Grupper win Gold and final USA Men Olympic ticket

Jesse Grupper won gold and the Olympic ticket in Boulder&Lead at the Pan American Olympic Qualifier.

Jesse Grupper is smiling and playing around, wearing Olympic ring glasses while holding his gold medal and Olympic ticket.
Jesse Grupper is going to the Olympics © Lena Drapella/IFSC

Jesse Grupper is going to the Olympics after winning last night’s gold medal at the Pan American Games in Santiago.

Grupper came from behind after the Boulder round to win with 161.5 points, ahead of Sean Bailey on 141.6. Bailey and Zach Galla both missed out on an Olympic spot again.

Grupper joins Colin Duffy as the second male American athlete going to the Olympics in Boulder&Lead.

How it Happened

With only 20 athletes participating, we jumped straight into the semi-final round. Grupper and Oscar Baudrand would top all the boulders, finishing first and second. Sean McColl finished third with 3 quick tops and a second zone alongside Bailey and Benjamin Vargas. They were only separated by attempts. Vargas and Thor Villegas would finish in the top 8 of the Boulder round.

Benjamin Vargas on third boulder on the slab in the semi-final final round
Benjamin Vargas gave the home crowd someone to cheer for © Lena Drapella/IFSC

Grupper would put on a masterclass in the Lead stage, Grupper would put on a masterclass, finishing with 92 points and 3 holds from the top. Vargas and Villegas would do enough on the lead route to reach the final, finishing 7th and 8th. All three American and Canadian athletes would reach the final as expected.

Finding a stream for the semi-final took a lot of work, as the round was not streamed on the Pan American Sports Channel. Only part of the Boulder round was featured on CBC Canada before being replaced by diving as McColl started his round. The lack of coverage was a stark reminder of how much further our sport has to grow within these multi-sport events.

The Final

With eight athletes in the final, athletes compete in the boulder round in a split fashion. After four athletes have climbed a boulder, the first athlete returns for the next one. While Baudrand attempted Boulder 1, Thor Villegas would attempt Boulder 2.

Sean McColl setting up for the first of three dynos on Boulder 1
Sean McColl setting up for the first of three dynos on Boulder 1 © Lena Drapella/IFSC

The first boulder started in the middle and was the coordination boulder of the round. It starts with a coordination punch to the low zone. Then, a laché style dyno down and across to the second zone. Then, a roll-over left palm-down flag moves to the penultimate hold or a left-hand right-foot jump-up.

Galla was the first to unlock the final section of the boulder with a high left-hand and right-foot beta. Baudrand Sean McColl would also finish the last part of the boulder with the same beta. Bailey would be the only one to stick the flag and move it to the top of the boulder. Grupper tried to span the last dyno using his height to make it work.

Sean Bailey flashing Boulder 2
Sean Bailey flashing Boulder 2 © Lena Drapella/IFSC

The second boulder was a power climb in the roof on the right-hand side of the wall, which the routesetter thought was the easiest of the round. It started with a small jump, a window-wiper section and a powerful final move. The boulder saw four flashes from the USA athletes and McColl. Every other athlete fell off the last move.

Zach Galla flashing Boulder 3
Zach Galla flashing Boulder 3 © Lena Drapella/IFSC

The third boulder was the slab on the left-hand side of the wall and would prove to be the easiest boulder, with five athletes topping it. Bailey and Galla would both flash it.

Grupper would top out the boulder with 3 seconds to go after struggling to get his feet up while holding onto the high zone. After the competition, Grupper said after the final, “On M3 I actually forgot that timer starts at five seconds, not three, so I totally thought that I timed out. It was really shocking to find out that I actually got the top!”

The fourth boulder was the hardest of the round, with no one getting a top. The boulder was the most physical on the steepest section of the wall on slopers. The press between the low and high zones looked like it would break the athlete’s shoulders. Seven out of the eight athletes did manage the move.

Jesse Grupper nearly holding the final move on Boulder 4
Jesse Grupper nearly holding the final move on Boulder 4 © Lena Drapella/IFSC

The final move was the hardest section of the boulder. Only Oscar Baudrand and Grupper looked close to holding the top hold.

McColl and Bailey would finish first in the boulder round with 84.5 points. Galla was 0.1 points behind them, and Grupper finished 15.1 points behind first place in fourth.

Local favourite Benjamin Vargas climbing on the multi-coloured route
Local favourite Benjamin Vargas climbing on the multi-coloured route © Lena Drapella/IFSC

The Lead route was coloured, with each section coloured by the points scored in each section. The holds in the first section in green were worth one point. Each hold in the second section in yellow was worth two. The third section, made up of black holds on red volumes, was worth three points, and the final section on the headwall in black had each hold worth four points.

Vargas and Villegas would come out first. They both fell at the first crux of the route in the yellow section on Cheeta pinches, going for the hold worth 20 points. Baudrand would also fall at this point.

McColl and Baudrand would fall at the second crux, going for a hold 3 holds away from the black and red section headwall. Zach Galla would get two holds further and Sean Bailey one more.

Grupper needed to get four holds into the final section of the route to win. He was the only athlete who looked comfortable on the route, resting as he went and managing the pump. He would get to the lip of the headwall and shake out one last time before the final push with 2 minutes to go.

Jesse Grupper shaking out on the final Lead route
Jesse Grupper shaking out on the Lead route © Lena Drapella/IFSC

Grupper would get to within 3 holds of the top before falling off, scoring 92.1 points and winning the competition. He scored enough points in Lead over Sean Bailey that he would have won even if he had not got M3.

Grupper said after the podium: “It feels unreal, for sure, it’s an incredible moment for me. I’ve dreamt about this since I was a little kid, and it is so meaningful to see it through to fruition and have it actually happen.

“I knew that I said some points to make up for from the Boulder round. I was proud of the Boulder round, honestly, I think I’ve pulled out some moved that I don’t know if I would have been able to do a year ago, but I also wanted to fight as hard as I could on the Lead wall. Coming out, I took one move at a time, I knew that every move would matter, especially on that headwall, and I’m really glad that I was able to pull that out and make it happen.”


  1. Jesse Grupper (USA) - 161.5 points
  2. Sean Bailey (USA) - 141.6 points
  3. Zach Galla (USA) - 138.5 points

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