spartan Race WC in Abu Dhabi. Mohammed won’t need to travel 10+ hours like many of the top athletes and he’s an incredible runner on sand. Don’t be surprised if you see Mohammed Mira leading much of next year’s Spartan Race World Championship.
Nikita Kriukov (@nikita_kriukov)
What do Zuzana Kocumova, Claude Godbout, and Marco Bedard have in common? They were all Olympic or world-class cross-country skiers before switching to OCR. How good was Nikita Kriukov at skiing? Let’s take a look:
2 Olympic medals in cross-country skiing
— Gold medal at 2010 Winter Olympics (Individual Sprint)
— Silver medal at 2014 Winter Olympics (Team Sprint)
Cross-Country Skiing World Championships
— 3 gold medals (2013 Individual Sprint, 2015 Team Sprint, 2017 Team Sprint)
— 1 silver medal (2015 Team Sprint)
— 1 bronze medal (2011 Team Sprint)
The guy even has a Wikipedia page, so you know he’s legit:
Unfortunately, Nikita he may not be able to compete at OCRWC in Vermont next year. Many top Russian OCR athletes (including Sergei Perelygin) have been unable to obtain a travel visa to compete in the US. That’s why you never saw most of the top Russian athletes at Tahoe.
However, Nikita could certainly compete for the Spartan Race world title in Abu Dhabi. Realistically, Nikita would probably do better at OCRWC due to his obstacle proficiency. Seriously, watch some of his Instagram videos for proof that he’s truly an obstacle racer now, not just a good endurance athlete who can fake their way through harder obstacles.
Now for the bad news: Nikita received lifetime doping ban in 2018 after his bloodwork from the 2014 Olympics was retested. However, that ban was reversed, meaning he was later cleared of wrongdoing. What if he does well at major international OCR events? How will OCR fans deal with the fact that he potentially may have been doping throughout his athletic career? Will most assume he is guilty by association since so many other Russian Olympians cheated the system this decade? We’ll know the answer soon once Nikita Kriukov starts beating some of the best in the sport.
Kris Brown (@krisbobbrown)
Raise your hand if you think you could have won the Tahoe Ultra Beast last year by 48 minutes then come back the next day to finish 25th in the Beast at the 2019 Spartan Race World Championship? That’s what Kris Brown did last year, so unless your last name is Atkins, Killian, or Albon, you should put your hand down.
The OCR story of Kris Brown is a unique one. After winning the 2010 Malibu Sprint, Kris finished 2nd at the 2012 Sacramento Beast between Hobie Call and Hunter McIntyre (whose shoe fell off during the race). He then disappeared from obstacle racing for 6 years before winning the 2018 SoCal Beast by 12 minutes. And by “disappeared,” I mean he became a professional trail runner who finished top-10 at the prestigious Western States 100 [Miler].
Competition was much deeper in after Kris returned to OCR in 2019 compared to what he faced in the early years, so he didn’t experience the same immediate success. After finishing 12th-19th at three US National Series events and 25th at Tahoe, Kris pulled off a 10th-place finish at the Trifecta WC in Greece. Now that he has had a year of improving his obstacle proficiency and carries, expect big things from Kris Brown in 2021 if he takes OCR seriously next year.
The second former Olympic cross-country skier on my watch list, Peter Mlynar can climb with the best athletes in OCR. After sitting in the top-10 throughout the first hour of the 2018 Spartan World Championship, Peter dropped to 25th due to obstacle failures. However, Peter has podiumed in 12 of his 14 career Spartan Races. Last year was his first full season as an OCR athlete, so Peter will surely continue to improve due to the experience he gained last year.
Other Names to Watch
— Benjamin Morin Boucher
— Daniel Sorensen
— David Magida
— Forrest Bouge
— Hawk Call (still in college)
— Jaryd Flank
— Jase Kraft
— Joshua Riedinger
— Logan Broadbent
— Nic Maszk
— Nicholas Ryker
-– Christopher Woolley
-– Liam MacKenzie
-– Matt Murphy (making a comeback)
— Alexis Dewet
— Igor Gorbunov
— Ivan Degtyarev
-– Juan Jose Rodriguez Garcia
-– Luca Pescolderungg
— Peter Ceniga
-– Piotr Lobodzinski
-– Samuel Castela
— Til Leipziger
-– Armin Botha
— James Meredith
-– Dailong Sheng
— Elias Tabac
— Gabe Heck
-– Niu Zhiming