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Colorado climbers at the Paris Olympics underline Boulder’s elite status in the sport

American Colin Duffy competes in the semifinals of the men’s bouldering competition for the IFSC Climbing World Cup in Innsbruck on June 16, 2023. (Photo by Johann GRODER / various sources / AFP) / Austria OUT (Photo by JOHANN GRODER/APA/EXPA/AFP via Getty Images)

The path to American sport climbing at the Olympic Games in Paris led through bouldering.

Three of the four Americans who went to Paris to lead and boulder – Colin Duffy, Brooke Raboutou and Natalia Grossman – spent their youth at ABC Kids Climbing in Boulder. There, the trio cemented the city’s reputation as one of America’s top climbing hotspots. And soon, they could cement that reputation even further by bringing home gold.

“Colorado was the mecca of climbing in the U.S. for a while, and in many ways it still is,” Duffy said. “Boulder was such a notable part of the early days of climbing, and some of the first climbing gyms in the U.S. were located there and the national championships were held there in the early 2000s.

“Seeing the talent that Boulder has produced is truly special and I’m really proud to be a Coloradan and to be part of the newest chapter.”

Duffy, 20, was the youngest U.S. climber at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics when the sport made its Olympic debut. He finished seventh there, while Raboutou finished fifth. Grossman did not qualify for Tokyo, but secured her spot in Paris by defeating fellow countrywoman Raboutou, 23, to win the gold medal at the Pan American Games last fall. She also finished the year ranked No. 1 in bouldering.

Both Duffy and Raboutou have also won gold since Tokyo. The former took first place in bouldering and lead climbing at the 2022 IFSC Climbing World Cup. Raboutou, meanwhile, won gold in bouldering at the 2023 IFSC Climbing World Cup.

All three competed for Team ABC Boulder under Brooke’s parents, Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou and Didier Raboutou, who were experienced climbers on the international competition circuit. It was on Team ABC Boulder that the rising stars developed a friendship and, in the case of Raboutou and Grossman, laid the foundation for a budding professional rivalry.

Brooke Raboutou of the USA competes in the women's bouldering and lead qualification on June 21, 2024 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by David Balogh/Getty Images)
Brooke Raboutou of the USA competes in the women’s bouldering and lead qualification on June 21, 2024 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by David Balogh/Getty Images)

“They came to train three or four days a week, all with the same goals,” Erbesfield-Raboutou said. “They continued to improve on the youth circuit and as they got older, around 16, they moved to the adult circuit, the World Cup circuit. They were able to grow together in the sport. And even now, when they compete together, there are a lot of roots and childhood memories between them.”

The trio’s successes in recent years have built on the greatness of the bouldering climbing legends before them.

Notable local men like Daniel Woods (eight-time American Bouldering Series champion), Shawn Raboutou (Brooke’s older brother, the first to climb two different V17 boulder problems), and Paul Robinson (a pioneer in setting boulder problems), as well as famous women like Lynn Hill and Bobbi Bensman, set the stage for Boulder’s newest talent.

“They say you stand on the shoulders of those who came before you,” Hill said. “Someone had to go out and pave the way, and it just so happened that it was us (in Boulder). It’s natural that when you’re young and you’re climbing with these experienced people, exchanging ideas and watching the success of older climbers, you learn and grow and want to emulate them.”

Lynn Hill, world-class climber, is photographed at Chautauqua Park in Boulder on April 12, 2002. Glenn Asakawa, Denver Post
Lynn Hill, world-class climber, is photographed at Chautauqua Park in Boulder on April 12, 2002. (Glenn Asakawa, Denver Post)

Hill made the first free ascent of The Nose on El Capitan and won 30 national titles, while Bensman won the Phoenix Bouldering Contest 13 years in a row and earned 20 national titles. Their achievements, along with the men and an infrastructure in Boulder that made climbing possible, laid the foundation for the rise of Duffy, Raboutou and Grossman.

“The competitions that started in the mid to late 1980s and the organizations that ran them were a big deal. They helped bring in a lot of new, young climbers and increase interest in the sport,” Bensman said. “The indoor climbing scene was really strong in Colorado in the early days, and of course there was also access to all the great outdoor climbing opportunities that exist here. That made the state a mecca.”

But unlike the icons mentioned above, Duffy, Raboutou and Grossman can now showcase themselves on the Olympic stage after climbing became part of the Olympic program three years ago.

In Tokyo, the disciplines of lead, bouldering and speed were combined into a single event. However, for Paris, the format has been changed. Now speed is separated from lead and bouldering, which are held as a combined event.

“I’m grateful that the timing worked out so well because as a kid, I didn’t dream of competing in the Olympics, I dreamed of competing in the World Championships,” Duffy said. “I was just starting to compete at a high level and the same was true for Brooke and Natalia when the first Olympics came around. I’m excited to try again at this Olympics and hopefully achieve more in the future.”

Duffy, a Broomfield native and Stargate Charter School graduate, is currently a student at CU. Raboutou and Grossman both graduated from Fairview. Grossman moved to Boulder from California as a teenager for the climbing culture and is a CU graduate who has since moved to Salt Lake City.

American Natalia Grossman will compete in the lead phase of the women's bouldering and lead finals of the Pan American Games Santiago 2023 on the climbing walls of Cerrillos Park in Santiago on October 24, 2023. (Photo by Pablo VERA / AFP)
American Natalia Grossman will compete in the lead phase of the women’s bouldering and lead finals of the Pan American Games Santiago 2023 on the climbing walls of Cerrillos Park in Santiago on October 24, 2023. (Photo by Pablo VERA / AFP)

There, the 10-time bouldering gold medalist is part of the other center of US climbing. Salt Lake City is home to the headquarters of USA Climbing and Black Diamond Equipment. Bensman, who splits her time between that city and Superior, believes Utah’s capital has surpassed Boulder in terms of facilities and sheer number of elite climbers.

“It feels like you have a climbing gym on every corner in Salt Lake, and that’s crazy because they’re world-class gyms,” Bensman said. “Some of the walls are 80 feet tall, and we don’t have that here in Colorado. A lot of the best climbers in the country live in Salt Lake. But as a climber, you can’t go wrong in either area.”

In Tokyo, Salt Lake City climber Nathaniel Coleman took silver, becoming the first and only American to win a medal at the Games. In Paris, Colorado natives Duffy and Raboutou have a good chance not only to join Grossman on the podium, but also to make the Centennial State the first to win a climbing gold medal for the United States.

“Hopefully I’ll be mentally strong and make smart decisions on the wall,” Duffy said. “If I climb smart and strong, the results will follow. When I step on that stage, my first goal is to get back into the finals and after that it’s about giving it my all and seeing what can happen.”


Schedule for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris in sport climbing

All MDT times and schedule are subject to change.

Colin Duffy of Team United States of America during the men's combined sport climbing final on the thirteenth day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Aomi Urban Sports Park on August 5, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)
Colin Duffy of Team United States of America during the men’s combined sport climbing final on the thirteenth day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Aomi Urban Sports Park on August 5, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

Monday, August 5

02:00 – 06:00 Boulder semi-finals men, speed qualification women

Tuesday, August 6

02.00 – 06.00 Boulder semi-finals women, speed qualification men

Wednesday, August 7

02:00 – 05:15 Semifinal Lead Men, Final Speed ​​​​Women

Thursday, August 8

02:00 – 05:15 Semifinal Lead Women, Final Speed ​​​​Men

Friday, August 9

02:00 – 05:30 Boulder/Lead Final Men

Saturday, August 10

02:00 – 05:30 Boulder/Lead Final Women

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