This last week saw history made to competitive climbing. Although every World Cup brings with it a certain significance, Janja Garnbret’s 31st gold medal, earned in Kranj this weekend, made her the most successful competition climber of all time.
After a slower start than many might have expected from the World Champion, Garnbret picked up the pace to secure first in the semi-final. Later that evening, Garnbret went on to attain gold and a climbing World Record.
Her gold medal came with the 2021 Lead World Cup title and a score of 300. This placed the Slovenians just four points ahead of America’s Natalia Grossman. Italy’s Laura Rogora took third for the season with a score of 278.
On the finals route itself, the women faced 51 moves that broke into three boulder problems separated by a single rest. Although rests were once common in World Cup competitions, the modern six-minute time constraint all but removed them from these events. In Kranj, however, the route proved so difficult that the rest, despite its usefulness, could not provide any athlete the strength to make the Top.
Instead, athlete after athlete gave themselves to the challenging route with varied results. Grossman came out halfway through the event and took a lead over the previous competitors. Only Korea’s Chaehyun Seo out climbed the American, ultimately earning second din Kranj. Seo did not compete enough early in the season to become competitive for the overall title, however, she is one to watch for next season.
She sustained this lead through Rogora’s attempt on the Final route. After the Italian had an unfortunate heel pop that concluded her season with a bronze medal, only Garnbret could prove competitive to Grossman’s overall position.
Garnbret entered the field needing to win the World Cup in order to win the overall title. If she fell before Grossman, the results would favour the American. Naturally, the World Champion asserted her proficiency in front of her home crowd. In a decisive victory, Garnbret took the win for Slovenia.
Garnbret climbed almost flawlessly this season adding the 2021 Lead overall title to her already impressive Olympic win. Where it would take previous gold medal record holder Akiyo Noguchi a decade to secure her 30-gold result, Garnbret wound only need five years to surpass it.
The Slovenian climber will now look to the final Boulder World Cup on October 1st to further her season. Unlike Lead, Garnbret will have to work hard if she wishes to best Grossman for the title. The American currently leads Garnbret 345 to 280 in the overall standings. Grossman would have to climb an uncharacteristically poor World Cup for Garnbret to win the overall. Still, the neck-and-neck nature of these two powerhouses speaks to the strength of the young American.
At 22-years-old, Garnbret has climbed hard in competition much longer than Grossman. By comparison, Grossman’s breakout year in this mid-pandemic season showed that Garnbret is not an anomaly. Instead, the Slovenian represents the first in what might become a long line of masterful competitive climbers. Grossman exemplifies the evolution of the women’s category, an evolution further represented by France’s Oriane Bertone who, in this last year, showed the strength of developing competition climbers. Bertone currently sits in third position for the 2021 Boulder title following her rookie season in the adult field.
To that effect, American Brooke Raboutou also had a strong season in Boulder and currently sits in fourth for the overall title. Grossman and Raboutou’s progress could stand as an example for other countries considering building a National Training Centre. The astounding results of Team USA over this last year leave little room for doubt that team trainings improve athletes.
In 2021, the United States secured third for the Lead National Team Ranking and currently sits in a difficult to dispute second position for the Boulder National Team Ranking. Comparatively, the United States could not crack the top three in either discipline in 2019.
As a person might expect from these results, the US men climbed as well as the women this season. Between Nathaniel Coleman’s silver medal at the Olympics and Sean Bailey’s dominating performance on the World Cup Circuit, not to mention Colin Duffy’s impressive performance in his debut adult World Cup season, the US men climbed strong.
Although Grossman provided the greatest consistency of all US National athletes, Bailey’s strength in Lead ultimately earned him second place in the 2021 Lead World Cup season. His score of 277 fell short of Italy’s Stefano Ghisolfi and his impressive 319. Here consistency outpaces podiums and though Bailey won more World Cups than the Italian, Ghisolfi climbed high into Finals with greater consistency than all other athletes.
With that said, both he and Bailey could not maintain their strong seasons through the Kranj semi-final. Both climbers fell low while Japan’s Masahiro Higuchi secured first through semis. Higuchi continued this pace through the Finals and ultimately earned the first gold medal of his career. This medal paired nicely with his third-place finish for the Lead season title.
His high ranking here shows how consistent the Japanese climber became over this last season. Although many might have considered Higuchi a dark horse against Bailey or Ghisolfi, those who followed this season’s rankings noticed his name in and around those final positions. In some ways, his gold became a testament to his persistence over this last year.
The next large event will centre around the 2021 IFSC World Championships set to take place between September 15 and 21 in Moscow, Russia. Team Canada will see numerous athletes competing in their first international adult category. Until then, the world awaits further competition.
Kranj World Cup Final Results
1 – Janja Garnbret (SLO)
2 – Chaehyun Seo (KOR)
3 – Natalia Grossman (USA)
4 – Laura Rogora (ITA)
5 – Vita Lukan (SLO)
6 – Lucka Rakovec (SLO)
7 – Dinara Fakhritdinova (RUS)
8 – Natsuki Tanii (JPN)
1 – Masahiro Higuchi (JPN)
2 – Luka Potocar (SLO)
3 – Sebastian Halenke (GER)
4 – Domen Skofic (SLO)
5 – Fedir Samoilov (UKR)
6 – Satone Yoshida (JPN)
7 – Milan Preskar (SLO)
8 – Ao Yurikusa (JPN)
Lead World Cup Ranking
1 – Janja Garnbret (SLO)
2 – Natalia Grossman (USA)
3 – Laura Rogora (ITA)
1 – Stefano Ghisolfi (ITA)
2 – Sean Bailey (USA)
3 – Masahiro Higuchi (JPN)
Feature Image of Janja Garnbret in semis by Jan Virt.