Sasha DiGiulian was the only female to complete the climb, which left Sunday’s finals almost devoid of suspense. To win, she had to finish the route within the time limit, which, for the Alexandria native, would prove as effortless as walking across the gravel lot, as she did now, head down, iPod earbuds in, flip-flops clapping against the small rocks.
DiGiulian wore a white Adidas hooded zip-up jacket and black Adidas shorts, her long, blond hair pulled back into a ponytail. Standing 5-foot-2 and weighing about 98 pounds, with smooth, tanned skin and clear blue eyes, she looked more Hollywood starlet than pro climber. Several fans lingered nearby, hesitating as they decided whether to ask for her autograph. Her brows creased in concentration as she continued toward the preparation zone.
Two hours later, the announcer yelled to the crowd of several hundred, “Are we psyched?” Of the top 10 male and female finalists, the 10th-place finisher would climb first, followed by ninth place, eighth place, etc., meaning that, on the women’s side, DiGiulian would climb last. Each finalist had five minutes to reach the top. In bouldering, no harnesses or ropes are used — the climber’s tools are his or her own strength, intelligence and agility.
The women’s structure, 25 feet high and named “the Star” for its five-pointed ends, had holds scattered across the surface. Blue mats covered the ground to cushion falls. The first seven women each started steadily, dangling by their arms in monkeylike fashion as they grabbed the next hold, until a pivotal set where an extended reach with a jump was necessary. They all fell at that point and started again, but no one reached the top in time.
“We Will Rock You” blasted from the speakers as third-place pro climber Angie Payne, 27, of Cincinnati began. She reached the top in just under 3 minutes 20 seconds.
“That may be hard for Sasha to beat,” said DiGiulian’s father, John, watching from the crowd, knowing that she wanted the best time.
Second-place female Alex Johnson, a 23-year-old professional climber from Hudson, Wis., moved smoothly from hold to hold, reaching the top in less than four minutes.
“And now it’s Sasha DiGiulian!” the announcer called out, as DiGiulian stood on the mat and the clock began. She paused, looking up and tracing the climb in the air with her hands, reaching for each imaginary hold as if pantomiming. She grabbed the bottom hold, hanging for a split second before extending her slender leg toward an adjacent lateral hold and reaching upward, her muscular biceps and triceps flexing beneath her broad shoulders.