After falling off the wall and settling for sixth place in the International Sport Climbing Championship Sunday afternoon, Colorado's Christian Griffith tackled all the old questions. Why do the French dominate this sport? Will American climbers catch up anytime soon?
"It's a misperception to say they're so superior," Griffith insisted. "I think you'll see in the next year or two that the standards will flip. Americans have always produced great athletes in every sport, and there's no reason why we can't in this sport, too."And then Griffith sat at the base on the artificial wall and watched France's Patric Edlinger and Catherine Destivelle easily win the meet. By all means, this first World Cup event held in America was another showcase for the French. All the other finalists had their chances before Edlinger, competing again after two years off, and Destivelle, who learned after breakfast Sunday that she'd made the finals, clearly topped everybody to win $4,000 prizes.
Edlinger, in fact, reached the top of the 115-foot wall and was the only climber to even come close on a course made much more difficult for the finals.
"Brilliant," Griffith conceded later. "Every time, he comes through. He was teetering sometimes, but he kept his head together."
Edlinger and countrymen Jean-Baptiste Tribout and Marc leMenstrel finished 1-2-3 and France's domination might have gone deeper except that Didier Roboutou, who reached the roof in Saturday's semifinals, was disqualified when videotapes showed he had touched out of bounds on the wall. England's Martin Atkinson was fourth and 17-year-old Jason Stern was the top American, followed by Griffith and Scott Franklin.
Edlinger cut back his competition schedule to focus on major meets and to design climbing gear, deciding to do more than just lend his name for endorsements. His one appearance last year was canceled by bad weather, so this was his first full meet in two years. But he's stayed sharp.
"You shouldn't think that I was out of the business for two years," he said through an interpreter, when asked what he'd been doing. "You can't stop climbing for two years and do what I did today."
Destivelle climbed poorly Saturday after an insufficient warmup and failed to make the top five and a Sunday invitation - or so she thought. The judges' thorough study of the tapes late Saturday night showed that American Mari Gingery was credited with reaching a higher point than she deserved, because she had touched out of bounds on her last lunge.
Using surveying equipment Sunday morning, the judges determined that even though they'd taken different routes up the wall, Gingery and Destivelle had reached the same point and tied for fifth place. "It was a close call," meet director Jeff Lowe said. So Destivelle, who confessed to, among other training violations, eating a big breakfast, had to gear up for the finals.
Fortunately for her, she was the last scheduled climber and was inspired by Edlinger's effort immediately ahead of her. And Destivelle moved ahead of Gingery and Lynn Hill to win the women's division, although she'd rather not have tried to climb the men's wall.
"We feel disappointed and ridiculous, because we don't reach the top," she said.
Then again, only Edlinger did that Sunday, serving notice that he's still the world climbing star. "Everybody said he's finished, but he's not finished," noted Destivelle.
Said Griffith, "I guess he's back in."
And that means Griffith and the other Americans still have a way to go. More stateside events like this one at Snowbird will help.