Salt Lake City has become the new centre for high-performance American climbing, as it has replaced Vail as the country’s competition destination. This year, it has seen many of the country’s best flock to its adjacent crags and world-class rock gym. This weekend, it will host its first World Cup.
World Cup May 21/22
Although the event will be the second Bouldering World Cup of the season, the field differs greatly from last month’s even in Meiringen. While the Americans will feature many of the same athletes, some climbers will compete for the first time since lockdown began.
For Canadians, this competition offers a special opportunity to see their athletes compete. Due to the cost of post-flight isolation, Canadian athletes decided not to compete in Meiringen. By contrast, Team Canada will send Allison Vest, Oscar Baudrand and Olympian Sean McColl to Salt Lake City.
While McColl had to make the 15-hour drive from B.C. to Salt Lake, Vest has spent the pandemic living and training with Kyra Condie in Utah. The duo have been featured prominently on social media and in various publications this year. For Canadians, it will be particularly exciting to see how far Vest has come since moving south.
McColl has not competed in a Bouldering World Cup since June 2019. He will want to test himself against the impressive field of athletes. As one of the first eight men to qualify for the Olympics, McColl could perform well in Salt Lake.
Oscar Baudrand is Canada’s dark horse. He, too, has been training is Salt Lake City and has ticked numerous double-digit boulders this season. As Salt Lake will become Baudrand’s first World Cup as an adult, the young climber will have nothing to lose and everything to gain against this world-class field.
To that effect, the field is strong. Meiringen Champion Adam Ondra, second place finisher Yoshiyuki Ogata, and third place finisher Tomoaki Takata will all compete again in Salt Lake.
Team Japan is sending Olympian Miho Nonaka who will look to win after a tough performance last month. In past seasons, Nonaka has stood apart as Janja Garnbret’s main competition. It will be interesting to see whether she can return to that level of strength in Utah. Olympic training will prevent her from reaching peak performance.
Although Garnbret will not return to the World Stage this weekend, France’s Oriane Bertone and American Natalia Grossman will both compete. These climbers finished second and third respectively after a nail-bitingly close competition in Meiringen. Grossman will have home-field advantage, but the historically powerful style of American route setting might ultimately favour American Olympian Kyra Condie.
She will be joined in her quest for finals by Olympian Brooke Raboutou and several other strong American women. Nathaniel Coleman will aim to make his fourth World Cup bouldering Finals in Salt Lake. With the home field advantage, he stands a legitimate chance at making podium.
World Cup May 28/30
The following week will hold yet another World Cup in Salt Lake featuring both speed events and bouldering events as separate disciplines. In accordance with Sport Climbing’s proposed Olympic event schedule, the speed competition will take place first.
After the Speed event on the 28, Bouldering will begin on the 29 continuing through the 30. Although most of the field competing in Utah on the May 21/22 will compete in this World Cup as well, a few additional names will provide a higher level of competition.
For the first time since the onset of the pandemic, the top-most qualified male Olympian, Tomoa Narasaki, will compete internationally. Olympians Kai Harada and Akiyo Noguchi will join him in what is sure to become a dramatic show in the second of these two weekends.
Although Garnbret will not present at the first of the two World Cups, she too will compete at the second. Against a tired field, her success would appear inevitable. With that said, climbing competitions always come down to the day.
The men’s field will focus on Narasaki’s performance as a benchmark for training in these coming days before the Games. Although many climbers will tune in over these weekends to watch the bouldering, this field’s performance in speed on May 28 has the capacity to describe the favourite for the upcoming competition.
With a hard-four minutes for the bouldering and a hard-six minutes for lead, it would seem that Olympic Sport Climbing favours power. With that said, bouldering and the lead could offer extremely close results between competitors. As such, a particularly strong performance on speed is essential to victory.