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When we stated in our recent recap of the Seoul World Cup that Team USA’s Natalia Grossman was “simply masterful,” it was not hyperbole. By the numbers, Grossman topped every boulder in every round—something that no other competitor on the roster did. And eight of her 13 ascents were flashes, which is the type of statistical dominance that brings to mind another competitor: Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret, widely considered to be the greatest of all time.
But Natalia Grossman, who has so often been in head-to-head battles with Garnbret in World Cups of the past, showed in Seoul that she is a headliner all her own; Grossman does not necessarily need to be coupled with Garnbret to compose a thrilling masterpiece of a World Cup final round. That is not only exciting for Grossman’s American fan base; it is also encouraging for comp climbing fans around the world—who now find themselves with another megastar in Natalia Grossman as Garnbret takes a World Cup circuit hiatus.
But the question becomes: How did Natalia Grossman put together such a magnum opus in Seoul? Under close examination, there were many subtle moves and moments along the way—and particularly in the final round—that contributed to the commanding performance and ultimately led to her gold medal. Here are the main ones, put under a microscope as Grossman’s career and star-power launches into a new stratosphere.
Dialing in the dyno
The first boulder of the women’s final round entailed a dynamic first move—a big leap to a pair of incut purple volumes. And significant pressure was put on Grossman after the first competitors of the round—Serbia’s Stasa Gejo and France’s Oriane Bertone—flawlessly executed the dyno and flashed the boulder.
Grossman struggled on the dynamic opening, unable to secure a matched grip on the edges of one of the purple volumes. She fell backwards to the mat in an unsuccessful attempt as commentator Alannah Yip proclaimed, “It looks like her trajectory is just a little bit off, a little bit too backwards; not enough upwards.” This marked a crucial point in the competition, as Grossman was now actually behind Gejo and Bertone on the scorecards. Had Grossman been wholly unable to dial in the dynamic first move, it’s likely she would have lost the competition altogether. But she stayed calm, set up for a second attempt, and leapt with perfect precision. Commentator Matt Groom noted that Grossman made all the necessary adjustments for the move, and Grossman soon cruised to the top—still behind Gejo and Bertone in the scores, but in the hunt for the eventual gold medal.
Flashing a boulder when it mattered most
Grossman’s struggles on the first boulder, brief as they were, put her in a figurative hole; there was even less room for error on the ensuing boulders, particularly with other competitors such as American teammate Brooke Raboutou and Italy’s Camilla Moroni starting to find their form.
The second boulder was a 3-degree slab with a running start. A few competitors topped the boulder, while others were quickly stymied by it. In other words, the boulder did an adequate job at separating the field. Grossman had the best possible result on the crucial boulder, never seeming rattled by the smattering of half-moon volumes and flashing the boulder in a minute and a half. This nudged her from third place to second place in the scores—a comeback, of sorts. Furthermore, at this point in the final round, it seemed like Grossman was hunting down the gold medal, and Groom on commentary reaffirmed this by stating, “She’s starting to step it up here a little.”
Thinking outside the box
The third boulder, a run-and-jump spectacle with a dynamic finish, featured two critical moves that ultimately changed the complexion of the entire final round and the competition as a whole.
First, the boulder featured a low, twisting reach move that other competitors gritted through while working precariously towards the upper holds. The requisite tension, and the tenseness of the move, seemed excruciating. But Grossman could not have looked more casual, reaching statically and even chalking up while spinning 360-degrees and campusing to the next handhold. Viewers could hear Alannah Yip chuckling in disbelief on commentary. As if that sequence was not jaw-dropping enough, moments later Grossman successfully reached the top hold statically, whereas other competitors had leapt for the edge of the hold in a hopeful deadpoint. The ascent of the boulder completed Grossman’s mini-comeback; she was now commandingly in the lead, and commentator Groom aptly noted, “Just like that, everything has changed her.”
Sending when it was imperative
Despite being in the lead, Grossman still had to execute on the last boulder to win the gold medal. The boulder featured a bat-hang first move that other competitors, including Japan’s Mia Aoyagi, struggled with. Furthermore, after Oriane Bertone and Brooke Raboutou topped the boulder, the pressure was all on Grossman. “[Grossman] has to top this one to win,” Alannah Yip said on commentary. Yet, what was truly incredible was not just Grossman’s eventual flash, but her method in doing it. Discarding the requisite bat-hang beta of the initial move, Grossman campused the boulder’s pair of red scoopy volumes. Seconds later, when she found herself wrong-handed on the zone hold, Grossman was able to match on the hold’s tiny jib, swap her hands, and continued undaunted towards the top. “Why did we doubt?” Alannah Yip noted.
By the end of the event, having secured the gold medal, Grossman was lavished with deserving praise. Her performance was called “incredible” and she was labeled a “hero” on commentary. It was one of the more memorable final rounds by an American in recent years. Looking ahead, it also created the perfect preamble as Grossman prepares to take part in a pair of upcoming World Cup events on home soil, in Salt Lake City later this month. (Tickets can be purchased here.) Expect Grossman to be the marquee star of the events as she continues to slip into her role as the most legendary American competitor of the modern era.