2017 Tokyo IFSC Boulder World Cup Review
What a competition it was in Hachioji Japan 2017. Nestled on the outskirts of Tokyo, Hachioji played host to the midway competition of the 2017 IFSC Bouldering World Cup series.
With a strong field flying in from around the globe, and a massive local contingent, the Japanese stop of the circuit promised much.
For those who haven’t climbed in Japan, there is a booming scene with a huge number of gyms filled with high quality setting on every sort of angle using pretty much every hold imaginable. When you go to a gym here it doesn’t take long understand just why there are so many strong climbers coming out of the land of the rising sun.
In the lead up to the competition most of the World Cup crew were bouncing from gym to gym in Tokyo, looking like nothing more than kids in a candy shop. After the rather grim training situations in China where climbers in Nanjing for example couldn’t even find a gym it was a great chance for the climbers to get some long-awaited training in. It also provided a great opportunity for climbers to train together and get an understanding of what the best are doing in an average session.
Walking into the stadium in Hachioji on Saturday the climbers were for the most part feeling great, feeding off the energy of Tokyo and ready to climb. The wall stood in a big basketball arena, a glowing white apparition that dominated the room. Covering it were the women’s qualifying problems, a great looking set of problems on some stunning looking holds. The wood grain volumes being especially eye catching.
From the start the form guide started to play out. It looked like all the stars were comfortably progressing to semis in the girls, the only real disappointments coming for strong Brit Leah Crane who missed semi’s by a position and Chongqing finalist Alannah Yip who again struggled to find form. With twenty Japanese girls entered we wondered how many would progress to the next round but in the end it was the big four of Akiyo Noguchi, Miho Nonaka, Aya Onoe and Mei Kotake who showed their experience by progressing.
In the afternoon it was the guys turn, but there was one sad omission with local star and Chongqing finalist Kai Harada taking a bad fall in isolation where his foot slipped between the mats, injuring his ankle and ending his competition before it began.
With such a stacked field we really are seeing that 20 to semi’s isn’t enough. Lead competition has much smaller fields but takes 26 to semifinals. Surely its time to increase the number of semifinalists or include a quarterfinal round to get a better proportion of athletes into the next round.
In qualifying we saw eight Japanese climbers progress and five of the French team, definitely a highpoint for a team that’s had a challenging season. We also saw a superb performance by strong Israeli Alex Khazanov who topped every problem on his way to third in group, a real milestone for the super strong climb who has struggled to put it together at World Cup level. Any of us who knew him and had seen him climbing knew he had it in him, he just needed a mistake free round.
Missing out were many big names, lead by last years finalists Rustam Gelmanov and Rolands Rugens along with Nanjing third placed climber Jernej Kruder.
The problems were superb throughout the round with many climbers commenting that they were the best of the year so far. From both the ladies and men’s rounds there were compliments galore for the setters, where Chris Danielson had lead a crack team including Laurent Laporte and Gen Hirashima in creating challenging yet fun boulders for the climbers.
By the time semifinals rolled around on Sunday morning the venue was packed. Tickets to the competition had sold out and the local fans had been queueing for entry from early in the morning. The atmosphere was electric and soon enough the climbers were on the wall rewarding the fans with their efforts.
The first real standout of semi’s was French star Fanny Gibert who after failing on the first problem went on to flash the next three, a result that would see her making finals for the first time this season. After that the usual suspects moved in to take the remaining places with young Chloe Caulier just missing out as Shauna Coxsey, the very last climber in semis flashing the fourth problem which pushed Chloe to 7th.
In the men’s field a resurgent Jakob Schubert and Alexey Rubtsov showed the illnesses they suffered in China were well behind them after both being so unwell they failed to make semis in Nanjing. They both climbed strongly into the top 6, joined by the Frenchman Mickael Mawem, and local hero’s Tomoa Narasaki, Keita Watabe and the unheralded Taisei Ishimatsu.
Just missing out in the guys final was Jongwon Chon who lost out on a finals berth by one attempt to bonus.
In Japan they split the men’s and women’s finals which makes for a longer show but means as a spectator you don’t miss any of the action.
The women went out first and in a matter of minutes were all back behind the wall. The first problem had proved way to easy and received six flashes in about as many minutes climbing. The second problem proved a tougher affair with all the climbers flashing to the last move but then all except Akiyo Noguchi and Janja Garnbret who topped in one and two attempts respectively.
