More than 2500 people, stacked on top of each other in a hot gravel parking lot. The Wasatch mountains are in the distance, the sun behind, and in between a Word Cup Speed wall and Bouldering wall. And let’s not forget the stack of athletes. All smiles everywhere, because after the 2020 we’ve had, who couldn’t help but feel the psych? Competition feels like coming home.
As of this writing, just over 60 days remain between now and climbing’s inaugural Olympic debut. The buzz in the venue was electric. Everything new and shiny, the vendors brought the swag and then some, and even the media room, for christ’s sake, was huge. Everywhere you look, our sport has grown and is growing by Olympic inclusion. The already highly enthusiastic community has become that much more so.
And let’s get into the analysis! For speed, we saw three new records, one of which was broken twice in the same day. Veddriq Leonardo, from Indonesia, is now the fastest man in the world, with the time 5.208. Earlier that morning, it had been his teammate Kiromal Katibin. Both athletes had freakin’ blazed past the former record of 5.48, set by Reza Alipour. On the U.S. side, John Brosler placed a proud fourth, and set the new US record. Same for Emma Hunt. In her second ever senior World Cup, she managed a podium finish in one of the most thrilling races of the night.
Moving on to bouldering… it was truly a surreal night. Two Americans topped the podium: Sean Bailey and Natalia Grossman. And Brooke Raboutou took bronze.
Let’s get into the highlights and musings.
The Indonesian Superstars
Veddriq Leonardo and Kiromal Katibin stole the show with each of their dazzling record-breaking performances. If their names sound unfamiliar, it’s because neither athlete has been in the circuit for long. In fact, it was Katibin’s first senior World Cup, and Leonardo’s sixth. It wasn’t experience that enabled these two phenoms to become the fastest men in the world: it was sheer hard work… and perhaps god-given talent. When asked, what makes you two so fast, their answers came down to diligent training and goal setting.
“We are training every day, in the morning and afternoon,” said Hendra Basir, their coach and translator. “So we have a goal. Because we are not competing in Tokyo, we are planning to go to Paris. So that’s it for us. Every day we go to sleep at 9 or 10 and we wake up at 6 and we’re training until 8. And in the afternoon we’re training from 2 until 9 sometimes to break the record. This is mission accomplished for us.”
Read the full interview here.
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The US Records
John Brosler and Emma Hunt both managed to break their own records: Brosler from 5.62 to 5.60, and Hunt from 7.56 to 7.52. Both made proud finals placements as well. Hunt described what it was like to achieve her dream:
“It just doesn’t feel real yet.. I came off the wall after the third lap when I made it to the big final. And I was just so stoked… It’s awesome.” Hunt, 18, has only ever competed in two Speed World Cups: one in 2019 and this one. Although her international experience is slim, she’s been competing since she was 8. Hunt celebrated by getting a milkshake (cookies and cream).
Brosler’s performance came at no surprise. Over the years, he’s proven himself America’s best male speed climber. To back that statement: Brosler is a six-time National Champion and the 2018 Pan-American Champion. Not only is he fast, he’s goofy and laidback. And you can’t miss his stash. Fourth place was his best to date.
Other Speed Highlights
Miho Nonaka, from Japan, is best known for her bouldering. The 24-year-old has won three Bouldering World Cups—twice in 2016 and once in 2018—although second seems to be her lucky number; she was second at six Bouldering World Cups in 2016 alone. This past weekend, however, Nonaka made her first Speed World Cup finals. And then she made podium with a third place finish. Given her versatility, the Olympic-qualified athlete is a podium favorite.
The women’s winner was unsurprising: Poland’s Aleksandra Miroslaw. She didn’t lose a single race. The two-time World Champion proved why she’s one of the few speed specialists with an Olympic ticket.
Americans Dominate Bouldering
It was evident watching Sean Bailey in semifinals that he was on. When you’re the only other athlete, aside from Tomoa Narasaki, to have topped all four boulders, you’re off to a pretty damn good start. And Bailey kept that momentum going. The men’s final boulders were hard: the entire round saw only four tops. The first two were made quickly, by Bailey and Kokoro Fujii, of Japan, on problem number one: a heinous triple dyno (or double dyno if you had the strength to slow it down… which Bailey did). Boulder number two saw zero tops, as did three. And four? Only Bailey and Narasaki found the finish. It was one of the most exciting moments of the weekend—watching Bailey confidently ascend, just miss the finish hold on his flash attempt, and then rapid-fire a second attempt, which was all he needed.
“I’m speechless. It feels awesome. I’ve spent a lot of years fighting for this and it’s just crazy that it happened,” said Bailey to Gym Climber.
It didn’t look like Natalia Grossman would make it to the final round. She topped the first semifinal boulder, a strong start, but then got nowhere on the second and achieved only a zone on the third. She needed that last boulder. It took three attempts, but she made it happen. She qualified for the final round in the last possible spot. And she must have been riding that high of excitement. She was the only athlete to flash every boulder in the final round. Her climbing, erring on the static side, was phenomenal: confident and joyful. Janja Garnbret, the queen of bouldering, took second with two additional attempts, her first second in a bouldering competition since 2018.
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Many Olympic qualified-athletes were present: 22 to be exact. And many were missing. Of note, Shauna Coxsey, from Great Britain, pulled out after experiencing back pain in last week’s World Cup. Coxsey, who had an epidural for her knee surgery last year, received treatment for her ongoing back pain seven weeks ago. Jessica Pilz, from Austria, ruptured her A-4 pulley last week in the final round. And Julia Chanourdie injured her shoulder the day before the same World Cup. All three women were missed.
On the men’s side, Adam Ondra pulled out as a precautionary measure. He posted on Instagram: “I hurt my shoulder in the finals last week. It is not too serious, I can still climb, but certain moves are painful and way too dangerous for me.” Again, he was missed.
COVID (Yep, it’s still impacting our comps…)
On Monday, May 24, the IFSC conducted over 150 Covid tests. One came back positive: Nils Favre, from Switzerland. Favre went into quarantine, as did some of the athletes he was in close contact with. The IFSC has plans to track athlete vaccination status at future events.
And Some Quick Hits
-The setting was technical, more so than usual, owing to the lack of steep angles.
-Team Japan is still strong. With four athletes in the finals round—Miho Nonaka, Yoshiyuki Ogata, Kokoro Fujii, and Tomoa Narasaki—the team has proven it is still the world’s best at bouldering.
-Oriane Bertone, from France, placed second in both the first and second 2021 Bouldering World Cups. At this one, she was fourth. And the girl is only 16. Don’t sleep on her; she’s got a bright future. And she’s a pleasure to watch—expressive, lighthearted, and always smiling.
-The next World Cup is less than a month away: June 23-26, in Innsbruck, Austria. It will be the last Bouldering World Cup between now and the Olympics.
Feature image by Daniel Gajda