Yesterday morning, the 2021 USA Climbing National Championships began in Salt Lake City, Utah. Saturday’s qualification event ushered in 27 women and 26 men through to this afternoon’s semi-final round.
The event stands as the highest level of local competition in the United States and boasts a list of some of America’s strongest competitors. Although the US-focused event does aim to choose a US Champion, one Canadian decided to compete in this weekend’s Lead competition.
Salt Lake-based climber Sean Faulkner climbed an impressive round this afternoon. More on that to come.
Although this is not the first-year a Canadian has competed in a US Nationals, this year’s National Competition is unique. It is the first where all three of Sport Climbing’s disciplines have occurred within the same week period. Operating in much the same way as a World Championships, athletes must pick and choose which events they would like to participate in.
Unlike this summer’s World Championships, no overall winner will be crowned. All events acquire unique scoring that does not transfer into a combined score. With that said, the fatigue of those athletes that do choose to compete in all categories will build throughout the length of the competition.
American Emma Hunt may find herself competing five days in a row should she manage to make semi-finals in bouldering on Wednesday. With all of that said, this event has the capacity to stretch some of America’s best athletes to their limits.
The women’s category saw numerous impressive performances. Intriguingly, both Natalia Grossman and Brooke Raboutou opted out of Nationals this weekend. As the top ranked lead climbers in the women’s category, their abstention allowed room for Melina Costanza and Kyra Condie to assert themselves over the competition.
Although USA Climbing did not stream qualifiers, the national sporting federation did post videos of both the men’s and women’s routes. While many missed the opportunity to see the opening round, the semi-final live stream provided spectators with a display of commitment and fortitude.
As with international competition, the USA Climbing Lead Nationals semi-final ran in reverse order with lowest qualified athletes climbing first. Numerous competitors broke through the first few clips before falling around or under the 24-hold mark.
Megan Lynch then entered the field. The women’s route started low on two sloping grips. Squeezing through this narrow compression, Lynch climbed easily through the more positive holds down low.
Although she climbed well, it was unclear just how well she might do on this challenging semi-final route. In qualies, she moved into semis in 22 place. She was the sixth woman to take to the route. Where those that came before her found themselves unable to continue beyond the first crux of the route, Lynch pulled the gibbed dish, and reached high into screw-ons secured at the back of a large Cheeta volume.
The small holds appeared useable, however, the wall blocked the in-cut corners of the grips. They required precision. Seeming unperturbed, Lynch moved through the positive gaston and into another large Cheeta volume before entering the middle crux of the route. Gripping a black Flathold dish, Lynch crossed through and slapped out to a blue flake fixed far away. The powerful move forced many to fall as Lynch took her commanding lead. She progressed several holds further on smaller grips before falling into first position.
The next 20 athletes could not match Lynch’s performance. Instead, they fell appearing pumped on the low profile gibbing of the three-dimensional route. Of the eight women who ultimately qualified for finals, seven made it into the top eight heading into the semi-final round. Only Lynch broke into this otherwise cemented group of competitors.
While Lynch did manage to maintain her lead for most of the competition, she wouldn’t qualify for finals in first position. Instead, Melina Costanza continued her dominating season, carrying herself two holds further than Lynch. After qualifying for semi-finals in the first position, her consistency showed how dangerous of a competitor she may become. This result is underscored by her three gold medals in NACS this season.
She will be the favourite heading into finals, but Olympian Kyra Condie,second place finisher Megan Lynch and third-placed finisher Kylie Cullen each could disrupt this otherwise consistent athlete. It will all come down to the route.
In the men’s field, a less dramatic upset kicked off the category. Where the first 10 athletes all fell around the 30-hold mark, Luke Muehring showed resilience and pushed beyond the competition.
Where the women’s route offered progressively more challenging moves, the men’s route provided a different approach. Pulling off the ground, Muehring lifted himself through the bicep intensive start and continued high into the oncoming edges. This delicate second boulder did not cause many athletes to suffer. Instead, the third problem separated the field.
Cheeta volcanoes hung from a steep portion of wall. The issue with these grips and the way setters oriented their placements, came from their dual texture design. Instead of pinching and stabilizing through the shoulders, athletes had to maintain tension through an intense six move sequence. Where many fell, Muehring continued securing a comfortable screw on bolted to the best part of a Flathold.
Moving through a pocket, Muehring progressed through to the most challenging portion of the route. After securing a clip, Muehring rosed under to a pocket, grabbed a big flaking Flathold Tsunami and ripped to an in-cut crimp above. He managed to secure this hold and move to a terrible flat hold sloper above the angle change. Compressing between his right hand and left foot, Muehring caught the subsequent flathold, stuck a foot, locked off and brought his body to a thin edge. He fell going to the next hold.
His performance earned him eighth position and outpaced all who came before him. While he climbed well, 17-year-old Zander Waller put on an even stronger exhibition. Waller has climbed around first place a lot this season. He earne strong results at all NACS events he’s competed in. After winning gold and bronze in boulder and lead in Albuquerque, he seems like someone that is on top of their game, however, Canada’s Allison Vest commented that he may have yet to experience his break out season. 2022 looks exciting for the American.
From Canada, Sean Faulkner showcased his steady progression to the top of the field. His progressively more consistent results gave him the same 35+ of Timothy Kang and Luke Muehring. They were separated by countbacks. At the top of the field, Ross Fulkerson earned fourth with the same 37+ as Waller.
Meanwhile, Olympians Nathaniel Coleman and Colin Duffy faced off against Albuquerque lead gold medalist Jesse Grupper for the top spot. Coleman scored 42+ to Duffy’s and Grupper’s 41+. While both Coleman and Duffy have progressed at an astounding rate, Grupper also secured his first 5.14c Flash on Livin’ Astro just last week. The field is tight.
The finals livestream begins at 7:35 pm.
Women Advancing to Finals
1 – Melina Costanza: 47+
2 – Megan Lynch: 45+
3 – Kylie Cullen: 44+
4 – Quinn Mason: 40+
5 – Cloe Coscoy: 40+
6 – Kyra Condie: 37+
7 – Norah Chi: 36+
8 – Jillian Gerlitz: 36
Men Advancing to Finals
1 – Nathaniel Coleman: 42+
2 – Colin Duffy: 41+
3 – Jesse Grupper: 41+
4 – Ross Fulkerson: 37+
5 – Zander Waller: 37+
6 – Timothy Kang: 35+
7 – Sean Faulkner: 35+
8 – Luke Muehring: 35+