Come the third problem and the climbing got weird. A tricky start left Petra Klingler and Shauna Coxsey frustrated on the mats, unable to secure the second hold on the problem. Collectively the crowd held its breath, had the setters overcooked it? Was the start possible?
Miho Nonaka came out and proved it was possible. Indeed, she looked untroubled after sticking the jump second attempt, cruising to the top. It proved more problematic for Fanny Gibert and Akiyo Noguchi but they both topped, although burning many attempts ( 5 and 6 respectively) to get there.
Last out was top qualifier Janja Garnbret, who needed the top to keep pressure on Akiyo who was now looking great with 3 tops. Janja did what Janja does, a superbly controlled jump leading to a flash which tipped the advantage back to the strong Slovenian.
The final problem was an interesting one and showed the difference in power levels between the top girls. Petra (Nursing an injured elbow ligament) and Fanny were unable to top the problem, where the other four girls all flashed. Indeed Janja looked so in control on it you’d have thought she was warming up, not challenging herself on a problem which had stopped some of the best in the world.
So it was Janja took victory number two of the season ahead of Akiyo and Miho, with Shauna languishing off the podium for the first time all season, disappointed with how the round had played out for her.
After a slightly underwhelming set in the women’s finals everyone was curious to see how the men’s final would play out.
The first problem an insecure volume traverse to a dynamic topout had most of the field glaring at their shoes in exasperation. It was extremely insecure. Then, with scant seconds left on the clock Tomoa Narasaki pounced and nailed the finish hold, getting a huge response from the crowd and leaving the World Cup climbers watching (Their enclosure was by the first problem) shaking their heads in disbelief.
Sure enough, no one else topped the problem, advantage Tomoa.
The second men’s problem looked heinous. A double clutch dyno led to two tiny undercling crimps on the headwall. Holding these it was simply a case of deadpointing to the volcano pocket top.
Mickael Mawem and Jakob Schubert were both unable to set up correctly from the crimps, with Jakob peeling from the finish hold on his best attempt as his body came away from the wall mid-deadpoint.
Tomoa on the other hand calmly flashed… Ok, it was going to be a Tomoa comp… Probably…
Alexey Rubtsov and Keita Watabe both got the top as well, but burnt attempts doing so.
The third boulder was a gentle overhang on volumes and tiny crimps. Requiring massive tension, it looked super hard until (you guessed it) Tomoa flashed again! Keeping in the running Keita and Alexey both fought to the top, using more attempts again though. With a problem to go we knew the podium, it was going to be Tomoa, Keita and Alexey, the only question was what order.
The last problem was overhanging power test piece on big open holds. Mickael Mawem was first out and quickly flashed it. The strong Frenchman was fully committed and got it done. Next out Jakob Schubert took two attempts to get it done. Ok, well that’s that, if everyone is doing the Tomoa style problem so easily he’ll walk up it. Except, he didn’t… Try and try again Tomoa couldn’t get the sequence to work. He knew, as did we all that if he topped he couldn’t be beaten. Maybe it got into his head, maybe it was the pressure of the home crowd, whatever it was Tomoa was left on the mat’s, still in the lead but knowing the door was now open for Alexey or Keita to steal victory.
Coming out Alexey had four attempts to steal provisional first from Tomoa. Could he do it? He attempted the problem and fell, looking frustrated, then again, same look, same outcome. Then He pulled on and angry Alexey was back. Doing a massive shoulder block where others dynoed Alexey powered to the top. 3 tops in 8 would beat 3 tops in 9, Tomoa was off the top step and now Alexey had a nervous wait to see how Keita did. Taisei had also succeeded on the problem so the only failure to this point was Tomoa.
Keita had three attempts to secure his second gold of the season. He fell, he fell again, it was obvious he was trying to overthink the problem. Then, the all-important attempt and again he was on the ground. In front of the stage Alexey was on his feet, then on his knees then back on his feet. Disbelief painted across his face. It was victory for the strong Russian followed by the devastated Japanese duo or Tomoa and Keita who had failed at the last.
The crowd was somewhere between ecstatic and appalled, they’d born witness to one of the great World Cup finals but their anthem wouldn’t be ringing out in Hachioji.
And so it was, now the athletes have the better part of a month before reconvening in Vail for the US round of the IFSC Boulder World Cup.