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Best of the Best – Grossman Versus Garnbret

Janja Garnbret and Natalia Grossman are on another level. Who will win the 2022 Boulder World Cup Series?

The US and Japanese National Teams dominated the International Federation of Sport Climbing’s (IFSC) 2021 Boulder World Cup Series. While Team Japan took control of the men’s category, the United States led women’s. Much like the men’s field, this past year’s results were potentially skewed by the limited participation of some of the Olympic-qualified boulderers.

Garnbret tops – photo by Daniel Gajda

Fore example, despite her victory in Tokyo, Climbing’s first Olympic gold medalist Janja Garnbret took fourth in the 2021 IFSC Boulder World Cup Series. With each World Cup victory valued at 1000 points, and a World Championships victory valued at 2000 points, missing even a single event dramatically affects a climber’s ranking for the World Cup Series title.

Although Garnbret did not compete in the first World Cup in Salt Lake City, nor at the Moscow World Championships, her two gold medal performances at the season opener at Meiringen and season closer at Innsbruck, not to mention her silver medal at the second Salt Lake Boulder World Cup, earned her fourth in the ranking. All three athletes who qualified above Garnbret; Grossman, Raboutou, and Serbia’s Stasa Gejo; competed in each competition of the 2021 Series.

Grossman won the Series because she climbed the best of the athletes present at the year’s events. However, Grossman did not go out for the Olympic Games. This year, Garnbret will not have any Olympic distractions and World Cups will take her focus. So, who will win this year’s World Cup Series?

While Grossman has become the defending Champion for 2022, an argument exists for Garnbret retaining her status as the Series favourite. If Garnbret competed in the World Championships and earned 15 place or higher, she would have become the second ranked climber in the Series. Her score of 2805 approached Gejo’s score of 3220 and Raboutou’s score of 3265 despite Garnbret’s absence from competitions.

Grosmann at the World Championships – photo by Dimitris Tosidis

These results pale in comparison to Grossman’s ultimate score of 5495. Still, if Garnbret had competed in Salt Lake and in Moscow and earned second to Grossman at these events, a presumption we can make given the fact that she did not place below second in any Boulder competition this year, then Garnbret would have scored 5220 points.

Naturally, the above presumes that Grossman would have retained her first-place positions if Garnbret had competed. In some ways, it seems likely that she may have. Grossman did beat Garnbret by attempts in Salt Lake City. That said, Garnbret’s consistency out paces even Grossman who scored third in Meiringen.

It is notable that when Garnbret lost to Grossman, Garnbret still topped all boulder problems in the round. While the above implies that Garnbret could have won against Grossman if she had decided to focus on the World Cup Series over the Olympic Championships, the greater point is that these two athletes appear to stand above the rest of the field. Where Grossman and Garnbret appear permanent fixtures of the World Cup Series top three in any given Boulder competition, no other athlete in the women’s field approaches this level of consistency. The separation of 2000 points is not simply a result of the weighting of the World Championships, it is also an expression of ability.

Obfuscating the future further, Garnbret will not have to train around Speed Climbing any longer. The nearly non-translatable sprinting discipline was essential to the Olympic format, but also very fatiguing. Garnbret will no longer have to train that and, as such, will have the space to put greater focus into separating her ability from the rest of the field.

In the past, none could chase Garnbret down due to her incredible ability. This is no longer the case. Grossman’s victory over Garnbret did feature some home-field advantages. Still, it largely represented the fact that Grossman could climb a final in fewer attempts than the Olympic gold medalist.

Although Garnbret will have better recovery coming out of the Olympic Games, Grossman has improved more rapidly than anyone in USA Climbing history. She has risen to the top of the World Cup Series quicker than anyone since Garnbret. While it is easy to discount her victory as a result of Garnbret’s choosing to not participate, it is important to consider why Garnbret chose not to compete. The sheer fatigue of these events, both mental and physical, proved too draining to complete them all. Most Olympians felt similarly, taking one or more World Cups off.

If Grossman continues to progress at the rate she has thus far, she may defend her of the Boulder World Cup title indefinitely. What will make the 2022 Boulder World Cup Series most exciting, however, will likely present in an exchange of victories as Garnbret and Grossman battle to flash all four final boulders.

Featured image by Dimitris Tosidis