Narasaki and Grossman win IFSC Boulder World Cup Salt Lake City

© Slobodan Miskovic/IFSC

IFSC commentator Matt Groom reports from the third round of the Boulder World Cup in Salt Lake City, USA...

Salt Lake City is a place of contrasts. When driving there you pass through endless baking hot salt flats until the city looms out of the heat haze. Skyscrapers are framed against a backdrop of mountains, traffic merges with lush green spaces. The homeless slept among the shadows of the trees in Pioneer Park, while inside the stadium at the centre of the park, the best climbers in the world prepared. 

Natalia Grossman returns to form.  © Slobodan Miskovic/IFSC
Natalia Grossman returns to form.
© Slobodan Miskovic/IFSC

This was my first time commentating on the Salt Lake competition and it was great to be out in the sun calling the shots from the commentary box in the middle of the crowd. Meagan Martin was my co-commentator for all of the Boulder and Speed rounds and her expertise on a mic was appreciated.

First, I want to mention Molly Thompson Smith (GBR), who had a very nasty ankle break just eight months ago and has returned, with Salt Lake being her first competition back. She looked good out on the mats during qualifying, flashing three out of the five boulders. A 31st place finish, but it was a fantastic comeback and I look forward to seeing her crush later in the season. Erin McNeice (GBR) finished in 27th, beating Holly Toothill who was 29th.

The women's final was packed with interesting athletes and on paper I knew we had a good round ahead. After a qualifying round that was perhaps a bit too easy, the routesetters had made things harder for the semi-finals and finals. We saw fewer Parcour style moves, and a different style of climb than in previous events. — something that seemed to be appreciated on the YouTube comments.

Natalia Grossman (USA) had a tricky start to the season. She missed finals in Japan and had to deal with that disappointment, not something she has been used to in previous years. She then had a nasty fall in Korea that resulted in a whiplash injury. Although she climbed through, she was clearly in pain and not moving in her normal style. 

Salt Lake is her home and she trains at the USA's facility known as the TC (Training Centre). On her home turf she shut the doubters up with straight flashes in the quails and 4 `tops in Semis. It was obvious from the moment that she stepped onto the mats for the final that she was back, and feeling good, that trademark smile never leaving her face. 

Annie Sanders (USA): one to watch.  © Slobodan Miskovic/IFSC
Annie Sanders (USA): one to watch.
© Slobodan Miskovic/IFSC

Boulder 1 was a slab, with awkward moves away from a corner to shallow dishes. The feet were simply terrible throughout and no one even came close to climbing it. Although all of the athletes got the zone the top was elusive. Enter Natalia. Her flash of that climb was ridiculous. It signed the start of a masterclass from Natalia. It was as if she had re-discovered herself; she had supreme confidence in her abilities. 

She sent Boulder 2, with its blind first jump and powerful sequences in just two tries. She was way out in front at this stage. Boulder 3 had a very hard-to-read move where the athlete was required to almost fall into slopey volumes, and somehow hold themselves, almost horizontally on the wall. Somehow, Natalia flashed it. An example of how good she has become at instinctively understanding boulders, and adapting beta in the middle of moves. 

At that point in the competition Natalia had already sewn up the win. It looked as if she could have climbed another four boulders, but instead enjoyed a victory flash of the final climb, which was all power endurance. She needed just five attempts on four final climbs on her way to her first gold medal of the season. 

Janja Garnbret (SLO) has been absent from the season so far due to a broken big toe, but is rumoured to be returning for the World Cup in Prague. I can't wait to see the face off between her and Natalia…

Oriane Bertone (FRA) has joined her teammate Mejdi Schalck (FRA) in a step up in performance this year. She won Silver in Korea, and made it two silvers in a row in Salt Lake. Although she couldn't find the solution to the first slab, she flashed Boulder 2, showing off her dynamic skills and nailing the blind jump on her first try. Oriane always seems to think differently and isn't afraid to try new moves, so Boulder 3 suited her. She took a deep breath before puling on, for the second time, and sent the sideways fall move with ease. In this round of few tops it was an important, quick send and it jumped her over Brooke Raboutou (USA) for the Silver medal. 

Brooke's final got off to a shaky start. Although only Natalia could climb Boulder 1, it was important that the zone was reached, and Brooke left it until the last few seconds and seven attempts to get it. The rule change on 'using' Zones has meant athletes can no longer simply touch a Zone to get the points. I was nervous that the judges wouldn't count her Zone, but a replay showed that she had clearly done enough to be awarded it.

She seemed to enjoy the powerful yet flowy sequences on Boulder 2, but her most impressive moment came on the last climb. It was a boulder that sapped everyone's energy; it was almost impossible to climb it second go as it took too much out of the athletes. It's pretty savage to have such a power endurance climb at the end of a long two days of climbing, but it didn't bother Brooke. She flashed it with ease and jumped out of reach of her teammate Annie Sanders (USA), taking the Bronze medal.

Annie Sanders (USA) is just 15 years old and has sparked quite a lot of debate about whether someone that young should be competing. It seems as if IFSC athletes (especially the women) are getting younger, and perhaps if we limit the age to 18 then the athletes will miss out on some of their prime climbing. However, there are concerns about pushing the athletes too hard when they are too young. It also puts lots of strain on the parents, who often have to accompany their children around the word, with all the financial and logistical issues that go with that.

Regardless of your opinion, Annie is up there with the best climbers in the world. This is only her third senior World Cup and already she's making finals, her 4th place this weekend a personal best. 

