IFSC Bouldering World Cup 2014 – Review
From the opening problems in qualification it became clear who was on form and who was struggling to regain the levels of climbing they had shown in previous seasons. In the men’s field, the usual suspects came through at the top of the order, joined by the strong Japanese climber Kokoro Fujii. Kokoro was showing definite improvement over last year, as was strong Latvian, Rolands Rugens and the Russian, Vadim Timonov.
In the women’s field, the big five of Anna Stöhr, Akiyo Noguchi, Juliane Wurm, Alex Puccio and Shauna Coxsey all looked superb, but it was also clear some new talent was raising through the ranks. From France, Marine Thevenet and Fanny Gibert looked strong, as did the young Korean, Sol Sa.
The stand-out performances of qualifying were Akiyo and Shauna who both went 5 tops in 5. This feat was remarkable not only because they were the only women to complete the 5th problem, but also because this problem had earlier been used in identical form by the men, where it had shut down 19 of the 40 competitors.
As the competition progressed under leaden skies (it may have been cloudy, it may have been smog) it toughened up considerably. To progress to the men’s finals 2 tops were all that was required to progress to the men’s final, and only Dmitrii Sharafutdinov would top all the semifinal climbs. In the women’s semifinal, the problems were less challenging with Anna, Alex and Jule topping all the problems, and a count back on 3 tops saw Fanny fall agonizingly short of her first final appearance.
And so to the finals – where Matthieu Dutray and his route setting team had created artistic, oriental looking problems for the climbers to overcome. The spectators were packed in behind the VIP and athletes’ areas and the stage was set for the first showdown of 2014.
The women’s problems started with a technical arête on volumes which saw three flashes by the eventual podium-getters, while Anna, Alex and Marine were unable to unlock the tricky final move. From there it was on to a devilish run and jump which the route setters had engineered to begin from on the wall, as rules clarifications for 2014 dictated that all points had to be established in marked positions on the wall to start a problem. This problem went on to deciding the placing’s as problem 3 was flashed by most of the girls. Problem 4 proved too burly for all of the girls except Alex, who topped it in great style although she was already out of podium contention. So it was that the first female podium was decided on a run and jump where Juliane Wurm took the gold by one attempt over Shauna Coxsey, seemingly forever the bridesmaid, with bronze medalist Akiyo Noguchi a further 5 attempts behind.
The men’s finals almost boiled down to a battle of attempts, with the first dyno thwarting all but Dmitrii, who topped in 3 attempts, and Jan, who took a massive 14 attempts to stick the move (that works out at an attempt every 17 seconds for the 4 minutes allowed!). All the other male finalists were stopped by the problem, none of them even securing the bonus.
The second problem saw tops by all but Vadim Timonov, who was succumbing to the pressure of his first World Cup final. A flash by Dmitrii put him back in the lead, while an equally impressive flash by the strong Australian, James Kassay, moved him into third, ahead of Guillaume Glairon-Mondet (GuiGui) and Jorg Verhoeven. The third problem would jumble the order again though, when Dmitrii couldn’t unlock the tricky run and swing on slippery volumes. Jorg also put himself back into podium contention, joining Jan as the only two competitors with successful attempts.
And so it all came down to the final problem. Vadim, Jorg and James all failed to make the bonus meaning they couldn’t improve their positions with Jorg holding onto 3rd and James 4th. GuiGui came heartbreaking close to the top twice, quite literally using his head on the climb. A top would’ve secured a podium position, but in the end 5th was all the French star could settle for.
That left Jan and Dmitrii and a simple equation. If Jan topped, he would win, if he didn’t and Dmitrii did it would go to attempts and Jan’s marathon effort on the first problem would probably cost him gold. The problem looked tailor-made for Dmitrii, a raising traverse on tiny crimps. Jan came close then waited till the clock ran down, letting his energy levels recover. With 35 seconds left Jan pulled on and fought his way to the top, the young German claiming the first men’s victory of the year. . Consigned to 2nd , Dmitrii came out and proved how close it had been, cleanly dispatching the problem on his first attempt.
Packing our bags and nursing the coughs we had all picked up as a friendly reminder of our time in Chongqing, we jetted off to discover what wonders Azerbaijan would hold for the climbers of the IFSC Bouldering World Cup circuit.
Getting to Azerbaijan was proving to be a mission. After receiving different news on obtaining a visa multiple times, the trip to Azerbaijan actually began 2 weeks before Chongqing with two 700km drives to the consulate to ensure the visa was secured. Heading to Baku, the World Cup crew had little idea of what they were in for. Sharing a flight from Chongqing with the Australians, the Brits and the Germans our first impressions of the people were not positive. Wedged between overweight, black suited businessmen who were mostly occupying their time leering at the climbing girls it proved to be a long, unpleasant flight.
After and settling into our hotel (after only an hour or so arguing about rooms) and then given the opportunity to discover Baku and its surrounds. Baku is a beautiful city on the Caspian Sea but there are stark reminders everywhere about the disparity between the oil rich and the working poor.
