Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
A couple weeks ago, I drafted a preview article for this year’s bouldering portion of the National Championships. The article never saw the publishing light of day, mainly because I quickly realized it was impossible to predict how the bouldering championship might play out. Bouldering was to be preceded by lead and speed portions of the National Championships, meaning there would likely be some significant attrition of would-be bouldering participants due to fatigue and ragged skin. Additionally, Team USA had its best World Cup season ever (and performed superbly at climbing’s Olympic debut) earlier this year, so understandably some of the best American bouldering specialists are currently in the midst of a prolonged training lull or just enjoying some well-earned downtime.
As it turned out, by the time the bouldering portion of the National Championship kicked off yesterday at Momentum’s Lehi location near Salt Lake City, any prior predictions would have indeed been immediately deemed null and void. Olympian Nathaniel Coleman, likely the favorite to win this year’s event given previous wins in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2020, decided not to compete. He stated on Instagram, “Certainly not an easy decision, but the bottom line is that the psych just isn’t in me this time.” Like Coleman, Sean Bailey—another favorite and winner of previous year’s national events—decided not to take part in this year’s bouldering championship either. Olympian Brooke Raboutou and 2020 bouldering champion Natalia Grossman chose to sit out as well.
Still, even with so many big stars absent, the bouldering event featured some intriguing routesetting and plenty of nail-biting action…while also establishing some youthful competitors to keep an eye on in future years’ national events and Olympic qualification pathways.
Duffy and Hanna take it down to the wire in unforgettable finals
With Coleman and Bailey willingly sidelined in the men’s division, the runaway favorite this year was Colin Duffy. Duffy surged through the qualification round, topping all five boulders (in 10 attempts) just two days removed from his silver medal performance in the lead discipline at Nationals. But Duffy’s strong performance early in the bouldering round was not without some good competition from Zach Galla and Ben Hanna, situated in second and third place, respectively, after qualification.
The trio of Duffy, Galla, and Hanna continued to joust in the semi-finals, where Hanna set an early standard by topping the initial two boulders. Duffy began to separate himself from the bunch when he snagged a rare top of the third boulder, a collection of open-hand pinches that had gone untopped for most of the round. And Duffy followed up the crowd-pleasing ascent with a top of the fourth boulder—and coasted out of the semi-finals as the only competitor in the men’s division to top all four boulders. Galla and a number of other competitors (Simon Hibbeler, Zander Waller, and Joe Goodacre) were close behind with three tops apiece, thus setting the stage for a wild conclusion to the event.
Duffy maintained a commanding presence in the final round, flashing the first two boulders. But Hanna flashed both boulders too, and both competitors struggled on their initial attempts on the slabby third boulder.
The men’s gold medal came down to the fourth and final boulder, a steeply overhung progression on increasingly larger Cheeta volumes. Hanna enlivened the crowd by sticking the boulder’s cruxy hand-foot match at the zone hold, but he timed out before he could secure a top.
Other competitors—Goodacre, Waller, and Hibbeler—struggled to secure the zone on the fourth boulder too. Galla drew audible oohs and ahhs from the crowd as he smoothly campused across a crimpy section of the overhang—but he couldn’t stick the top either. Only Duffy, climbing last, was able to successfully fight past the zone into a burly double-gaston and launch for a controlled top. In doing so, Duffy became the 2021 Bouldering National Champion, with Hanna and Galla rounding out the podium in second and third place, respectively.
Duffy’s championship victory caps off what can only be considered one of the finest competition climbing years for any American competitor ever. In the span of just a few months, he has appeared in an Olympics and earned multiple national championship medals—all before the age of 18.
Condie and Lynch make early statements but can’t stop Costanza
The most anticipated rivalry in the women’s division was a clash between Olympian Kyra Condie and the breakout star from the year’s North American Cup series, Melina Costanza. As expected, the two finished the qualification round at the top of the field, with Condie securing a clutch top of the third boulder that eluded Costanza.
Close behind Condie and Costanza in the scores were Cloe Coscoy, a mainstay on National Cup podiums in 2019, and Julia Duffy, who made her World Cup circuit debut earlier this year. Both Coscoy and Duffy (as well as Kylie Cullen) topped three boulders during the qualification portion and established a compelling chase narrative as they pursued leaders Condie and Costanza in later rounds.
But in the semi-finals, Condie and Coscoy could not find tops on the first boulder, whereas Costanza cruised up it. Costanza’s ensuing top of the second boulder—a hybrid slab on dual-tex volumes that finished with a dynamic upper section—drew praise from guest commentator Sean Bailey as “really good work.”
Costanza finished the semi-finals with three tops, but the breakout performance proved to be that of Megan Lynch; she topped all four boulders and held off Costanza and Quinn Mason in the scores to conclude the semi-finals and shake up the standings. (Coscoy, Julia Duffy, and Condie finished in 8th, 12th, and 15th place in the standings, respectively.)
In the finals, Costanza’s climbing remained consistently marvelous, particularly as she topped the first boulder and became the only competitor to top the second boulder, a footholdless traverse across scoopy volumes. With the ascents, Costanza began to pull away from Lynch and others in the scores. But 16-year-old Kylie Cullen stayed in the mix by topping the first boulder and then flashing the third boulder, a slab. Such proficiency on slab prompted guest commentator Allison Vest to label Cullen as “a little bit of a wizard at volume-walking.”
Maya Madere, a consistent American name on the World Cup circuit for years, also topped the slab, as did Quinn Mason, Megan Lynch, and Costanza.
The fourth and final boulder featured a highlight of the round when 16-year-old Adriene Akiko slipped as she began her first attempt…but incredibly managed to keep her left hand established on the start hold. It proved to be a crucial save, as she reestablished herself and continued through the collection of volcano pockets to a flash top (and, ultimately, a fifth-place finish).
Mason timed out while making good progress on the fourth boulder and finished in fourth place, while Madere narrowly missed out on control at the top but still finished with a bronze medal. The only other competitor to secure a top on the fourth boulder, aside from Akiko, was Cullen—and doing so earned Cullen a silver medal.
Costanza was far enough ahead in the scores that she did not need a top of the fourth boulder to win the gold medal—just the zone hold, which she reached and controlled. It did not make for the most dramatic and climactic finish, but such a cushioned lead did speak to how dominant Costanza had been throughout the entire bouldering event and much of this season at the national level.
- Colin Duffy
- Ben Hanna
- Zach Galla
- Zander Waller
- Simon Hibbeler
- Joe Goodacre
- Melina Costanza
- Kylie Cullen
- Maya Madere
- Quinn Mason
- Adriene Akiko
- Megan Lynch