"In short, holding two cultures up next to each other and saying this one is “behind” the other is this or that regard is to take things out of context. It’s certainly no big deal to do this, but I think it reveals maybe too glib an interpretation of micro trends in the reported (with emphasis on reported) ascents."
Well at the danger of being perceived as "glib" I would argue that on every front and for quite a while American climbers have been behind the curve. The trend is not "micro" and the idea that "unreported" ascents would somehow affect this argument is not tenable.
Let's look at gear climbing. European/foreign climbers have had little trouble with fast ascents of some of the hardest gear-protected routes in the US. The examples are too numerous to count at this point. The thought that there is any US supremacy in this field can be dismissed at once.
In big-wall free climbing, Alexander Huber dominated El Cap for years. If Tommy Caldwell was excluded, Americans would be virtually absent from significant contributions in this area. The difficult 5.14 multi-pitch alpine "sport" routes in Europe (the ones with 30+ foot runouts) have been done by no American climbers that I know of.
The example of Jorgeson, Honnold,and Segal on English grit would be interesting but for the fact that most of the routes they did were first climbed more than 10 years ago, 20+ in the case of Gaia and End of the Affair. They were done in good style, but they are not exactly cutting edge at this point.
High hard boulder problems? What about Huber doing a 14a solo? Hasn't Evilution has been done by many Euros at this point? Nalle's new V15 problem in SA looked pretty tall in the photos.
To turn to sport climbing, have any Americans since Dave Graham and Chris Sharma really been able to climb at the same level as say Dani Andrada or Paxti Usobiaga, let alone Adam Ondra? Seriously, who are they?
Stating that because American climbers focus on rock not competitions obscures the fact that Americans have been behind on rock as well and for years now. Again set aside Dave, Chris, and Tommy and what do you have? Remember the standard is 5.14b/c onsight, 2nd try 14d, redpoint 5.15a/b. In bouldering, flash V13, do V15 after work. Take out Paul Robinson and Daniel Woods and then who? The European depth in numbers is astounding by comparison.
To assign the cause to cultural values is to exclude the commonalities that climbing shares across national or geographic borders. In other words climbing is about getting to the top of the rock. Claiming that Americans are somehow playing a different kind of game or in a different cultural context is passing the buck at this point. Europeans would be the first to admit that they are inferior at American football and vice versa for soccer. However climbing is climbing everywhere and the bolt wars are not really the issue they were.
Oddly, Justin omits the role that climbing media plays in this situation. As I pointed out in my previous posts on this topic, I feel that American climbing media could do more to promote solid achievement over image, starting by not reporting the 5th ascent of anything, even if it has killer photos. Climbing companies could be supporting solid achievement in a similar way. Instead it's about appearance, lifestyle, and staying cool and laidback.
The reason so many top climbers are attracted to Europe is that is where they can learn and become better climbers. The routes are there, the culture is there, and the support is there. And most of all, the better climbers are there.