This evening saw the conclusion of an incredible American Lead season. Between the Olympic Games, North American Cup Series events and Team Trials, the United States has watched its athletes break out and push themselves to new heights just before the new year.
Luke Muehring kicked off the night’s proceedings on the men’s final route. The physical bottom section climbed with flow, but moved without rest through a series of gibbed volumes. Upon exiting the first clip, Muehring continued to take a narrow volcano in hand and crossed through to two opposing side-pulls.
The steep section necessitated quick climbing and precise footwork where any slip would kick the athlete back to the bottom of the route. Muehring persisted and moved through a fibreglass section that appeared more secure than most of the climb. Exiting, Muehring attained a side-pull and a left foot that allowed him to move controlled into a slick four-finger crimp.
This section proved more challenging than Muehring’s performance suggested. It kicked both Ross Fulkerson and Zander Waller off through unfortunate dry fires. Both Fulkerson and and Waller have had strong seasons that will peak in future years. At 20- and 17-years old respectively, they both have more to give.
Muehring moved through this section into a beautifully set shoulder move. Pulling through the shoulder, he flipped into an undercling and began to exit this black section of the route. the large fibreglass features allowed opportunities for a strenuous rest, but Muehring decided to move straight through the crimpy boulder problem that followed.
Just over halfway, Muehring gripped hard on a flat edge and pulled into a couple of crimps on a box. Coming in to a small undercling with his right hand, he went to bump the left, but could not quite make the reach. He fell going for the next hold.
Canada’s Sean Faulkner came next and climbed a similarly smooth run. Where Muehring appeared pumped, Faulkner appeared fatigued, but capable of continuing. On the same move as Muehring, Faulkner fumbled, nearly snatching the second crimp, but losing his pointer and pinky on the grip. Striving to overcome the fall with two fingers, he appeared to almost save the fall, but in the end, he could not overcome the momentum.
Timothy Kang followed but he fell in the same place as his predecessors. Faulkner and Waller came out next, but, as mentioned, fell low on account of dry-fires. This stunning pace brought the round to the top three finalists in a short amount of time. Albuquerque NACS gold medalist Jesse Grupper then joined the field.
Gripping the wall, Grupper was about to leave the ground when a call was made to pause his climb. Looking back, Grupper found a knot in his rope that his belayer untied for him. This could unsettle an athlete, but Grupper maintained focus, resequenced, and returned to the wall.
After two consecutive dry fires, a crowd-wide pause waited to see how the Boston-based route climber would take the notorious edge. He move slow and controlled, and the arena let out a collective breath.
Carrying on through the second crux, Grupper did not appear to notice the move that had stumped his predecessors. Instead, he continued up the wall and shook out on the gibbed fibreglass that followed the angle change. Staying strong through the lower body, Grupper maintained tension through one delicate cross, a decently stable stand up, and a tenuous move to a small left-hand. He reeled it in did not appear to struggle on all but the penultimate move where he fell into first position.
Then came the Olympians. Both Duffy and Coleman climbed differently than the athletes that preceded them. Duffy in particular climbed almost without error. He appeared more than strong enough for the route, but a mistake following the second crux had him fall lower than his fitness might have suggested. Coleman also climbed well, but he appeared pumped after the second crux and fell lower than Duffy. Just like that, the Men’s category was decided.
In his comeback season, Grupper earned a National title.
1 – Jesse Grupper
2 – Colin Duffy
3 – Nathaniel Coleman
4 – Sean Faulkner
5 – Timothy Kang
6 – Luke Muehring
7 – Ross Fulkerson
8 – Zander Waller