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Shocking Upsets In Speed Are All The Buzz(er) At Nationals. Results and a Hang-Onto-Your-Seat Recap.

Slips by top seeds, a rare tie and a missed buzzer kept the crowd on its feet at USA Climbing's Speed National Championships.

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USA Climbing’s multi-day and multi-discipline National Championships, which kicked off last weekend with the Lead discipline, continued today with Speed. Although the roster of competitors was packed with stalwart favorites and American record-holders, the Speed finals featured a series of shocking upsets that made the event among the most memorable in recent history. 

Emma Hunt and Callie Close bring the fans to their feet

Emma Hunt (left) and Callie Close (right) race for gold in the 2021 Speed National Championships. (Photo: Daniel Gajda)

The early standout “speeder” in the women’s division was Emma Hunt. The American record-holder finished the qualification round in first place and kicked off the final round with a blazing 7.59-second victory over opponent Olivia Busk. Hunt climbed even faster in her next two races; although she wobbled a bit midway up the wall, Hunt still managed to clock a run of 7.43 seconds in a win against Kiara Pellicane-Hart and 7.38 seconds in victory over Liberty Runnels. Such consistency quickly placed Hunt in the Big Final for the gold medal against her Stone Summit teammate Callie Close. However, Close had strung together her own set of consistently fast times to reach the Big Final, including an 8.57-second winning run against Anjali Sehra and a razor-close victory against former American record-holder Piper Kelly.

As expected, the Big Final race for the gold between Hunt and Close delivered fireworks. Hunt’s right foot slipped shortly after the start, garnering gasps from the crowd and allowing Close to take the lead. But Hunt stayed composed and managed to make up some lost time in pursuit of Close. Ultimately, though, Hunt’s slip proved to be too costly—she could not make up enough ground on the wall, and Close slapped the finishing buzzer nearly a second faster to clinch the gold with a time of 8.18 seconds. Hunt, with a time of 9.19, was awarded the silver medal. Ever the good sport, Hunt was quick to congratulate her teammate Close with a big hug while the audience cheered both women.  

The bronze medal went to Piper Kelly, who beat Liberty Runnels in the Small Final. The victory marked the culmination of a remarkable “comeback story” for Kelly, who had been sidelined for more than a year with a significant shoulder injury and extensive rehabilitation. The fact that Kelly is now back in top form sets up intriguing possibilities for races in the future, including hopefully a matchup between the current American record-holder (Hunt) and the former American record-holder (Kelly). 

Joe Goodacre holds off Rafe Stokes, but both men shine 

The favorite in the men’s division (and current American record-holder), John Brosler, did not advance out of the qualification portion. “Had some solid practice rounds, but then I just crashed,” Brosler admitted on social media. But such a surprisingly early exit from Brosler created opportunities for some new names to shine. Among them was 16-year-old Rafe Stokes, who clocked times of 6.41 seconds and 6.45 seconds in races against Oliver Kuang and Michael Finn-Henry to vault into the later rounds. (Stokes’ run against Finn-Henry was particularly noteworthy, as Finn-Henry was a Top-8 finisher in the 2019 Speed National Championship.) 

Rafe Stokes (left) and Joe Goodacre (right) fist bump after the final race.
(Photo: Daniel Gajda)

In the ensuing race against Micah Liss, Stokes slipped low. However, Liss slipped too—and more drastically, cutting feet completely in a big stumble on the wall. The costly slip from Liss allowed Stokes to take the lead and the eventual win, which set up a Big Final race between Stokes and Joe Goodacre. 

At the start of the Big Final, Goodacre slipped while attempting the “Tomoa Skip” beta, but managed to recover and chase Stokes. The race was neck-and-neck by its midway point, with Goodacre eventually beating Stokes by just 0.33 seconds (Goodacre’s gold-medal-earning time of 6.49 seconds compared to Stokes’ silver-medal-earning time of 6.82 seconds). The bronze medal went to Liss. 

Memorable as the podium races were, a tie earlier in the men’s round will likely go down in history as one of the most unforgettable moments: Both Liss and Silas Chang clocked times of 7.28-seconds. (Per the rules, they raced again following the tie and Liss took the win with a run of 6.16-seconds over Chang’s 6.69 seconds.) The rarity of the exact tie proved to be a precursor for a string of other surprises and upsets midway through the round, including Liss beating Merritt Ernsberger (when Ernsberger missed the buzzer at the top), and Samuel Watson besting World Championship bronze medalist Noah Bratschi after Bratschi slipped and lost significant upward momentum on the wall. 

The National Championships will conclude with the bouldering portion. Stay tuned to Climbing.com for a full recap of all the action from that discipline as well. 

Speed Podiums

Men

  1. Joe Goodacre
  2. Rafe Stokes
  3. Micah Liss

Women

  1. Callie Close
  2. Emma Hunt
  3. Piper Kelly