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Eight Defining Moments of the 2021 Competition Season

There were many incredible moments this season, but these eight stood out from the rest

Between the Olympic Games and the world’s return to competition, 2021 became one of the most exhilarating competitive seasons in climbing history. Today, we look back at its defining moments.

Meiringen World Cup – Boulder – Men’s Final; M1

After a year away from competition, the Meiringen World Cup kicked off what felt like the end of the pandemic. This return to normalcy brought climbing fans relief. Although there were many things to like about the Meiringen competition, M1 in the Boulder final proposed a unique move that only Japan’s Yoshiyuki Ogata could take to the Top. While this season held many incredible problems such as  W3 in the Women’s Olympic final and M4 in the second Salt Lake City World Cup, the first of the Men’s final boulders in Meiringen had several impossible and incredible qualities to it.

Salt Lake City World Cup #2 – Boulder – Women’s Final

Despite her incredible season, Natalia Grossman seemed like she could not break past Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret. Although climbing on your home field has its advantages, it also comes with additional pressures that can make it difficult to perform. While Grossman’s win in the first of the two Salt Lake World Cups was substantial, there was a question left in the air: could she have won against Garnbret? In the second SLC World Cup, these two master competitors battled for the top spot. Although it came extremely close, the end result affirmed Grossman as contentious against Garnbret’s strongest discipline.

Akiyo Noguchi climbs her last Boulder World Cup: Innsbruck

The Innsbruck Boulder World Cup was one of the most intense competitions of this year. Between the problematic videography of Johanna Färber, a dramatic thunderstorm that brought an early conclusion to the women’s final, and Akiyo Noguchi’s final Boulder World Cup, tensions ran high as officials struggled to get through the competition. Although the event had many faults, the moment of Noguchi’s final attempt in a Boulder World Cup felt heavy. The upcoming Olympics softened that blow, but her final climb on the Olympic stage brought tears to the eyes of spectators and commentators alike.

Akiyo Noguchi – photo by Lena Drapella

Mickael Mawem Leads into Olympic Finals

Although the men’s Olympic final also offered excitement, the qualification round surprised. France’s Mickael Mawem climbed one of his best boulder rounds to date and showed why he deserved to be an Olympian. Although the French climber did not maintain his position through the final, his dominating performance stood in the face of all of the favourites. Mawem showed that it is not power or ability that he lacks, only consistency. As such, an off-season’s worth of training could produce another leader in the international bouldering field.

Janja Garnbret’s Olympic Lead final

For some, Garnbret’s victory was suspected. Although she was the favourite of the competition, her performance at the Games took her to the physical limits of her ability. The fatiguing nature of the Tokyo Olympic format meant that even Garnbret failed to climb all three boulder problems in the Women’s final. Still, she led bouldering making it her competition to lose upon entering Lead. With that said, Miho Nonaka ran incredible speed runs over the length of the competition and a victory in Lead could push the Slovenian out of first position. It is difficult to pinpoint the move that made Garnbret’s Lead final so impressive. Instead, it is easier to admire the sheer control of an athlete resisting the pressure of two years’ expectation.

Janja Garnbret – photo by Dimitris Tosidis

Melina Costanza’s Double Win in Albuquerque

In the North American Cup Series, one performance hung among the international events. American Melina Costanza won both the Lead and Boulder disciplines in Albuquerque. Although she went on to make a single mistake at the top of the women’s National final route, Costanza climbed an almost flawless season otherwise. Pulling an almost Grossman level of domination in the American field, Costanza stands a chance to break out into the upper echelons of the sport.

Kokoro Fujii – M1 – Moscow World Championship Final

He made every Boulder World Cup final this season. In those finals, he walked away with one silver medal and one bronze but never quite cinched the top spot. Sometimes it seemed like a route reading error, and other times it was unclear what held him back. One thing that was obvious was his strength. Fujii is possibly the strongest competition boulderer in the world. Although strongest has many connotations, Fujii appeared to do things other people couldn’t. This became apparent in grand scale when he effectively won the Boulder World Championships by flashing M1.

In the men’s field, it is generally rare to see such a dominating victory, but from his first attempt through to his last, Fujii’s performance gave a glimpse into the future strength of competition climbing.

Oriane Bertone and Mejdi Schalck have break out season

This piece is more an evaluation of the two young French climbers. Many people broke out this year, but Oriane Bertone and Mejdi Schalck brought another level of precision to competition. What made them most interesting was how they climbed. Although these boulderers are strong, they often used momentum and beta breaks to ensure their high positions. The competition style looked most comfortable in their hands. Where Fujii showed what the pinnacle of strength might look like in this next season, Bertone and Schalck provided a masterclass on efficiency and timing at the World Cup level.

Featured image of Mickael Mawem by Dimitris Tosidis.

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