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Pan-American Championships: Los Angeles, California

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It was six degrees out when I left Carbondale, Colorado. I traded icy sidewalks and a red nose for palm trees, succulent plants and the kind of traffic that takes away years from your life. Los Angeles, California, population four million and currently 80 degrees, is the host of the 2020 International Federation of Sport Climbing Pan-American Championships. For the first time ever, 48 athletes from Canada, Latin America and the U.S. gather in America for this Olympic qualifying event. Following five days of competition and 15 rounds, the male and female winners will each be awarded an Olympic berth, provided their country hasn’t already filled its quota. 

After Brooke Raboutou, Kyra Condie and Nathaniel Coleman’s Olympic qualifications, the U.S. has only one possible male spot remaining for Tokyo 2020. The top U.S. athlete to watch is Sean Bailey, who placed 9th in the Toulouse Olympic Qualifier. Bailey, 23, has made finals in both Bouldering and Lead World Cups. Growing up in Shoreline, Washington, Bailey has been a plastic and rock puller since he was five.

From Canada, Alannah Yip (CAN) is looking to clinch her spot after missing the cut in both Hachioji and Toulouse. Yip, 26, is known for her power. She’s won Canadian Nationals for Lead, Bouldering and Speed a combined total of seven times and has appeared in one Bouldering World Cup final.

So far, no athletes from Mexico or South America have qualified for Tokyo. Carlos Granja, ECU, is a three time World Youth Champions and four time Pan-American Champion. After a 6.15 second run in the pre-qualification round, Granja is a strong contender for the Olympic invitation. 

Valentina Aguado, from Argentina, is another athlete to watch. She placed second in the Combined 2018 Pan-American Championships. 

Below are the highs and lows from each day, interviews with athletes and general musings on being here. This page will be updated throughout the competition.

Thursday, February 27: Women’s Combined Qualifications

Following the pre-qualification rounds and a rest day, 20 women moved on to the Combined qualifiers. 

USA Steps it Up in Speed

Sienna (Cece) Koph, from the U.S., started climbing six years ago. She was the Youth A Bouldering National Champion and has placed third in Open Speed Nationals. This morning, Koph had her best speed run to date, with the time 8.88 seconds. She finished the round in fourth.

Cece Koph is all smile after her best speed run. Photo Luke Webster

16-year-old Emma Hunt, from Woodstock, New York, made waves with the time 8.05 seconds. Hunt has only ever competed in three other international events—far less than most of her compatriots–but she still took first place for the round.

Emma Hunt on her way to first place in Speed. Photo Luke Webster

Leslie Romero’s False Start Costs Her Finals

The pre-qualification Speed winner, Leslie Romero (VEN), had a solid first run. But when the 21-year-old speed phenom stepped up to the plate for her second time, she false started. According to IFSC rules, a false start means you don’t get a time for that round, putting Romero in 20th place. Romero stepped it up in Bouldering, placing 5th, but was 15th in Lead. While Romero had been ranked second Overall in the pre-qualification rounds, she finished the day in 12th. 

Leslie Romero cuts loose on the women’s second boulder. Photo by Daniel Gajda

Becca Frangos and Valentina Aguado Dominate the Bouldering Round

Becca Frangos, from Canmore, Alberta, was on fire in the Bouldering round. At just 5 feet, Frangos is shorter than most of the other athletes, but she’s dynamic and tenacious. Frangos topped all four boulders in eight tries. 

Ahead of Frangos, Aguado, 18, flashed two boulders and took two attempts to top the other two, putting her in first place for the round. Calm and calculated, Aguado climbed with technique beyond her years.

Valentina Aquado on her way to topping the second boulder. Photo Daniel Gajda

Lauren Bair Takes the Lead

The lead route was about 50 moves, give or take matches, up a mostly overhanging 55-foot wall. A series of pump-inducing moves culminated to one commiting move off a bad rail to a blocked jug. While most girls jumped and missed, Lauren Bair, from the U.S., found a sneaky heal hook that locked her in. She stuck the move and went on to take first not only in the round but Overall as well. 

