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The first of two Salt Lake City Bouldering World Cups is now done. Natalia Grossman, of Team USA, edged out a very strong international field to take home the gold…with her first ever World Cup top podium. Grossman profile here. She had momentum—just under a month ago, in the Bouldering World Cup season-opener in Meiringen, she got bronze. She wanted this one. Good friend and training partner Brooke Raboutou—a qualified U.S. Olympian—placed third (GC feature on Brooke here). There were a lot of watery eyes on the podium, and in the audience. Oriane Bertone, only 16, picked up her second consecutive silver for France.
Adam Ondra, whose name you should know by now, is wearing gold for the men. He won gold in Meiringen as well. If you don’t know who Ondra is, read this. On Ondra’s heels was another young phenom, Mejdi Schalck, 17, from France. It was Schalck’s first finals appearance.
Americans Sean Bailey and Colin Duffy advanced to semis, in 8th and 13th respectively, but didn’t make the cut to finals.
Men’s final results:
- Adam Ondra, CZE
- Mejdi Schalck, FRA
- Jakob Schubert, AUT
Women’s final results:
- Natalia Grossman, USA
- Oriane Bertone, FRA
- Brooke Raboutou, USA
So, what did we learn?
Team USA is getting their mental game calibrated, which I cannot say for a good number of competitors who took the stage over the weekend. A lot of competitors showed visible frustration, and, in my opinion, nothing good ever came of it. Grossman climbed with what I can only call the Janja-effect, i.e., a happy face, calm nerves, and trust in one’s ability. It is so named because of Janja Garnbret, the Slovenian virtuoso that has won a gold medal in every Bouldering World Cup she has entered since 2018. Yes, you heard that right. Don’t know Janja? Read this.
Garnbert is known for a joyful stoicism, nerves of steel, and forcing most competitors to vie for second place. Garnbret is the most successful competition climber to have ever lived. Garnbret has said on the record that she just tries to climb happy. Read a feature interview here of Garnbret. Easier said than done, of course, but Grossman has been taking notes. Brooke too. And it’s working.
For the women, finals could have gone any direction. Japan’s Miho Nonaka was the safe bet. She dominated the qualis in a flurry of flashes the day prior. She was efficient, motivated, and only fell once in qualis. And yet, in semis she finished 5th, then 4th in finals. Grossman was the only person to top 4 boulders in finals, and she did it with drama. The problem in question, #4, was concocted by a setter who had been hanging one arm on a door jam for too long, presumably because of Covid. The problem involved a left to right toss to a right handed edge that spit the world’s best.
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The scoreboard counts Grossman going for that hold on W4 nine times before sticking it…then going to the top. Raboutou was close on the problem, but couldn’t manage the jump. Watching from the sidelines, it felt like Brooke needed an extra ligament to make the leap. Had Brooke stuck it, she would have won.
Oriane Bertone, who finished second, is the hottest name out of France at the moment. Hailing from Fontainebleau, home of the best boulders in Europe, Bertone is having zero problem going from sandstone V14s, which she consumes on a monthly basis, to comp-style boulders. Bertone has the twitchy youth competitor in her, which means she is elegantly undisciplined, trying this and that, foot here foot there, eyes and head all over the place…but her jazz is of a supremely talented young climber, with a lot of experience, who will be taking home gold very, very soon. Bertone is one of the rare few who are child rock prodigies before being a medaled comp climber. Typically, the trend goes in reverse order: kids compete and build up their strength, then start to explore the outdoors at a later date. Bertone is like Ondra in this regard.
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Routereading became very important. Women’s 3 stymied Nonaka until the very last minute. Had she figured out the beta, she would have at least gotten to a zone. Had she made zone, she would have tied Raboutou for second.
For the men, Kokoro Fujii, of Japan, led going into finals. But, in the end, he wouldn’t make podium. Men’s #3 was the separator. The problem was set by a closet wide-crack-climber, or someone who has been watching those fun Wideboyz videos too much…I say this because the problem required a four-foot-overhead toe-heel cam. Not a single climber who tried beta without the toe-heel cam could release both hands from the start hold. Ondra showed on #3 why he is the best. He read the sequence perfectly, first try, without even a bit of hesitation. It was quite remarkable. So did Mejdi.
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Even without Garbret, Slovenia seemed poised for a podium on the men’s side. Anze Peharc and Gregor Vezonik made finals. But in the end, Peharc needed a little more across the board, having just topped one boulder, and zoned 3. Same with Vezonik–just one top and two zones.
Other Random (But Important) Observations
- Sadly, Julie Chanourdie, of France, got injured before the comp. She was on the roster, but no-showed during qualis. She is a qualified Olympian, and, being only a little over two months out from Tokyo, that’s devastating. We wish her the best.
- During qualis, Daniel Woods sat behind me and arguably cheered the loudest of anyone in the VIP section, especially for Sean Bailey and Nathaniel Coleman. It was great to see the bridging of that divide from Woods, who is now outside the comp scene and fresh off a V17 send in Vegas. Woods used to be a dominant competitor in his own right. Right on Daniel.
- Immediately after Grossman secured gold, the coaches from Slovenia walked over to Team USA head coach Josh Larson and congratulated him. They patted him on the back repeatedly. That’s what sportsmanship looks like.
- Competitors need to start developing a signature dance, like football or soccer players, after they top a boulder.
Don’t forget, next weekend there is another Bouldering World Cup in Salt Lake City, except this time there is also a Speed event. Stay tuned to GC for the latest.
Dedicated GC Olympic page here.
— Francis Sanzaro is the Editor-in-Chief of Gym Climber and Ascent magazine. Find him here.