Last weekend’s Series opener closed on Sunday with 2022’s first gold medal victors. Japan’s Tomoa Narasaki and Slovenia’s Olympic Champion Janja Garnbret walked away with wins at the tone-setting Series opener. Winning the first World Cup of the season puts the victor at a scored and mental advantage. It affirms the athletes’ preparations in the off season and suggests potential for further progression. Despite this momentum, Garnbret will no longer compete in the 2022 Boulder World Cup Series.
“Today’s win was a privilege. It means a lot to me because it’s not obvious that you will win every competition – each competition is a story in itself. Just because you won everything last year doesn’t mean that you can next year, so every win means a lot to me. That’s why I was so emotional!” said Garnbret.
Those following along noted the champion’s tears as she walked away from the wall. While the rest of the world often presumes the Slovenian’s dominant presence, Garnbret must overcome the pressure of being the favourite each time she steps onto the mats. In the past, she said that she appreciated how this pressure reflected a world that believed in her. Still, such a wide group of support comes with a pressure to perform for supporters.
“I’ve decided to skip the [rest of the] Boulder season this year. The Olympics last year were a pretty hard take on physical and mental preparation, so I feel that I need a little time off from comps and this year is the perfect year to do that. I already have [the Olympic Games in] Paris in mind!”she added.
Garnbret’s decision to take time away from the Boulder World Cup Series is commendable and brave. It is not easy to perceive your mental health in a world dedicated toward victory and progression. Longevity in climbing requires an enjoyment of the sport.
Naturally, Garnbret’s abdication from the season puts American silver medalist Natalia Grossman in a strong place to win the 2022 Series. Like Garnbret, Grossman’s ability on the wall has elevated far from the remainder of the field. With that said, the distance between Garnbret’s ability and Grossman’s is difficult to measure. It is also difficult to measure an athlete’s progression when they perpetually top all four boulder problems.
Although their abilities seem proximal to one another, Garnbret is limited by the difficulty of the boulder problems. In each round of this overtly challenging women’s Boulder World Cup, Garnbret not only climbed each of the blocs, but she did so in few attempts. Grossman came close, numerically, to Garnbret, with three Tops and four Zones in both rounds. Still, the actual distance between their abilities is unclear.
While Garnbret takes the season off, the rest of the women’s field will have the opportunity to gain more experience in Boulder World Cups while Garnbret’s remains the same. They will also climb boulders of the ever-changing style of competition route setting, perhaps lending them an edge in the subsequent season.
It is also important to note that Garnbret has much more experience than Grossman and France’s Oriane Bertone. These two athletes seem the most likely to win gold medals in the Slovenian’s absence. Other athletes, like Stasa Gejo, have a strong chance of scoring well in the overall series. Still, Gejo struggles to make the podium. However, Gejo has improved over this last year, and could have a breakout season if she hits her stride in Korea next month.
Regardless, both Grossman and Bertone are new to this level of competition. As such, they may be able to make long strides toward technical progression during Garnbret’s abstention. Whether these strides will be enough to shake the Slovenian in 2023 is uncertain. Although Garnbret is taking time away from competition, she will not stop climbing. Furthermore, Garnbret may still compete in the Lead World Cups.
Separately, it could be interesting to see what happens to the coverage of Sport Climbing if Grossman begins to win every Boulder World Cup in Garnbret’s absence. What might a dominating performance from the American mean for the elevation of Sport Climbing in mainstream American media? What might it mean for advertising opportunities for athletes of the North American Climbing Federations? Finally, American investment in climbing could mean the western elevation of all famous international climbers and accelerate the growth of the sport.
Featured image of Janja Garnbret, Natalia Grossman, and oriane Bertone by Jan Virt.