Lauren Bair clutches a rail before making her way to a blocked jug. No other women made it past this point. Photo Daniel Gajda

Results (top eight move on to finals):

  1. Lauren Bair (USA)
  2. Alejandra Contreras (CHI)
  3. Valentina Aguado (ARG)
  4. Norah Chi (USA)
  5. Emma Hunt (USA)
  6. Alannah Yip (CAN)
  7. Andrea Rojas (ECU)
  8. Rebecca Frangos (CAN)
  9. Sienna Kopf (USA)
  10. Camen Contreras (CHI)
  11. Allison Vest (CAN)
  12. Leslie Romero (VEN)
  13. Muykuay Silva (CHI)
  14. Arantza Fernandez Gutierrez (MEX)
  15. Thais Makino Shiraiwa (BRA)
  16. Bianca Magalhaes De Castro (BRA)
  17. Valenia Macias Ferreira (MEX)
  18. Arantza Luna Velasco (MEX)
  19. Maria Fernanda Gonzalez Ramrez (MEX)
  20. Luana Riscado (BRA)

Thursday, February 29: Men’s Combined Qualifications

The Great Equalizer

Leslie Romero. Becca Frangos. Carlos Granja. Jason Holowatch. All top athletes that have already proved their worth in the Pan-American Championships. Also all athletes that have little Combined experience and a few of them haven’t been regular IFSC attendees in the last year. The Pan-American Championships have always been a competition that grants North and South American athletes the opportunity to experience international competition on this side of the ocean, where setting, hold selection, time zones, food and everyday comforts are more familiar. Because there are so few IFSC competitions on this side of the world, Pan-Ams have always been a rare and exciting opportunity for athletes that otherwise couldn’t afford to travel as far or for as long to show their stuff. Pan-Ams is an equalizer for athletes with a diverse range of experience, giving rise to seemingly dark horse names.

Carlos Granja Defends his Lead

Pre-qualification Speed winner Carlos Granja maintained his ranking with the time 6.30. Hot on his heels was fellow Ecuadorian teammate Danny Valencia with the time 6.68. Zach Galla (USA) took third. 

Felipe Ho Foganholo (BRA) placed ninth in Speed with the time 7.279. Photo Cody Kaemmerlen

USA Takes Top Three in Bouldering

Sean Bailey was the only competitor to top all four boulders. Bailey climbed with patience and a keen eye. He flashed one boulder but made smart adjustments on the others to achieve progress with each attempt. Behind Bailey was Zander Waller (USA) in second and Galla in third. 

Following Team USA was longtime climber Jason Holowach (CAN) in fourth place. Holowach, 34, has been competing since 2000. His 20 years of competition experience showed—he flashed the first boulder, which involved a tricky and hard-to-read sequence that threw many of the other top competitors.

Sean Bailey eyes the finish on men’s boulder number one. Photo by Daniel Gajda

Colin Duffy is the Only Athlete to Top

Like the women, the men faced a pumpy route that culminated in a spicy, committing drive-by. A few athletes found crafty toe-hooks to slow the move down, but most succumbed to gravity or fell shortly thereafter. Colin Duffy (USA) was the only athlete to top, however Bailey fell going for the last hold. 

Colin Duffy on his way to the top. Photo by Luke Webster

Results (top eight move on to finals):

  1. Sean Bailey (USA)
  2. Zach Galla (USA)
  3. Colin Duffy (USA)
  4. Carlos Granja (ECU)
  5. Danny Valencia (ECU)
  6. Zander Waller (USA)
  7. Jose Ramon Santos Buhl (MEX)
  8. Cesar Grosso (BRA)
  9. Brennan Doyle (CAN)
  10. Felipe Ho Foganholo (BRA)
  11. Jason Holowach (CAN)
  12. Manuel Escobar (VEN)
  13. Diego Lequerica (PER)
  14. Hector Adrian Martinez Cordero (MEX)
  15. Hector Lopez Valdez (MEX)
  16. Benjamin Ayala (CHI)
  17. Jean Ouriques (BRA)
  18. Santiago Garcia (ARG)
  19. Pedro Ferreira Nicoloso (BRA)
  20. Ronny Escobar (CHI)

Saturday, February 29: Women’s Finals

Alannah Yip Wins

Following a fifth place Speed finish, a win in Bouldering and a third place finish in Lead, Alannah Yip, from Canada, is the next Olympian. Upon reaching the ground after a tremendous fight on the lead wall, Yip was all tears and hugs with rushing competitors. She stood there shaking, unable to untie or accept the reality of her victory. After 21 World Cups and World Championships in 2019 alone, Yip will go to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Alannah Yip and teammate Becca Frangos soak in the victory. Photo by Daniel Gajda

Andrea Rojas Places First in Speed

Sender One was packed when the eight finalists lined up for presentation. Waves and smiles mixed with focused eyes and folded hands. While house music pumped up the crowd, the athletes were ready to fight for what was on the line.

