The Mine Bouldering Gym hosts USA Climbing locals and international talent
The Mine Bouldering Gym hosted its biggest competition of the year on Saturday. The USA Climbing competition at the Kimball Junction gym drew more than 150 youth competitors, including some of America’s top youth boulderers, across 10 categories. The oldest and most advanced group were the juniors, aged 17 and 18, where Laili Couper and Zachary Wilson of The Front Climbing Club in Salt Lake City each took first in their respective categories.
The two winners are veterans of high level competition. Wilson went to the International Federation of Sport Climbing’s World Youth Championships in 2016, while Couper has been the last two years.
Growing to love rock
Now a senior at West High School in Salt Lake, Couper hopes to finish out her season with another trip to youth climbing’s most competitive event.
But she wasn’t always so passionate about the sport.
In fact, when she started climbing at age 7, she only stuck with it because it was the physical activity she disliked the least.
“I did not choose to start climbing,” Couper said after the competition. “When I was in third grade, my parents really wanted me to have an activity, and they were putting me in all these different activities and I didn’t like any of them.”
She tried ballet, soccer and gymnastics, but they weren’t for her.
Tired of switching through activities, her parents put her in a class at a nearby climbing gym and told her she would climb whether she liked it or not.
“It wasn’t like the first time I got on the wall I was in love, which I think is a lot of people’s experience,” she said. “It was like, ‘This isn’t the worst.’ So I kept doing it. It wasn’t as bad as ballet or soccer. I grew to love it.”
Couper, who moved to Salt Lake from Seattle this year, completed all but one of the six routes at Saturday’s competition. The one she did not complete moved from a thin, balance-intensive starting position up a series of dynamic moves over smooth, rounded holds with few footholds on a slightly overhanging wall.
Apart from that route, she reached the top all but one other on her first attempt.
“I had never climbed at this gym before, but a small bouldering gym in a small town, that’s not really where you expect to find great routes, so I was happy with most of our routes,” she said. Couper only had two other competitors in her age group. She finished with 134.9 points, followed by McKenna Hogan of Team Momentum with 64.3 and Eliza Kate Steinberg of Planet Rock with 34.8.
Though Wilson, the male junior winner, has not been to Worlds the past couple of years, he is no slouch.
Wilson reached the top of all of the routes in Saturday’s competition but one – a blue route which he said relied on extremely strong back muscles to make a compression move.
He beat out his teammate, Devin Hammonds, who also competed in the 2016 World Youth Championships in Guangzhou, China, by one-tenth of a point – 134.8 points to Hammonds’ 134.7. Steven Johnson, who was not registered with a club, took third with 104.6 points.
Calvin Marsh was the event’s top finisher of any age group. He finished fourth in the Male Youth C category (11-12 year-olds) with a score of 84.2. Half a point separated Marsh from second place.
Outside of competition, Wilson, an 18-year old Skyridge student, is attempting a variation of a route in Joe’s Valley called Pagan Poetry, which registers on the high end of the sport’s open-ended grading system, which starts at V0 and currently tops out at V17. The variation of Pagan Poetry that Wilson is attempting is graded at V14.
For a comparison, The Mine’s routes do not usually extend beyond V10 or V11.
But regardless of past achievements, each competitor moves through the USA Climbing competition bracket the same way: starting with two local competitions, then up to regionals scheduled for the second week of December in Salt Lake City, then to sectionals and then nationals and, finally, worlds.
Couper said while elite competitions have more riding on them, the atmospheres can feel similar.
“The psych is honestly the same,” she said at the event, as teammates cheered for each other near an adjacent wall. “I’ve been to international events where the psych is not very high and it’s not really fun. There’s a lot of psych going on right now, so it’s more fun in that respect. They’re not really comparable in terms of the climbing, obviously – the difficulty and the climbing atmosphere – but the psych and the people supporting each other is very similar at all levels.”
Stifel U.S. Freeski Team athlete and Olympic champion Alex Hall secured the win in big air at Beijing, the same location where he clinched his Olympic victory in slopestyle at the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games.
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