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Grossman Goes Gold as Team USA Sets the Tone for 2022

Grossman's back and forth with France's Oriane Bertone made for a nail-biting finish at the 2022 Seoul World Cup Boulder final

Rain fell in Seoul this morning. As competitors brought out bags for their climbing shoes, the water began to seep through the final boulder problems. The crowd persisted, and their cheers mingled with the increasing volume of rain.

Stasa Gejo by Dimitris Tosidis

The women kicked of this final round with a stacked selection of athletes that missed only Janja Garnbret. The Olympic gold medalist announced her abstention from this and all subsequent 2022 Boulder World Cups last month. This power vacuum joined the photo controversy of last month’s Meiringen World Cup where officials showed athletes pictures of the qualifying boulder problems during isolation.

In Seoul, it appeared that the format returned to the original onsight format. Competitors saw their qualifying problems for the first time only when they entered onto the mats. Only finals allowed for any sort of preview. This is in line with Boulder competition tradition.

With Garnbret gone, and the sanctity of the Boulder onsight format preserved, Seoul became a barometer for the women’s field. American World Champion Natalia Grossman became the favourite heading into the competition, but it was not clear how that pressure might affect her. In the end, her result was conclusive.

Grossman not only topped every boulder from every round in Seoul, but she cruised the final. Only France’s Oriane Bertone approached the American’s ability, securing three Tops and Four Zones in the final.

Brooke Raboutou by Dimitris Tosidis

Bertone has become a regular feature of the finals and seems like she could retain a space on the podium across this season’s Boulder World Cups. She climbed well today. The difference in her strength to Grossman’s, however, is difficult to measure.

While Bertone looks hard to beat given her technical consistency and prowess, American Brooke Raboutou appears on the edge of a breakthrough. After struggling on a jump on W1, Raboutou went on to Top all three remaining boulders. As one of the shortest women in the field, Raboutou often climbs with different beta to secure Tops. Her ability to do so in today’s competition showed grit. Many would have lost their head after failing to execute the first move on their first boulder problem.

It seems that Raboutou will need to get better at larger moves to become a more medalist, but that is a very difficult ask in a morphologically-influenced sport. In the meanwhile, a person wonders if Raboutou would have joined Grossman in topping all four boulders if she had stuck the first move of W1.

In either case, it seems that these two women may be partially responsible for the rapidly developing US female competitors. With such elite-level athletes in their midst, climbers like Cloe Coscoy and Kylie Cullen have definitive strength and technical goals to aim for. The intense comradery of the US Team was easily heard when Raboutou or Grossman took to the wall. The American women appear to lift each other up.

Camilla Moroni by Dimitris Tosidis

This same sort of trend appears also in the women’s Slovenian Team and the men’s Japanese Team. Both teams have world beating athletes such as Garnbret, Narasaki, and Fujii for the rest of the team to aspire toward.

In either case, the event itself brought about numerous instances of incredible performance. After the dynamic W1, the women moved to a technical W2 the appeared to offer trick Zone that few could easily access on their send go. Bertone became the first to ascend the problem, ultimately forgoing the low sloping Zone hold.

W3 was probably the most exciting problem of the round. It featured a massive, perfectly set run-and-jump dead-point to a jug-to-toe-hook catch. Although many athletes climbed this problem well, Grossman effectively climbed static on what many had to dyno through. This was the first of two instances where the American showed her other-worldly strength.

W4 was the second. Where all others went feet first through a long-bodied bat hang, Grossman dead-pointed, and muscled her way to the top of the climb. Raboutou’s ascent was also impressive as the short climber extended herself through the wide positions and ultimately pushed toward the top after a high degree of effort.

Of all the competitors, Bertone climbed it best, and showed that she is improving faster than the rest of the field. To put it simply, she climbed it perfectly. Bertone and Mejdi Schalck have a certain flow to their movement that expresses an unparalleled level of technical intuition. At 17-years-old, they have so much growth left, and yet they are already medalling at the highest level in the world.

Women’s Result

1 – Natalia Grossman (USA)

2 – Oriane Bertone (FRA)

3 – Brooke Raboutou (USA)

4 – Stasa Gejo (SRB)

5 – Camilla Moroni (ITA)

6 – Mia Aoyagi (JPN)

Featured image of Natalia Grossman by Dimitris Tosidis.