The young Chinese star Zhilou Luo (CHN) fought hard and flashed Boulder 3 for 5th, and it was great to see Fanny Gibert (FRA) on top form, making her first finals since 2019. 

Women's Boulder podium.  © Slobodan Miskovic/IFSC
Women's Boulder podium.
© Slobodan Miskovic/IFSC

The schedule was split this year, with women taking centre stage on the Saturday and men on Sunday. I liked this format and although it made for longer broadcasts, it was nice to split the action up. At 16, Sorato Anraku (JPN) has been described as a prodigy, and he certainly lived up to the hype during semi-finals. He was miles above the rest, flashing boulders that no other athlete could climb and ending up with four Tops in just five attempts. 

Team GB had two athletes in the semis with Hamish McArthur (GBR) having a frustrating round. He came close to topping the boulders but couldn't quite convert Zones to Tops and ended up in 20th. His teammate Toby Roberts (GBR) had a fantastic round and qualified for finals in 4th. In the past, Toby was known more as a Lead specialist, but I think now he can be considered a true all-rounder. 

Sorato was the favourite on paper coming into the finals, but he had some stiff competition - especially from his teammate Tomoa Narasaki (JPN). It was a fascinating face off between the two of them. Megan and I joked that it felt a bit like we were in a Disney film, with the young pretender challenging the experienced king for the keys to the kingdom. 

Tomoa Narasaki on top form.  © Slobodan Miskovic/IFSC
Tomoa Narasaki on top form.
© Slobodan Miskovic/IFSC

Boulder 1 had actually been changed from its original form…I'm not going to go into details…but it involved a cartwheel…make your own minds up! Tomoa flashed the new slab/rock over version, while Sorato did it in four attempts. Round one to the veteran.

Boulder 2 had a tricky jump followed by a mantle-like move on pure dual-tex feet and this time the two teammates were neck and neck, both of them taking two tries before ticking the climb. From then on Tomoa was always just slightly ahead of his teammate. He worked out the sequence through the slab of Boulder 3 one attempt faster, and flashed the final climb in an awesome show of strength, while Sorato did it in three goes.

There are often complaints about the Parcour, or trick style of boulders in Word Cup rounds, but perhaps Boulder 4 was a demonstration of why the routesetters have taken that route. It was a straightforward power and finger strength climb, with no real movement tricks. Unfortunately it was just too simple for this calibre of climber. I think there is a nostalgic desire for 'old school' boulders — trust me, I kind of want it as well, liking nothing better than a disgusting crimp. However, with athletes as strong as they are, it just doesn't really work. 

Toby finished 3rd behind Tomoa Narasaki and Sorato Anraku.  © Slobodan Miskovic/IFSC
Toby finished 3rd behind Tomoa Narasaki and Sorato Anraku.
© Slobodan Miskovic/IFSC

Tomoa stayed just ahead of Sorato and claimed the gold medal — his 6th, making him the Japanese male record holder for the most wins ahead of Kokoro Fujii. Sorato got the silver, and that is an incredible achievement for an athlete who is only just starting their IFSC journey. 

Toby topping boulder 3 and moving himself up the leaderboard into medal contention.  © Slobodan Miskovic/IFSC
Toby topping boulder 3 and moving himself up the leaderboard into medal contention.
© Slobodan Miskovic/IFSC

While the fight for Gold was between the two Japanese teammates, bronze was a close contest between Toby Roberts (GBR) and Sean Bailey (USA), both of them managing three tops each. I've known Toby for a long time, first interviewing him when he was about 8 when he appeared on the rock climbing scene in the UK, and it's great to see him progress so much. Ultimately it came down to one climb that separated the two of them, and Sean couldn't figure out the jump on Boulder 1. It was impressive to watch Toby climb the slab of boulder 3. He exercised extreme patience and worked his way slowly through the climb, showing a maturity beyond his senior competition experience. 

Sean Bailey (USA) had to settle for 4th, while Daiki Sano (JPN) achieved an impressive 5th place in his first finals and Hannes Van Duysen (BEL) got 6th after a few close…but far away moments.


In the men's final, Indonesia's Veddriq Leonardo clocked fastest time of the round – 4.95 seconds – beating China's Wu Peng, who slipped low down and took silver with 6.99 seconds.
Kiromal Katibin (IDN) overcame a foot injury that occurred early in the knockout round and won bronze. The former world record holder stopped the clock at 4.98, winning the race against home favourite Samuel Watson (USA), who finished 4th with a time of 5.98 seconds.

Men's Speed winners.  © Slobodan Miskovic/IFSC
Men's Speed winners.
© Slobodan Miskovic/IFSC

Aleksandra Miroslaw easily won her seventh consecutive World Cup – the fourth in Salt Lake City.
In the semi-final race, the Polish Olympian set her fastest time of the night, winning against China's Deng Lijuan in 6.39 seconds.
A slightly slower climb – 6.43 – was then enough for Miroslaw to secure the win in the gold medal race against Indonesia's Desak Made Rita Kusuma Dewi, who finished 2nd with 6.82 seconds. The podium was completed by Deng, who beat Indonesia's Rajiah Sallsabillah.

Women's Speed podium.  © Slobodan Miskovic/IFSC
Women's Speed podium.
© Slobodan Miskovic/IFSC

The IFSC circuit packs up and moves to Europe in a week, with Prague being its first destination. Hopefully you can join me there!

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23 May, 2023

It's Meagan Martin (not Megan, P2). Great write up for a great comp though.

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