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Highs and Lows: What you missed from the Salt Lake City North American Cup

The first event of the North American Cup Series took place this past weekend at USA Climbing’s National Team Training Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. The series is a joint venture between USA Climbing and Climbing Escalade Canada—featuring competitors from both countries and multiple disciplines over the course of the summer and fall. 

This first installment, a bouldering competition, saw Cloe Coscoy cruise through the women’s division, topping all four boulders in the finals to earn the victory. (Her event-winning flash of the last boulder of the round can be seen at 1:33:08 in the finals livestream). Closely behind Coscoy in the scores was Canada’s Allison Vest, who climbed well and topped three boulders—stumped only by the mantle and match of the finals’ first slab. 

The men’s division came down to the last boulder of the finals, a steep overhang with a reachy headwall sequence. Kai Lightner, Charles Barron, and Ross Fulkerson reached the top, with Barron and Fulkerson separated in the overall scores by just one attempt-to-zone point. Barron ultimately notched the win (and his top begins at 3:00:27 in the finals livestream), and Fulkerson placed second. 

 

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Overall, the event was a fine way to kick off the Cup series. Fans were not in attendance (although a few spectators gathered outside), and the National Team Training Center proved to be a suitable host venue. There are plenty of other aspects of the event to talk about, so here’s a closer look at some of the ups, the downs, and the miscellaneous. Results of the final round are listed at the bottom.

 

HIGHS

Slowing it down: On the first men’s boulder in the semifinals, Palmer Larsen broke what was likely the intended beta of a paddle dyno sequence. Larsen turned it into a more methodical and static progression on yellow volumes (30:58 in the semifinals livestream). Comp aficionados might remember Sean Bailey doing a similar thing on a boulder at the most recent World Cup. This speaks to the skill of the modern competitor: a heinous, slopey volume can be a casual point-of-pause amid a dynamic route. It’s fun—as fans—to have our expectations for beta shattered like this.     

Making it count: Nekaia Sanders deserves a tip of the hat for her effort the whole weekend. She qualified in 20th place—barely advancing out of the first round. In the semifinal round, she finished in sixth place—again, barely advancing. But then in the final round, she topped three boulders and finished assertively in fourth place. She certainly made the most of all those narrow advancements, and this was her best high-level competition performance to date.

Styling by Sienna: I normally wouldn’t mention a competitor’s choice of wardrobe, but since the commentators dialogued openly about this, I will too: Sienna Kopf’s bright and colorful outfit/kit was awesome. Such personal expression can help a competitor stand out from the pack and develop a fan base. And if that ultimately leads to more eyes on the sport in a positive way, I’m all for it. And it is also worth mentioning that Kopf had a stellar weekend of climbing, topping three boulders in the finals and earning a spot on the podium.  

Mono’ing by Matti: Matti Dennis got really creative midway up the third boulder in the women’s final. She monoed the bolt hole in one of the volumes in an effort that Nicolas Milburn on commentary called “incredible and impressive.” Dennis eventually earned the top, and her left-hand mono was replayed on the livestream (1:10:46 in the finals livestream). This is definitely not a move I would advise most average gym climbers trying, but at Dennis’ elite level, it’s a sly technique…and it ended up working.   

 

Going big: The second men’s boulder in the finals was one of my favorites. Ben Hanna kicked off what proved to be a slew of tops from the men’s field, but such abundance of ascents doesn’t make the boulder any less spectacular. Hanna’s top (at 2:07:38 in the finals livestream), epitomized the modern— “parkour”—style, and I loved it. His movement combined top-level athleticism with adept coordination and great grip strength…21st century competition bouldering at its finest.  

 

LOWS: 

Undercooking the set: If I toss praise onto that second men’s boulder, I also have to point out that there were too many tops on the men’s boulders, overall, in the finals. As evidence, everyone on the men’s podium topped every boulder. In fact, all but one competitor topped the first three boulders. I won’t belabor this point because I have routeset and I know that sometimes there are just miscalculations…and for the most part I enjoyed the event’s boulders. Still, the finals’ separation of the men’s field left a little to be desired.

