IFSC Boulder World Cup Salt Lake City 2021 (Rnd 2): Report

© IFSC/Dan Gajda

The second IFSC World Cup of 2021 took place in the new location of Salt Lake City, USA, last weekend. Vail is the usual high-altitude stop in the North American tour, but this year we're spoiled with a double helping of SLC, one weekend after another. 

Brooke Raboutou, daughter of Robyn Erbesfield and Didier Raboutou, excelling in SLC.  © IFSC/Dan Gajda
Brooke Raboutou, daughter of Robyn Erbesfield and Didier Raboutou, excelling in SLC.
© IFSC/Dan Gajda

This first event provided something we haven't experienced in a long time: a competition atmosphere. While a huge crowd is still slightly unnerving for many, it was a novelty to hear cheering and the athletes were visibly feeding off this energy and revelling in the sense of normality that it brought. This excitable home crowd played to the advantage of Team USA, seven of whom progressed to semi-finals (5 women, 2 men). Two of these women were the stars of the show: Natalia Grossman (19) and Brooke Raboutou (20). 

Best friends and training buddies, the pair achieved their dream of making a World Cup final together. A video showed the women excitedly running up to and hugging one another as the semi-finals finished. As high as the stakes were in front of a home crowd, it was clear that both Grossman - who finished 3rd in Meiringen -  and Raboutou were having the time of their lives; any medal would be a bonus, and whoever placed higher, either would be happy for the other. This relaxed elation seemed to enable both to climb to the best of their abilities, and led to a nail-biting final where both would match each other, then inch ahead, and then swap positions at the top. 

Natalia Grossman: leading the next generation of female competition climbers.  © IFSC/Dan Gajda
Natalia Grossman: leading the next generation of female competition climbers.
© IFSC/Dan Gajda

The first two women's final boulders appeared too easy and passed quickly, despite number 2 apparently being touted as the hardest of the round by setters. Both Raboutou and Grossman flashed these and set themselves in a strong position halfway through, with Grossman leading on countback. Next, both were the only women to top number 3 and Raboutou moved ahead with one fewer attempt.

As former overall World Cup winner Miho Nonaka (JPN) - who topped the qualifying round - misread the boulder and slipped further down the ranks, the top 3 places seemed likely to be filled by the US women and French prodigy Oriane Bertone (3rd in Meiringen), who was close behind in 3rd. But the fourth boulder was a decisive, if nerve-wracking finale involving an explosive step and jump to a Zone hold. This attempt-burner boulder was smoothly topped by Nonaka, shifting her up the ranks, and then by Bertone; both in four goes. 

The competition was thrown open: if the US women failed to catch the low-percentage Zone hold, they would place behind Bertone. Raboutou fell short multiple times, attempting a mix of fast and slow methods and making one very convincing attempt at grabbing the Zone, but ultimately failing to hold the swing. To win, Grossman needed to reach the Zone. Any number of attempts would secure her a win, given the fact that she had 3 Tops in fewer attempts than Bertone.

Grossman repeatedly launched up for the hold, getting closer but then waning slightly as attempts exceeded energy levels. She rested and composed herself, taking a longer break. With just 40 seconds to go, Grossman exhaled and stepped back up to the wall. On her tenth attempt, she powered up to the Zone and raced to the top, doing more than necessary to take her first IFSC Boulder World Cup win. Raboutou placed 3rd and Bertone 2nd.

The two best friends had gone one step higher and made their first podium together.


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"It's a dream! I'm speechless!" said an emotional Grossman moments after the final. "It was so special to share this moment with my best friend Brooke. To be able to make the World Cup final together is something we have always dreamed of, and it's so surreal, so exciting to have a crowd."

Grossman also remarked that she had worked on the psychological aspect of competition during recent months, which seems to have paid off. Her calm, considered style gives her an air of confidence beyond her years. It's easy to quip that Janja Garnbret's tactical, Olympic-preparation-related absence after seven consecutive Boulder World Cup wins enabled Grossman and the younger generation to shine, but next weekend will be an exciting rematch with Garnbret back in the running. Who's to say that these newcomers - with all their newfound confidence - couldn't rattle her nerves and knock her off the top spot?

