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USA Climbing’s National Championships kicked off this weekend with the lead climbing discipline at Momentum Indoor Climbing in Salt Lake City. The original field of 52 women and 59 men was steadily whittled down to eight men and eight women for Sunday evening’s final round, a thrilling showcase of veteran savvy and youthful zeal…with surprising finishes.
Olympians solve the crux puzzle; Grupper proves unstoppable
23-year-old Luke Muehring climbed first in the men’s division, cruising through the extremely physical low section of the route. A subtle kneebar near the third clip signified his entry into the burlier mid-section of the route, but Muehring stayed composed and employed another kneebar on the next move as well. Ultimately, Muehring fell while progressing over a large geometric volume and attempting to bump to a screw-on crimp with his left-hand.
The left-hand bump move proved to be a midway crux, as the next two competitors scored similarly to Muehring. Canadian Sean Faulkner, competing as a foreign national, secured the higher left-hand screw-on from the bump just long enough to be awarded full points—27—before falling, while Timothy Kang matched Muehring’s score of 26+.
The biggest surprises of the round came when both Zander Waller and Ross Fulkerson dry-fired off a slim right-hand edge, concluding with scores of 17+ and 18, respectively. Both competitors looked solid prior to the low falls. Such early exits from the route should be seen merely as unfortunate anomalies in otherwise stellar seasons for both Waller and Fulkerson.
With only three competitors remaining, Jesse Grupper pulled onto the wall and climbed particularly slowly throughout the route’s lower section. Grupper’s methodical pacing caused multi-time World Cup gold medalist and guest-commentator Sean Bailey (who did not compete in the weekend’s national event) to proclaim, “Jesse has this ability to rest on almost anything and he taps into that often.”
Grupper worked through the left-hand bump move that had stymied previous competitors to establish a new high point. Farther up the wall, Grupper cut his feet as he sank into a deep left-hand gaston. The crowd went wild at such a risky move so high up on the wall. Although Grupper fell at the penultimate handhold, commentator Pete Woods noted the performance had been “an inspired bit of climbing.” The continued roar of the frenzied crowd echoed this sentiment.
The last two competitors—Colin Duffy and Nathaniel Coleman—attempted to surpass Grupper’s score of 41+. Duffy climbed first and also progressed through the crux and onto the headwall, but fell while deadpointing to a small hold from a matched undercling and finished with a score of 34+. Coleman also made quick work of the lower burly sections and the crux. However, the commentators noted that Coleman began to look visibly pumped as he entered the route’s upper section. Coleman steadily neared Duffy’s score, but could not reach it. Coleman fell with a score of 31+. In doing so, Coleman secured the bronze medal and Duffy secured the silver—hardware that they can each add to their remarkable list of 2021 accolades, which also includes Olympic appearances (and, in the case of Coleman, an Olympic silver medal).
The gold medal for 24-year-old Grupper marked his second consecutive Lead National Championship; he won previously in 2019, and the 2020 Lead National Championship was cancelled because of the pandemic.
A finish for the ages; Mason wows the audience
The women’s final round began with 18-year-old Jillian Gerlitz climbing slowly through the route’s variety of red volumes and establishing an early high point of 34+. The stopper-move for Gerlitz proved to be a progression around and above a large yellow undercling volume. The same sequence stymied the next competitor, Norah Chi, as well, although both Gerlitz and Chi had moments of enlivening the crowd. In the case of Chi, cutting feet and campusing through a move prior to the crux garnered loud cheers from the fans in attendance.
Kyra Condie, who took part in the Olympics this summer like Colin Duffy and Nathaniel Coleman, climbed quicker through the lower section of the women’s route than Gerlitz or Chi. Condie was the first competitor to employ a drop-knee with her right leg to work through the cruxy yellow undercling volume. Impressively, Condie continued to climb at a blazing pace, rarely resting and working into the route’s upper section. She eventually fell while transitioning out of a toe hook, but not before establishing a commanding new high point and a score of 45.
Cloe Coscoy slowed the pace, resting more than Condie had throughout the route and finding equal success through the crux with the drop-knee beta before falling. Coscoy’s score of 37+ was not enough to best Condie, but it kept Coscoy positioned high in the results. Quinn Mason climbed next and not only progressed through the crux undercling volume, but continued to a new high point on the headwall. Weighting her left foot and creeping around the wall’s arête, Mason entered the highest section of the wall and powered through a pair of prism-shaped volumes to secure the top sloper and clip the chains.
The following competitors, Kylie Cullen and Megan Lynch, both progressed expertly through the route’s lower section. They each surpassed the halfway point on the wall—and brought the crowd to an enthusiastic crescendo—as they chased Mason’s score. However, neither Cullen nor Lynch could match Mason’s top and finished with scores of 37+ and 33, respectively.
21-year-old Melina Costanza, climbing last in the round, made a valiant effort for the top as well, looking “pretty unfazed” through all sections of the route; she even briefly got her foot tangled in the rope, but stayed composed to work through the awkward situation and soon returned to her smooth rhythm to round the wall’s arête. In the most heart-pounding moment of the round, Costanza neared the top of the route…and, with it, the victory. However, her right hand popped as her left hand reached for the final hold and she fell. As a result, Costanza was awarded the silver medal (with a score of 49+). Kyra Condie was awarded the bronze, and Mason’s top secured the gold.
Commentator Pete Woods aptly concluded that the women’s final round was “as close as it’s going to get,” with Mason and Costanza separated by only a secured top hold and clipped chains. In her post-event interview, Mason herself admitted to being “a little bit shocked” at winning the national title. But above all, the result created a potential new American star in 18-year-old Mason while not diminishing the renown that Costanza established previously this year in the North American Cup competition series, nor the star power that Condie gained through the publicity and excitement of the Olympics. Natalia Grossman and Olympian Brooke Raboutou, who possess byes into the 2022 World Cup season due to current rankings within the IFSC’s Top Ten, did not take part in these National Championships but still emanate star power as well. Having so many established stars and stars-in-the-making was a fantastic way to punctuate USA Climbing’s thrilling weekend event in Salt Lake City.
- Jesse Grupper
- Colin Duffy
- Nathaniel Coleman
- Sean Faulkner
- Timothy Kang
- Luke Muehring
- Ross Fulkerson
- Zander Waller
- Quinn Mason
- Melina Costanza
- Kyra Condie
- Kylie Cullen
- Cloe Coscoy
- Norah Chi
- Jillian Gerlitz
- Megan Lynch