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Sam Watson and Callie Close Win USA Speed Climbing National Championships

A night filled with neck and neck races, heartbreaking slips, and dominant performances

Sam Watson (aged 16) and Callie Close (aged 17) are the 2022 USA Speed Climbing National Champions. At last night’s Yeti National Championships, Watson and Close both battled through 16-athlete elimination-style tournaments to be crowned champ.

In each round of elimination, speed climbers were paired up and raced against each other on the standardized competition speed route. Whoever reached the end of the route first moved on to the next round. In each round, the fastest climbers were paired with the slowest climbers from the previous round. False starts (anything more than 0.1 second) were grounds for elimination.

In the men’s category, Watson came into the night as the clear favourite. He won gold in speed at the IFSC World Cup in Edinburgh, U.K. in September. He also won bronze at the youth world’s in 2022 and silver at the youth world’s the year prior. Watson had already secured a spot in the USA National Team but he still decided to compete. Similar to the famous “Tamoa Skip”, Watson has developed a unique beta near the top of the route that speed climbing fans are calling the “Watson Way”.

Even though Watson was favoured, he was still expected to face stiff competition his competitors, especially Merritt Ernsberger and Zach Hammer. Watson, Ernsberger, and Hammer were the only three climbers to achieve a sub-six second time in the qualifying round.

Hammer heartbreakingly failed to touch the buzzer in the quarter finals and was eliminated. In the semis, Watson beat out Noah Bratschi and Ernsberger outraced Quinn Ofrancia. This would leave Watson and Ernsberger to go head to head in the final. Both athletes are from Texas and neither had won a USA National Championship before. In the final, Watson blasted off right from the start with Ernsberger trailing behind. Ernsberger then stumbled leaving Watson all alone at the top. Watson finished with a time of 5.374 seconds while Ernsberger finished at 7.951 seconds. The current men’s world record is held by Indonesian Kiromal Katibin at 5.009 seconds.

Men’s top-4 results

  1. Samuel Watson
  2. Merritt Ernsberger
  3. Noah Bratschi
  4. Quinn Ofrancia

Callie Close, the 2021 USA Speed National Champion, was one of the night’s frontrunners. Emma Hunt, who currently holds the U.S. women’s speed record of 6.84 seconds, was absent from the night’s competition. She has already earned a spot on the USA Speed National Team and thus decided not to compete. Surprisingly, Close’s qualifying time was a little slower than some of her top competitors, not breaking sub-nine seconds.

In the semi finals of the elimination tournament, Piper Kelley defeated Sydney Williams and Close beat out Sophia Curcio. Kelly, aged 22, has never been a USA National Champion, although she did achieve bronze in last year’s comp.

In the final round, Close and Kelly were neck and neck but then Kelly bobbled mid-route. Close reached the top in 8.022 seconds, matching her competition personal best, while Kelly hit the buzzer at 9.405 seconds. The current women’s world record is held by Poland’s Aleksandra MirosĹ‚aw at 6.53 seconds.

Women’s top-4 results

  1. Callie Close
  2. Piper Kelly
  3. Sophia Curcio
  4. Sydney Williams

With bouldering and speed comps over, the USA National Championships now moves on to lead. Lead qualifiers will be held on Saturday November 12. The lead semi finals and finals will wrap up the event on Sunday November 13.

The semi finals and finals will be livestreamed on USA Climbing’s YouTube channel. Event highlights will also be broadcast on ESPN2. The YouTube livestream schedule is listed below:

Lead Semi Finals – Sunday November 13 – 12pm EST (9am PST)
Lead Finals – Sunday November 13 – 9pm EST (6pm PST)

To learn more about the 2022 USA Climbing National Championships, check out our article detailing the comp.