Boulder Women

1 Natalia Grossman USA4T4z 6 44T4z 15 14
2 Oriane Bertone FRA2T4z 2 53T4z 7 7
3 Brooke Raboutou USA3T4z 6 73T3z 4 3
4 Miho Nonaka JPN3T3z 4 43T3z 7 6
5 Jessica Pilz AUT3T4z 11 121T3z 3 6
6 Johanna Färber AUT3T4z 9 81T2z 1 8
7 Futaba Ito JPN2T4z 3 4
8 Katja Kadic SLO2T4z 3 6
9 Fanny Gibert FRA2T4z 3 7
10 Mao Nakamura JPN2T4z 4 7
11 Staša Gejo SRB2T4z 4 9
12 Alma Bestvater GER2T4z 7 13
13 Chloe Caulier BEL2T3z 4 8
14 Kylie Cullen USA2T3z 6 9
15 Giorgia Tesio ITA1T4z 2 13
16 Hannah Meul GER1T3z 1 7
17 Megan Lynch USA1T3z 3 9
18 Laura Rogora ITA1T3z 3 9
19 Sienna Kopf USA1T3z 3 10
20 Holly Toothill GBR1T3z 5 20
21 Jennifer Wood GBRQual: 3T4z 7 7
28 Emily Phillips GBRQual: 2T4z 5 12
36 Shauna Coxsey GBRQual: 1T3z 1 4
37 Molly Thompson-Smith GBRQual: 1T3z 2 4
44 Hannah Slaney GBRQual: 0T2z 0 3

GB Climbing's women got off to a great start in their first IFSC event of the year, having been absent in Meiringen. 19-year-old British Bouldering Champion Holly Toothill qualified for semi-finals in her first ever World Cup in 14th place, eventually finishing 20th. Jen Wood came agonisingly close to making semis, finishing in 21st place with a score of 3T4 and just one attempt off semis. Emily Phillips was 28th, Shauna Coxsey 36th, Molly Thompson-Smith 37th and Hannah Slaney 44th.

On Instagram, Olympic-qualified Coxsey wrote about back pain that hampered her performance: 'This isn't how I wanted this comp to go. I knew there were some unknowns but I hadn't realised I wasn't ready. The reality of dealing with my back, learning how to climb around it and being in pain when competing was too much for me today. I am really sad I couldn't show my best out here but it did felt like a step towards being myself back out on the mats.' Fellow Olympic-qualified athlete Julia Chanourdie (FRA) withdrew from the event before qualifiers, having injured her shoulder in a post-flight training session.

For Tokyo athletes, combining all three disciplines and phasing training to peak in August is no easy task. Some appear to be on good form at this early stage: Brooke Raboutou; Miho Nonaka (who lacked her distinctive shoulder tape and has clearly benefitted from the pandemic postponements); Jessy Pilz, who finished 5th, and Laura Rogora - a Lead specialist - who finished 18th. 

Jakob Schubert looks on fine form ahead of Tokyo 2020.  © IFSC/Dan Gajda
Jakob Schubert looks on fine form ahead of Tokyo 2020.
© IFSC/Dan Gajda

Eight male future Tokyo Olympians made semis, with Nathaniel Coleman sitting just outside in 21st. GB Climbing's men were also clustered just outside the cut-off, with Matt Cousins in 23rd, Billy Ridal 25th, Nathan Phillips 28th and Alex Waterhouse in 34th and Max Milne in 44th in their first World Cup.

Adam Ondra stole the show in the men's, winning his second consecutive IFSC Boulder World Cup and becoming the first man to do so since 2017, when Jongwon Chon won back-to-back rounds in Vail and Navi Mumbai. A Silence-esque M3 - involving an inverted foot jam - seemed to play to Ondra's strengths, but his all-round ability shone through on coordination moves, dynos and technical slabs.

Adam Ondra getting to grips with the pinches after the invert toe jam on M3.  © IFSC/Dan Gajda
Adam Ondra getting to grips with the pinches after the invert toe jam on M3.
© IFSC/Dan Gajda

"It was definitely unexpected," Ondra commented on the livestream. "But most importantly, it was amazing to climb in front of a huge crowd after two years, it felt surreal. I'm kind of trying to stay on the ground, because in terms of pressure this still feels like a children's game compared to the Olympics. In Tokyo it will be way more stressful, way more difficult. I'll keep training and we'll see."

