IFSC World Cup Salt lake City 2024

With the first Olympic Qualifier Series competition in China just a week away, the Salt Lake City Boulder World Cup was a chance for athletes who hadn't yet competed this year to have a final tune-up. While for those few who have already qualified it was an opportunity to measure their progress as they aim to peak for the Olympic Games in August. For the few, such as Janja Garnbret (SLO) for example, having already qualified and romped to victory in the previous world cups in China, it was a chance to not travel half way around the world and just concentrate on their own progress. While the spectacle of individual World Cups this year is slightly reduced by different athletes being at different stages of Olympic preparation and the World Cups mostly serving duty as context to Olympic preparation, this context has created its own ongoing drama—as we see athletes appear from and disappear back into their training programmes—we never quite know who is going to show up at any given event, both literally and figuratively.

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One athlete who always shows up, both literally and figuratively, is Japan's Sorato Anraku. Still only 17, he seems to have attended every single competition available since he became eligible to compete at the elite level. He powered to victory in the final, with three tops and a flash to zone on problem two, which had no tops. Two more Japanese climbers competed in the final round, with Meichi Narasaki placing ahead of Austria’s Jakob Schubert by way of flashing his only top. Schubert (third) and Japan’s Sohta Amagasa (fourth) also finished with one top and four zones, with attempts-to-top breaking the tie between Narasaki and Schubert, and attempts-to-zone doing the same between Schubert and Amagasa. It was a strong showing from Schubert, who dominated the semi and looks ominous for the Olympics given Boulder is probably his weaker event of the two. It was also great to see A,agasa return to the competitions scene after a hiatus and look straight back on top form. The second Austrian climber participating in the final, Jan-Luca Posch, was first after qualification but injured his knee andfinished in fifth place, while Germany’s Yannick Flohé placed sixth. Both Toby Roberts (UK) and Tomoa Narasaki (JPN) have already qualified for the Olympics and missed the final by the slimmest of margins, showing that the competition for places in a men's Boulder final is as tight as ever.

In the women's final. Natalia Grossman again made the most of home advantage, winning her tenth Boulder final and sixth gold at a Salt Lake City event. While she finished on the same number of tops and zones as the rest of the podium, she looked peerless throughout the qualification and semi rounds and the final never really looked in doubt. All the final athletes flashed the first boulder and it had the look of one of those rounds where there would be lots of tops and flashing or second attempt tops would prove crucial. Grossman kept her composure and flashed the first three problems, only unravelling on problem four, where she took seven attempts to zone. Oriane Bertone (FRA), in her first World Cup this year, fell behind Grossman on the second problem after failing to flash and needing a second attempt to top. She then fell further behind with no top on problem three, a problem which was topped by four other finalists. A composed second try top of the final slab boulder put her back into contention for the podium, her eventual second place is a great result, but she must rue the missed opportunity on problem three. Bertone's compatriot Naïlé Maignan, competing in her first World Cup since 2019, finished also with three tops and four zones, placing third by way of more attempts to zone than Bertone. She had managed a top on problem three and would have pipped Grossman for the win in what would have been a sensational comeback result had she topped the final problem. Oceania Mackenzie (AUS), Brooke Raboutout (USA) and Mao Nakamura (JPN) were the other finalists and all flashed their two tops, but came unstuck on the other problems.

With results this tight, the Olympic Qualifier Series should be fascinating watching, especially given it will allow us to see some athletes so far not competing in World Cups this year, such as France's Mejdi Schalck and Paul Jenft, as well as fan favourites Adam Ondra (CZE) and Alexander Megos (GER).