Running out of time: There were a few instances in the event of competitors timing out, but none of them were more heart-breaking than Zach Galla reaching the top of the third men’s boulder in the semifinals (2:08:02 in the semifinals livestream). Galla matched his hands on the volume, but the tape designating the top was attached to a hold on the volume—not the volume itself. Galla is as astute as they come and one of the best in the world; he surely would have realized the tape designation if he had had more time. Unfortunately, this was as close as anyone came to topping that boulder—and it just doesn’t get any closer than that. 

Surprising exit: In the early stages of the event, I thought Chris Cosser might run away with the competition. He is, after all, a qualified Olympian (representing South Africa in the upcoming Tokyo Games), and he topped every boulder in the qualification round. But then he struggled in the semifinals (no tops) and finished in 16th—far from advancing to finals. That’s fine, sometimes it’s just not your round. But as a fan, I would have liked to see an Olympian in the finals. And having an Olympian in the finals certainly would have been a nice garnish for the round from an international promotional perspective too. 

Koala’ing made easy: There was a really striking volume on the second women’s boulder in the finals—an enormous stalactite-like feature that the commentators said would require full-body “bear-hug” movement. The explanation for the beta was that the competitors would squeeze-and-climb the feature similarly to how a koala might ascend a tree trunk. I was intrigued, as that’s not a type of feature or type of movement that we usually see at comps. The problem was that the feature, as aesthetically impressive as it was, didn’t end up troubling the competitors that much. They all motored through that particular section, and never really had to shimmy upwards in the way the commentators described (as illustrated by Sienna Kopf making fairly easy work of the hanging feature and even tossing in a heel-hook instead of doing any extended bear-hugging, 59:43 in the finals livestream).

Needing a crowd: I realize the ongoing pandemic made the presence of any fans at the event unfeasible, so I’m not knocking the stipulation or its implementation. But watch Quinn Mason’s fight in the upper section of that same second women’s boulder in the finals (starting at 44:57 in the finals livestream). This was a phenomenal effort—and normally a crowd would have been going wild and cheering her on. Instead, we just got mostly venue silence. As a result, Mason’s prolonged display of try-hard didn’t feel as epic as it should have. Hopefully the pandemic situation will continue to improve (for many reasons), and one of the outcomes will be that we’ll get crowds at forthcoming North American Cup events.     

 

MISCELLANY 

There are a few additional points worth highlighting. First, it was fun to see Alex Puccio return to high-level competition. Puccio has been out of the big competition spotlight for a while, and she is a legend, so any event is bettered by her participation. She finished in 10h place. Also, cheers to photographer Daniel Gajda for taking part. Anyone reading this column has undoubtedly seen Gajda’s photographs of competitors at some point. His images help convey the stories of the events, so it was enjoyable to have him on the other side of the camera lens for a change in the qualification round. 

Similarly, Al Smith is probably most well-known for being the emcee voice of large-scale American competitions. But at this event, he instead took a seat in the commentary booth. Smith, routesetter Cody Grodzki, and climber Nicolas Milburn proved to be a great trio for calling the action, and such a variance in perspectives and predilections was continually engaging on the livestream.  

Finally, props to the National Team Training Center and the coaching of Josh Larson and Meg Coyne. It was noted on that livestream that Larson and Coyne have begun holding two-a-day practices (five days a week) for members of the American national team at the Training Center. That is a degree of scrupulous training that has never before been employed so consistently at the national team level, and the recent high placements and depth of the Americans at the World Cups proves it is paying off. 

At the present time, after the postponement of a Canadian event, the next North American Cup series competition is scheduled to take place at the Stone Age Climbing Gym in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on August 25-29. Check back with Gym Climber for full coverage of that event.          

 

RESULTS

Women’s

  1. Cloe Coscoy
  2. Allison Vest
  3. Sienna Kopf
  4. Nekaia Sanders
  5. Matti Dennis
  6. Quinn Mason

 

Men’s

  1. Charles Barron
  2. Ross Fulkerson
  3. Kai Lightner
  4. Zach Galla
  5. Ben Hanna
  6. Brian Squire

Feature image by Bree Robles