On the first day, four days out from the event, I went to the venue to check it out and see how the route setters were finding it. The short answer was “Disaster!” There were issues from the outset with the wall. Firstly, the roof designed to shelter the boulders from the incessant blazing sun had buckled under the relentless wind (Baku means ‘windy city’) and needed to be removed. Secondly, all the holds sent out for the setters were kid’s jugs, positive incuts impossible to use at World Cup level. So the first panic of the week was on. Climbers and officials still coming in from mainland Europe were asked to load their luggage up with holds to assist the setters in getting the problems up.
After a few adventurous days that included training on a school jungle gym (the closest to a climbing wall we could find), a stunning dinner for Mina Leslie-Wujastyk’s birthday, plenty of longboarding as well as day trips into the desert with death defying drivers, it was time for the competition to start.
Under the circumstances the route setters had done an amazing job, fighting against time to get the problems ready. Heading into qualifications though, one last major error was realised. The problems, no longer sheltered by the roof, had been set in such a fashion that the men’s field climbed in the sun during the morning, and the women in the sun in the afternoon. Doh!
In the men’s qualifications there were no great surprises with almost all the top climbers easily dealing with hot and windy conditions, the only anomaly being Japan’s Tsukuru Hori who failed to progress. The conditions made the problems desperate, with it possible to get through to semis with no tops. Indeed the first and fifth problems proved unclimbable meaning it was in effect a three problem shoot out.
In the women’s the setting was more agreeable to the athletes and we saw the top 5 ladies top all 5 problems. By the evening the temperature was dropping rapidly and the heat of the day was replaced by a fight to stay warm. The only surprise of the round was France’s World Champion Melanie Sandoz missing out on proceeding, due to attempts…
The next morning the athletes rose to blustery conditions and the IFSC delegates were treated to an unpleasant surprise, discovering the mats in the warm up area were wet on top from the unexpected rain of the evening before and below from where sewage was leaking from the toilet truck parked outside. With none of the local volunteers willing to pull clean up duty it was a less than pleasant start for the officials.
Conditions continued to be harsh for semis, a situation that made the tough problems feel even tougher. The climbers felt they had to overcome the conditions as well as the problems, with the men’s last problem again going unsent and none of the ladies able to get more than 3 tops.
In the men’s field, a return to form for Kilian Fischhuber and Rustam Gelmanov saw them joining series frontrunners Jan and Dmitrii in the finals, while strong climbs from Jeremy Bonder and Kokoro Fujii saw them completing the final 6. In the women’s field, the big 5 were all through, joined by the legendary Slovenian Mina Markovic in her first World Cup of the season.
Finals in Azerbaijan brought with them the first major controversy of the year. Going into the final problem Shauna needed to flash to win. Anna had gone 4 in 4 but the other finalists had all faltered. Akiyo had dropped an attempt on the second problem and Jule a couple more. Mina and Alex had both dropped a problem putting them out of podium contention.
Pulling onto the wall Shauna made the first move and her foot swung from the starting foothold. Seconds later a judge called her from the wall, informing her she had touched the mats. Shauna was incredulous and the crowd stunned. We hadn’t seen the dab, obscured by the judges and brushers standing on the stage.
The British climbers came up to me, had I seen the dab? Nope, looking through the lens I hadn’t seen it. Had the German team filming the finals for Udini seen it? How could they appeal?
While all this was happening Shauna pulled back on and calmly and professionally dispatched the problem. Was she to be bridesmaid once again? And in such painful circumstances?
Sadly the answer was yes. There wasn’t evidence she hadn’t dabbed so the Judge’s call was upheld. Anna took the victory with 5 in 5, beating out Akiyo and Shauna who both finished 5 in 6 with Akiyo taking 2nd on count back.
The men’s finals held no such fireworks with Dmitrii putting his stamp on this one early. Going into the final problem he was 3 in 3, putting him ahead of Jan even if Jan topped the last problem. Indeed the only climber that could stop Dmitrii was top qualifier Rustam, who could take the win with a top in a flash if Dmitrii failed to send. As it was, no one sent, leaving Chongqing’s gold and silver positions reversed (Dmitrii 1st and Jan 2nd) with Rustam just behind in 3rd.
So the second Bouldering World Cup of 2014 was over. Well it was, except it left two unpleasant surprises to the very last. Firstly and most importantly, the prize money wasn’t forthcoming from the organizers even though it was reputed to have been there in cash until 30 minutes before the podium. It would end up taking months of wrangling for the IFSC to secure the prize money, at no insignificant cost to themselves. Secondly, as all the teams went to check out of the hotel to fly on to Europe we were slugged with a €30 per night per room surcharge for all the “complimentary” activities we’d been taken on.
In this reviewer’s opinion if the IFSC never hosts another event in Azerbaijan it will be about a week too soon! Needless to say it was time to escape to the third round of the IFSC Bouldering World Cup series in Grindelwald Switzerland.
