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It has been a busy July for climbers on the international competition circuit. The month kicked off with a Lead and Speed World Cup in Switzerland, quickly followed up by a World Cup in Chamonix, France. Right after that, a number of competitors zipped across the ocean to the United States and took part in the “sport climbing” portion of the World Games. And just this weekend, practically everyone was back in France for a Lead World Cup in Briançon.
Such a jam-packed schedule naturally prompts questions about whether certain X-factors (jet lag, fatigue, minor tweaks and injuries) might increasingly impact competitors’ performance. But it also made the Briançon Lead World Cup feel like a cinematic climax to one of the busier months the competition circuit has had in a while; indeed, all the highlights from Briançon felt magnified by the activity throughout July that led up to them.
Here’s a rundown of those highlights, along with the results from Briançon.
Grupper pulls away from the pack
One of the earliest themes in the men’s division was that of a bottleneck in the scores. For example, more than a dozen men found themselves stymied at the 30+ section on one of the qualification routes. This continued in the semi-finals, where six competitors (including Great Britain’s Hamish McArthur, Germany’s Yannick Flohé, and Team USA’s Colin Duffy) fell at the same spot on the headwall for matching scores of 41+. In fact, that gridlock at 41+ resulted in nine men (rather than the usual eight) advancing to the final round—McArthur, Flohé, and Duffy among them.
Yet, while many of the competitors found themselves scrunched together on the scorecards, Team USA’s Jesse Grupper managed to consistently separate himself from the field. In the aforementioned qualification round, he finished at the top of the scores, and he soon joined Slovenia’s Luka Potocar in topping the semi-finals route to lead that round as well.
The finals’ route saw its own bottleneck, with Germany’s Flohé and Alex Megos, and Japan’s Taisei Homma falling right after a burly left-hand cross move on the headwall, all concluding with scores of 35+. It should be noted that Duffy reached the headwall too before succumbing to that burly cross move to a jib.
However, Grupper—climbing last—not only stuck the left-hand cross move and the cruxy right-hand pop that followed it, but kept going as the crowd roared on the ground far below. By the time Grupper fell at the 37th hold, he had climbed nearly two scored holds higher than anyone else in the field—easily earning him the gold medal. With their tying scores, Japan’s Homma and Germany’s Megos took the silver and bronze medals, respectively, based on countback to the previous round.
Although this was the first-ever gold medal for 25-year-old Grupper, the big win was hardly a shock for competition fans who have followed his career. Commentator Matt Groom even emphasized this by proclaiming in Grupper’s moment of triumph, “It’s been coming for a while, hasn’t it?” Grupper previously earned a silver medal at the Villars World Cup and a bronze medal at the Innsbruck World Cup this season. He is also the defending national champion. If anything, this gold medal at Briançon felt like the logical next step in a steady upward progression of accolades.
Garnbret saves the best for last
As much as Grupper’s first-ever victory gave the men’s podium some new sheen, Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret made sure the top of the women’s podium looked the same as it has the entire season.
Garnbret, who is thus far undefeated in World Cups for 2022, motored to the top of one of the qualification routes and found herself close in the scores to the early leader, South Korea’s Chaehyun Seo. Then, Garnbret cruised up the smattering of red slopers and white volumes on the semi-finals’ route before dry-firing off a crimp just below the top—and again found herself positioned slightly behind someone else on the scorecards, Japan’s Natsuki Tanii.
But we have seen Garnbret behind on the scorecards before—most recently in the qualification portion of the Villars World Cup—and one of her greatest assets is her ability to perform adeptly when it matters most (translation: in final rounds).
Most of the finalists in the women’s division at Briançon were able to advance to the headwall, where they fought dual-tex slopers and crimps at a multi-sequence crux. For instance, Team USA’s Brooke Raboutou and Natalia Grossman fell while trying to snag a tiny right-hand nugget and concluded with robust scores of 41. (In the case of Grossman, the climb included some extra work of fiddling with a quickdraw that had inadvertently flipped prior to her attempt.) South Korea’s Seo utilized a subtle toe-hook in the crux section on the headwall, which helped her stabilize and notch a slightly better score of 41+. But Garnbret employed some unique beta too, a cross move to power through the crux, and continued climbing before falling while attempting a dyno to the penultimate hold. With a final score of 42+, Garnbret earned the gold medal; Seo was awarded the silver, and Grossman, beating Raboutou on countback, earned the bronze.
The World Cup schedule now has a bit of breathing room after a crammed July, with the next Lead World Cup scheduled to take place in Koper, Slovenia, on September 2-3.
- Jesse Grupper (USA)
- Taisei Homma (JPN)
- Alex Megos (GER)
- Yannick Flohé (GER)
- Colin Duffy (USA)
- Yoshiyuki Ogata (JPN)
- Filip Schenk (ITA)
- Hamish McArthur (GBR)
- Luka Potocar (SLO)
- Janja Garnbret (SLO)
- Chaehyun Seo (KOR)
- Natalia Grossman (USA)
- Brooke Raboutou (USA)
- Natsuki Tanii (JPN)
- Laura Rogora (ITA)
- Vita Lukan (SLO)
- Ryu Nakagawa (JPN)