Emma Hunt (USA), the Speed leader from qualifications, faced off with Becca Frangos (CAN) in the first race. Hunt quickly took the wall, but while she reached the buzzer first, she failed to stop the timer. Frangos finished in fourth and Hunt, after losing another race, seventh. Other upsets occurred when Lauren Bair (USA) false started against Yip, giving Yip fifth place, which turned out to be key to her success. The ultimate speed winner, Andrea Rojas (ECU), had a memorable run against Alejandra Contreras (CHI) when she took the lead in the last tenth of a second.

Andrea Rojas heads to the top in the final round. Photo by Daniel Gajda

Yip Tops all Three Boulders

The women’s boulders offered a diverse range of moves, including dynos, technical toe-catches and some good ol’ fashion try-hard pulls. The first boulder was a 3-D puzzle that allowed the finalists the freedom to try multiple sequences. Only Yip and Frangos clinched the finish. 

The second boulder was on slab. All finalists except Rojas found a top.

Hunt, Nora CHi (USA), Alejandra Contreras (CHI) and Yip sent the fourth boulder, a powerful roof ascent. Frangos lost her lead but Yip jumped to first place as the only competitor with three tops.

Valentina Aguado goes big on the third boulder. Photo by Cody Kaemmerlen

Lauren Bair Tops Again

The lead route followed the steepest line on the 55-foot-wall. Crimps and pinches criss-crossed back and forth up the wall to a demanding rose-move. Following was more powerful moves on worse holds. Contreras established a high-point early on, after an impressive fight up the head wall. Yip, however, was the star of the show after surpassing her point and falling just a few moves short of the finish. She lowered off in tears with face in her hands.

Bair, once again was the only competitor to top the route. After all three disciplines, Yip finished in third, Contreras second and Bair in third.


  1. Alannah Yip (CAN)
  2. Alejandra Contreras (CHI)
  3. Lauren Bair (USA)
  4. Andrea Rojas (ECU)
  5. Rebecca Frangos (CAN)
  6. Norah Chi (USA)
  7. Valentina Aguado (ARG)
  8. Emma Hunt (USA)

Friday, March 1: Men’s Finals

The best climber of the night, who placed fifth in Speed, second in Bouldering with three tops and first in Lead, again, with a top, was 16-year-old Colin Duffy, from Broomfield, Colorado. Despite his youthful age, Duffy has already won Youth Worlds twice and has several Youth National titles. Since he started climbing regularly at age 7, Duffy has trained on Team ABC with fellow Olympian Brooke Raboutou.

Colin Duffy becomes the next Olympian. Photo Luke Webster

Slips and Falls in Speed

The pre-qualifying and qualification Speed winner Carlos Granja (ECU) sailed easily to the big Speed final for first and second place. He went head-to-head with Zack Galla (USA), but from the start of his run, he was all slips and stops. Galla slipped as well but then re-gained his rhythm while Granja fell mid-route. Galla took first in the round, Granja second and Danny Valencia (ECU) third.

Flashy Boulders

Spectators got a great show after all the figure-fours and moves that faced the athletes towards the crowd. The U.S. athletes, however, brought their A-game, resulting in little separation. Zander Waller (USA) was the only athlete to flash all three boulders, but Duffy, Galla and Sean Bailey (USA) all, due to slips, took one extra attempt to get the three tops.

Colin Duffy does a figure-four on the third boulder. Photo by Luke Webster

Lead Result Comes Down to Time

The final lead route was similar to the qualification route—a long, 55-foot ascent that snaked back and forth and left the athletes with bulging forearms. The route successfully separated most of the athletes, with the exception of Bailey and Duffy. Bailey, perhaps knowing that winning was almost impossible with his scores (eighth place Speed and third place in Bouldering), climbed slowly and carefully. He topped the route with more gas in the tank, but when he went to clip the final draw, his belayer short-roped him. It was about another ten seconds before the judges got the belayer’s attention and Bailey could clip the draw.

Duffy, aware of Bailey’s top, climbed quickly. If Bailey won the Lead round, Zander would get the Olympic ticket. But if Duffy took first in Lead, the ticket was his. He reached the top, like Bailey, with ease. He was 40 seconds faster, enough to put him ahead even with Bailey’s possible technical appeal. 

Duffy is the next Tokyo 2020 Olympian. As he lowered off and waited on the mat for the final results, his face never changed, it was calm and expectant. 


  1. Colin Duffy
  2. Zander Waller
  3. Zach Galla
  4. Sean Bailey
  5. Carlos Granja
  6. Danny Valencia
  7. Cesar Grosso
  8. Jose Ramon Santos Buhl

Check back for more updates!

Feature Image by Daniel Gajda

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