17-year-old Mejdi Schalck (FRA) flew under the radar slightly in Meiringen, where he finished 12th, but he shone in Salt Lake, winning silver. Schalck became double European Champion in Lead and Boulder earlier this month and his potential for Paris 2024 and beyond seems immense, comparable to that of his compatriot Oriane Bertone. Schalck's slick coordination skills and smooth footwork saw him match Jakob Schubert - arguably one of the best and most consistent IFSC competitors of all time - in performance on three boulders, and outclimb him by flashing to the Zone on M1, a coordination Boulder. Schubert finished 3rd, ahead of Kokoro Fujii (JPN) by 8 attempts to Tops. 

Mejdi Schalck, an up-and-arrived French talent.  © IFSC/Dan Gajda
Mejdi Schalck, an up-and-arrived French talent.
© IFSC/Dan Gajda

Schalck's new-school skillset and strengths - plus his tangible enthusiasm for competing - will send him far. The commentary team (Meagan Martin and Pete Woods, who did a fantastic job) remarked that he seemed to expend more energy celebrating his tops than he did on the climbs themselves.

Boulder Men

1 Adam Ondra CZE2T3z 7 84T4z 8 7
2 Mejdi Schalck FRA1T3z 12 183T4z 4 5
3 Jakob Schubert AUT1T3z 3 63T3z 4 4
4 Kokoro Fujii JPN3T4z 16 183T3z 12 7
5 Anze Peharc SLO1T3z 4 71T3z 2 8
6 Gregor Vezonik SLO1T3z 2 51T2z 2 2
7 Simon Lorenzi BEL1T2z 3 5
8 Sean Bailey USA1T2z 5 7
9 Alex Megos GER1T2z 9 9
10 Mickael Mawem FRA0T4z 0 8
11 Nicolai Uznik AUT0T3z 0 8
12 Michael Piccolruaz ITA0T3z 0 14
13 Colin Duffy USA0T3z 0 15
14 Sohta Amagasa JPN0T3z 0 15
15 Aleksei Rubtsov RUS0T3z 0 15
16 Yoshiyuki Ogata JPN0T3z 0 16
17 Rei Sugimoto JPN0T2z 0 5
18 Philipp Martin GER0T2z 0 8
19 Jan Hojer GER0T2z 0 10
20 Christoph Schweiger GER0T1z 0 3
23 Matt Cousins GBRQual: 3T4z 4 5
25 Billy Ridal GBRQual: 3T4z 7 8
28 Nathan Phillips GBRQual: 3T4z 8 10
34 Alex Waterhouse GBRQual: 3T3z 15 12
42 Maximillian Milne GBRQual: 1T4z 4 9

The new generation has well and truly arrived, giving established legends a run for their money as they train for the sport's Olympic debut.

More of the same energy and inspiration next week from SLC, I hope...

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25 May, 2021

Did anyone watch the womens finals? I would just like to ask a question about Brooke Raboutou and her technique using the bolt holes & T Nuts for her feet.

I thought it was just a one off but no, she uses it as a regular technique if she is stretched out (She isnt the tallest). I am not having a go at her but i took my young daughter to a wall last night and mentioned it to her to see if she could replicate it. On the first climb she was able to use the t nut as a foothold. Not as effectively as Brooke, but with a bit of practice and the 'right' pair of shoes it would definitely be a competition advantage.

So fair game or open to abuse?

25 May, 2021

Fair game. If they don't want them used, I'm sure they could plug them.

25 May, 2021

In my home wall, even on my usual warm-up circuit I routinely use a bolt-hole foothold, as it just makes the move much more secure. Admittedly it seems fairly rare to find moves where it makes much of a difference, but they do exist and it really can help a lot in the right circumstance.

As to the 'legality' of it in competition I'n not sure, as I'm not current with the regulations, but I thought the use of bolt-holes on the main surface for progression had been banned, so unless the rules specifically limit this to hands, then presumably a climber could be penalised for using them for feet.

25 May, 2021

This is what i wasnt sure about. I have seen many competitor use bolt holes in the past with fingers and no issues with the judge. My daughter is under the instruction if i see her do it with her fingers, i will pull her down from the climb myself, competing or not. But feet/shoes......never seen it before and if you watch her, its definitely something she has practiced and something you could easily take advantage of, even moreso with some altered shoes.

25 May, 2021

It was discussed in the commentary. It's within the rules and normal.

The finals were well worth watching but quite a few of the best ranked climbers were missing.

For some side fun between problems you can count how many times our very own Graeme is seen running.

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