After a series of somewhat predictable results at the Meiringen and Seoul Boulder World Cups, Salt Lake City provided an exciting subversion of expectations. From astounding Canadian performances through masterful displays of power, this afternoon’s semi-final showed that tonight’s final could go to anyone.
After qualifying 15 into semis, Austria’s Jessica Pilz pulled back hard and toppled each of the first three boulder problems. She only slowed on the untoppable W4 slab. Ever the experienced athlete, it has been common to see Pilz at the top of the women’s field, but the 2022 season pushed the Austrian just out of this year’s previous semi-finals.
At both Meiringen and Seoul she fell short of the final round. Today she reasserted herself as one to watch. She was not alone. Japan’s Olympic silver medalist Miho Nonaka also struggled in these first World Cups, perhaps feeling the whiplash of returning to competition after a two-year-long Olympic training season. Narrowly missing finals in Seoul gave her the gumption to squeak into finals here in Salt Lake.
However, among all of the women in the field, the greatest congratulations must go to Austria’s Franziska Sterrer. After qualifying first in yesterday’s qualification round, Sterrer climbed into first yet again for finals. She missed finals in both of the preceding World Cups, but today drove hard into the final topping three boulders in six attempts. This will be Sterrer’s first Boulder World Cup final.
Although it is less surprising that she is in finals, similar congratulations must be awarded to Team USA’s Brooke Raboutou. The American Olympian is a cornerstone of American consistency, but more to finals than boulder podiums. Today, she outclimbed teammate Natalia Grossman by one attempt to Top, tying Sterrer for first position with three Tops.
Finally, defending World Champion Natalia Grossman climbed a nearly indistinguishable competition from Sterrer and Raboutou, taking only one extra attempt to Top. Notably, only Raboutou, Grossman, and Moroni managed to retain their finals-qualified positions from Seoul, and only Grossman has retained a finals qualification across all three of 2022 Boulder World Cup events.
This shuffling of athletes creates potential for most anyone to claim victory in tonight’s final. On the other hand, this shuffling also exposed surprises in the loss of Serbia’s Stasa Gejo and France’s Oriane Bertone. They qualified eighth and seventh respectively, just missing finals, but retaining a consistent performance. Only Nonaka earned a spot to Finals with two tops in this otherwise three-tops-for-finals round of competition.
In the men’s field, the day went to Austrian Olympic bronze medalist Jacob Schubert. Often considered most skilled for his performance on a rope, Schubert showed today that he is also a master of the rope-less discipline. Despite being one of the older competitors in the field, the 31-year-old athlete became the only climber to complete all four semi-final boulder problems. He did so in seven attempts. As surprising as Schubert’s masterclass on the Salt Lake stage was Japan’s Tomoa Narasaki failing to make finals. He and teammate Kokoro Fujii each failed to secure more than two Tops. Narasaki made a rare mistake in not going for Zone on M1. If he had done so, he would have certainly made finals.
This mistake was replicated by several favourites including American World Cup gold medalist Sean Bailey. Although Bailey would not have made finals if he had gone for the Zone instead of Top on M1, he would have qualified closer to the top of the field. That said, recent World Cups have shown more athletes skipping Zones in an effort to attain the more valuable Top. These decisions, although risky, carry an element of strategy.
Of the athletes qualified for today’s final, only France’s Mejdi Schalck and Japan’s Yoshiyuki Ogata made previous finals this season. Only Ogata maintained a finals position in each of his World Cup appearances this year. He medalled silver and bronze on each occasion. Schalck continues to impress as the youngest participant in either the men’s or women’s finals.
As with the women’s field, the greatest victory of today’s semi-final went to those athletes that secured final spots despite their previous season history. Germany’s Yannick Flohé showed progression in the European Cups and brought all of his talent to yesterday’s first place qualification and today’s second place qualification for finals.
He joined Austria’s Nicolai Uznik and Japan’s Rei Kawamata in their first 2022 Boulder finals. He will be one to beat.
Given the consistency of the athletes present, it seems that Grossman and Ogata each have the best chance of securing gold. In a sport where performing well, each and every time, takes precedence over taking first in a semi-final, they will look to give everything in tonight’s competition. With that said, Raboutou, Sterrer, Schubert, and Flohé each seem particularly stoked. The door is open for gold.
Finally, Team Canada continues to deepen. The 10-place finish of Olympian Alannah Yip and 15-place finish of Guy McNamee provided insight into the potential futures of both athletes. Team Canada is young and learning who competes best under what circumstances. It is not unreasonable given these results to presume a finals is in the future for someone on the developing Canadian National Team.
Finals begins at 8:00 pm EST
Women Advancing to Finals
1 – Brooke Raboutou (USA)
1 – Franziska Sterrer (AUT)
3 – Natalia Grossman (USA)
4 – Jessica Pilz (AUT)
5 – Camilla Moroni (ITA)
6 – Miho Nonaka (JPN)
Men Advancing to Finals
1 – Jakob Schubert (AUT)
2 – Yannick Flohé (GER)
3 – Yoshiyuki Ogata (JPN)
4 – Nicolai Uznik (AUT)
5 – Rei Kawamata (JPN)
6 – Mejdi Schalck (FRA)
Featured image of Franziska Sterrer by Daniel Gajda.