2017 Chongqing Boulder World Cup preview
With cooler temperatures forecast than the last few years the athletes might have some respite but I’ll believe it when I experience it for myself as I’m used to Chongqing being hot and sticky or bloody hot and ridiculously sticky.
So, who should we watch going into this weekend?
First and foremost has to be Shauna Coxsey. Coming back from 2016’s season ending injury Shauna skipped all the usual pre-World Cup events and so even though she was saying her goal was to come back stronger there was a sizable question mark next to her name in Switzerland. Safe to say the question mark is well and truly gone with Shauna taking one of the most dominant victories of recent times, treating her competitors and the spectators to a true masterclass. It’s safe to say Shauna is the strong favorite going into this weekend.
Austrian star Katharina Saurwein looked great climbing to second in Switzerland but has sadly opted to skip the Asian rounds this year, she will be missed.
Japan’s Miho Nonaka will be looking to cement herself in a top spot at the close of this weekend. After not showing great form in the opening round it’ll be imperative that she bounces back quickly and puts the pressure on Shauna. Miho has come through in the last couple of seasons to be one of the top picks but hasn’t shown the required consistency under pressure yet. Like several of the Japanese climbers she appears to wilt in the limelight, the media spotlight of the upcoming World Cup in Tokyo falling squarely on her.
Staša Gejo of Serbia has made the last two World Cup finals and is really establishing herself as a threat. Blending the toughness of having grown up in a war ravaged country with youthful energy and a ready smile, the 2015 Youth World Champion is fast becoming one of the real fan favorites and is looking to podium at the minimum soon. If her skin can adapt to the heat of China she’s a real threat this weekend.
Also always a threat is Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret. After a tough final a couple of weeks back, the Lead Climbing World Champ will be looking to show some more consistency when it matters. She appears to struggle with the sustained intensity of Boulder World Cups but as her fitness adapts to the World Cup format she will rise to the top. A limited Boulder World Cup schedule will keep her from the overall but she will be looking to resume her accustomed position on top of the podium soon.
Others to watch include Akiyo Noguchi who just missed semis last time out, along with Anna Stöhr who was ill and slipped out of contention in qualifying when she didn’t have the energy to get the boulders done, falling from top hold after top hold. In World Cup competition experience counts and these two have the most of everyone. They will feature this weekend.
Looking to build their experience and establish themselves still are Chloe Caulier and Andrea Kümin. Both looked great going into semi’s in Meiringen but a dropped top by Chloe put her out of contention, while Andrea injured her thumb in a fall on the first problem and was clearly distraught as she battled on through the next three. After heading straight to hospital at the conclusion of the round Andrea was found to have no serious damage but this weekend will be the first time climbing without a brace on her thumb since the injury.
Also in the mix for the ladies has to be Petra Klingler and Michaela Tracy. Petra has looked superb in the pre-season but the style of the quirky Swiss finals really didn’t appear to suit her. Now with the pressure of competing at home off her shoulders Petra will be hoping for a more powerful set on the Chinese walls. Michaela was oh so close to finals in Meiringen and is showing the form that took her to finals in the World Champs in Munich back in 2014. Having overcome a couple of tough injuries since then Michaela has also worked on her mental game, something some would argue held her back earlier in her career.
Another climber I think is a worth watching this weekend is Ukrainian star Ievgeniia Kazbekova. Jenya as she is more commonly known is a late inclusion for the Chinese rounds and is looking to develop the consistency required to progress in the World Cups. The raw potential is there and after a preseason training camp with the strong Baltic crew she is looking ready for real improvement this season.
Moving to the guys its even more difficult to really understand the form of the climbers. The finals of the first World Cup of 2017 really didn’t give us an indication being super cruxy from the opening moves and shutting down climber after climber.
So, who is the top pick? Well I’m going to play it safe with Japanese star Kokoro Fujii who brings a convincing mix of power, dynamism and experience to China. Kokoro has really established himself as one of the world’s best over the last few seasons and was just pipped at the post by Tomoa Narasaki in the 2016 title fight.
Speaking of Tomoa, we need to see if he can bounce back effectively from his first event stumble where he was knocked out of contention late in qualifying. We know all the ingredients are there but I believe he is coming back from an injury suffered late last year which may have impacted on his preparation somewhat. It was unusual to see him fail on the last qualifying problem in Meiringen, a coordination dyno most of us expected would suit him perfectly. To me Tomoa is one of two climbers with the most at stake in China.
The other climber who really needs a strong effort to get back in contention for the overall is German Jan Hojer. After a lackluster 2016 the big man was looking great at the pre-season event at Studio Bloc but he needs to get his consistency back. His climbing style has really tightened up over the last couple of seasons and he needs to get the flow back to make it to finals where his raw power automatically puts him in contention on the more showy boulders.
Sticking with the German’s, the one who has stolen the crown of top German World Cup boulderer off Jan is young David Firnenburg. With finals appearances in the last two World Cup’s, David is showing real progression under the excellent coaching of ex Swiss team manager Urs Stocker and will be looking to improve his best finish in a World Cup of 4th. It’s worth noting David’s been killing it everywhere with an ascent of the Chris Sharma boulder Practice of the Wild 8b+/8c in Magic Wood last weekend and an ascent of the iconic 9a+ La Rambla in Spain a few months back.
There are several others to watch as well in Chongqing, almost to many to mention so I’ll keep it reasonably brief. As one of the older climbers on the circuit Russia’s Alexey Rubtsov has a wealth of experience and will be aiming to make the podium at least in Chongqing, he is another who has been spending time in Switzerland training with Urs and David, as well as the strong Israeli Alex Khazanov who is well overdue a top performance but certainly has it in him.
Also there’s 2015 champ Jongwon Chon who came undone in the tricky semis in Switzerland but is another who can rise as soon as he gets to finals style boulders. Fingers are certainly crossed the likable Korean star can get back where he belongs in Chongqing.
Slovenian star Jernej Kruder will look to build on his last round finals appearance. Now one of the older climbers in the field he can draw on a wealth of experience adapting to World Cups on the road and will be looking to carry his 2017 momentum forward. Winner at Studio Bloc and finalist in Meiringen, he just needs to start believing he can get it done.
So, Chongqing… By the time you read this it’ll be just a few hours away or indeed may have even started. A difficult competition in one of the World’s biggest cities, many of the climbers find it a confronting experience. For those who haven’t been, dealing with the traffic, the smog, the heat and the humidity can be pretty overwhelming but as you get to know the city you learn to appreciate it. A stark contrast from the pretty Swiss village of Meiringen, a trip to a destination like Chongqing shows the true globalization of the sport. Lets just hope that the live stream can break through the great firewall of China so you can all enjoy it with us!
(All photos from the 2015 finals as I was unable to attend last season)