Sport climbing star Natalia Grossman exclusive: "The biggest thing is to enjoy the moment"

Speaking to Olympics.com ahead of the second-leg of the 2022 IFSC World Cup in Salt Lake City, the bouldering world champion opened up on her start in the sport and her intentions for Paris 2024.  

By Lorena Encabo Garcia and Chloe Merrell
Picture by USA TODAY Sports

Enjoying the moment; that is the current focus for sport climbing rising star Natalia Grossman.

And, after all, why not?

The 20-year-old climber from the United States has seen her stocks soar in recent months thanks to dominant displays across the World Cup competition.

In 2021, Grossman had one of the most lucrative seasons in American climbing history. Having never advanced to a World Cup to finishing on the podium in all four Bouldering World Cups, with two golds, one silver and a bronze – her standing amongst the climbing order swiftly changed.

And just when it seemed like her breakout year couldn’t be topped Grossman then went on to take the title at the Bouldering World Championships in Moscow. Her victory marked her as the second only American to covet the prize after the legendary Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou.

Perhaps worryingly for Grossman’s competitors, the boulder specialist appears to have started this year’s World Cup season precisely where she left the last; hungry, powerful and out for success.

A second-place finish in Meiringen, Switzerland followed up with two consecutive first place podiums in Seoul, Korea and Salt Lake City has Grossman comfortably in the lead for bouldering in the World Cup standings ahead of the second event in Utah.

In an exclusive interview with Olympics.com ahead of her home World Cup event, Grossman sat down to discuss her origin story, her psychology and why the climbing community is so tight-knit.

Olympics.com: What are your expectations ahead of this weekend’s World Cup in Salt Lake City?

Grossman: I’d love to just perform to the best of my abilities and just continue to have fun with it. Try and not let the pressure get to me.

O: Who is Natalia Grossman when she is not climbing?

G: Outside of climbing I tend to focus on school a lot. It’s about to be my senior year and I just have one more semester of college. So lately I've been very focused on my classes. I just got for the summer and so now I'll be focusing on climbing a lot, but I'll also be travelling and hanging out with friends and family.

O: What are you studying?

G: I study psychology and business.

O: Given how important psychology is in sport, particularly with regard to mental health, how do deal with it given that you are studying psychology?

G: I’ve definitely learned a lot in some of my psychology courses about just how to have a good mindset. I actually took a sports psychology class which was really fun. I just was able to learn how to deal with competitions, and just being an athlete, and learning about what makes people happier and why people’s brains work the way that they do. I think just having a greater understanding of that, I can apply it to my climbing.

Natalia Grossman competes in the semi-finals of the IFSC Climbing World Cup 2022
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

O: Do you have any tricks to help you focus on the competition, not only physically, but also mentally?

G: Some things that I've learned is just, for me, the biggest thing is to enjoy the moment and have fun and not overthink things. Because as if I can just enjoy it and just be grateful for being there, then I’m going to perform better. So, if I’m having fun, then it’s just going to be better. I really try and just focus on like having fun and trying not to let the pressure affect me.

O: What is your experience as a climber and of the atmosphere between competitors?

G: I’d say that climbing is one of the closest communities I’ve ever been a part of. It’s competitive, but at the same time, people want their peers to do their best. And so, I think because of that, we’re able to just cheer for each other and be happy for each other, which is not always the case in other sports.

I grew up doing gymnastics and people were very competitive and not always support of each other. With climbing, it’s cool just to have everyone be happy for you and for you to be happy for others. You want to perform your best, but you want other people to perform their best because you want everyone to have a good day. And if you’re better than on that day, then that’s great. You don’t want to just win or do well because someone else like, messed up or at least like I do. Climbing is very special.

O: How is your relationship with other climbers?

G: I’d say I’m friends with a lot of climbers now. But like a year ago I remember at my first cup of the season I was freaking out because I just couldn’t believe all my idols were there. I was going up to my best friend Brooke and I was telling her I was like ‘Oh my gosh that’s Janja [Garnbret]!’ And she knows who I am. That’s crazy! But just getting to see everyone who I had posters of growing up is just really cool.

O: Why did you start climbing?

G: I started climbing when I was about six, just because it looked really fun. I used to live close to a climbing gym and we were just walking and we saw the building because it was much taller than all the other buildings and I wanted to go in there. So, I checked it out with my parents and at the time I was only four. They were like, you have to be six years old.

But right then I knew that I wanted to try it. When I turned six, I went and then I really liked it. I started going once a week and then more and more, and then started competing, and here we are.

O: Why do you think that climbing is such a popular sport?

G: I think climbing is a popular sport because it’s really fun and it’s pretty easy to try. I mean day passes can be really expensive and same with the gear but if you just have shoes and chalk, you can just go for it. You don’t really need instruction. I think also, people progress pretty quickly when they first start climbing. And so, I think that draws people I and makes them want to try it more.

O: When was the moment for you when you wanted to be a professional climber?

G: When I turned 15, I moved to Boulder, Colorado, from Santa Cruz, California. I think that was the first time when I was like, okay, I want this to be more than just a hobby and I want to become the best climber I can be. I moved there with my family in order to join Team ABC, which is one of the best youth teams in the country. I don’t know if I wanted to be necessarily a professional climber. I just wanted to be the best climber that I could be. And I knew that by going there I could do that.

I was there for a while and then, when I moved to Salt Lake, about a year and a half ago, that’s when I was like, okay, I want to be a professional climber.

O: Boulder and lead, which one is your favourite and why?

G: I’ve always considered myself more of a boulderer. Growing up, I liked bouldering more, and I think that’s because I wasn’t very good at lead. But now I’d say that especially last year, I had so much fun competing in lead that I almost enjoyed it more than bouldering. But, if I had to pick right now, I would say bouldering just because that’s what I've been training mainly. I really enjoy them both.

O: How do you think climbing has changed due to being included in the Olympic program?

G: I think climbing has become a lot more popular. You just go to the gym and there’s more people trying to climb. And I think part of that is because of the Olympics. Also, there’s been a little more money involved and I think sponsors have seen the potential that climbing has and have wanted to invest more in climbing.

O: Is Paris 2024 on your mind?

G: I feel like the Olympics just happened. But that’s also exciting because it’s so soon and I am excited to try and make it. Exciting is what comes to mind.

O: What would you say your best ability is as a climber?

G: I guess I'd say the more powerful or strength-based climbs are one of my strengths in climbing. Like when I turn around and see a steep boulder that looks just straight up hard, like you’re going to have to crimp and pinch the holds that makes me psyched. I love that kind of style.

O: Where is your favourite place to climb outdoors?

Grossman: My favourite place to climb outdoors is Rocky Mountain National Park, which is a little bit outside of Boulder, Colorado. I spent a couple of months there two summers ago and it was so much fun.

MORE: IFSC Climbing World Cup Salt Lake City leg two: Preview, schedule and stars to watch

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