Grindelwald is a name well-known in climbing circles. For nearly a century it has been the destination for climbers wanting to test themselves on the notorious Eiger Nordwand. This year, the climbers congregating in the Swiss alpine village had other goals in mind, somewhat less lofty and considerably warmer. The Bouldering World Cup was making its first stop in Grindelwald in six years. It was great to note that after all that time, 18 athletes from the 2008 event were lined up again. This competition included both winners from 2008: Dmitrii Sharafutdinov and Anna Stöhr, who had both coincidentally both won the previous round in Baku.
After an almost painless trip from Baku (the Australian team did need to spend an hour or so digging out their rental car after inadvertently getting stranded between snow drifts on an exploratory drive up to the base of the Eiger) the travelling World Cup circus was swollen to a record setting field of 139 competitors, all ready to test themselves in the Swiss Alps.
As you would expect in Switzerland the competition was run with perfect efficiency. The huge field didn’t intimidate the organizers and the whole event was run with the utmost professionalism from the very start. Climbers were registered and split into 2 qualifying groups for both men’s and women’s fields. It was time to go!
Qualification from two groups in a World Cup can seem harsh indeed, with only 10 progressing from each group, however as the field is split by seeding there’s no disadvantage to any of the athletes and it makes the huge fields manageable. Unlike the previous events, numerous top athletes would end up missing the semifinals cut in the men’s event. With a loaded field of 77 of the world’s strongest boulderers, there will always be casualties, and that was to be the case here. Several young, up and coming athletes forced their way into the semifinal round at the expense of incredibly experienced climbers including Sean McColl (making his first appearance of 2014), Jorg Verhoeven and Thomas Caleyron.
The women’s qualification was no less intense with some incredible climbers being left on the outside looking in. Again some less-heralded names had risen to the top, showing just how healthy the sport is with so much new blood coming into the ranks.
Moving into the semis with no less than 5 Swiss athletes, the crowd was pumped and getting supportive (in a very polite Swiss way). The crowd had come to see one thing and one thing only, a Swiss climber get through to the finals. With the strong Swiss climber Petra Kinglier qualifying first, all eyes would be on her. Unfortunately for Petra it wasn’t to be. Once again in the women’s competition the big 5 went through, joined by the young Swiss star Rebekka Stotz giving the crowd some local hope.
In the men’s semis, the field started with a simple dyno. This wasn’t, however, a taste of things to come, with Chief Routesetter Laurent Laporte and his team creating a fiendishly technical second problem through a blocky overhang. Although it didn’t prove to be the trickiest of the 4 problems, it did reward creative climbing, with Jernej Kruder’s foot first solution being a highlight of the round. After a hard-fought round, only Jernej came through with 4 tops, and all eyes would be on the strong Slovenian going into the finals. Chasing him hard would be past winner Dmitrii, the strong Japanese duo of Tsukuru Hori and Rei Sugimoto, as well as Jan and Kilian. Just missing out in 7th was the strong Italian Gabriele Moroni, making a welcome return to competitive climbing after two years focusing on the outdoors.
Walking into the venue before finals it was clear something was wrong. Prowling around like a wounded bear at the back of the auditorium was top qualifier Jernej Kruder. What had happened? Had his injured shoulder finally given out? How was he not in isolation? A quick word with his manager and we found out that he had unbelievably missed isolation, arriving 6 minutes after it closed… Truly gutting for the talented Slovenian!
After the heart breaking news that Jernej was out spread around the crowd, the mood was deflated. Everyone understood that the rule had been broken and exclusion from the finals was the only option, but there was widespread disappointment that we wouldn’t see the exciting Slovenian in action.
Any fears that it would affect the final were quickly quelled, with both the men’s and women’s finals being amazing displays of competition climbing at its best.
In the men’s the first problem was a devious press from a sloping start volume to a rounded volume high on the wall. This undid almost the whole field with only Rei Sugimoto and Dmitrii Sharafutdinov unlocking the first move. Rei managed to top the problem right at the end of his time, pressing strongly through the moves on his 13th attempt! Unbelievably Dmitrii lost tension and fell just below the top after unlocking the crux. Having exerted himself so much the Russian was unable to repeat his efforts and left the stage empty handed.
The second problem then flipped the result with Rei falling short along with his countryman Tsukuru. On the other hand it seemed to suit the European climbers with Jan, Dmitrii and Kilian all getting quick tops.
The third problem was a devious rising traverse that provided the greatest entertainment of the event. A hard sideways dyno had the climbers taking multiple attempts but just when they thought it was over they discovered that heartbreakingly the finish hold was just out of reach. Going first Rei spent what seemed like an eternity balanced at the top of the wall, so high that he could easily look down on the others in isolation. Finally, 3 minutes after the clock ran out, the fingers on his second hand were able to grasp the finish hold. A fantastic job but another 10 attempts down. Tsukuru came so, so close to topping but was undone as his weight tipped away from the wall. In the end his was the only failure on the problem but every single climber required a huge effort to get the job done.
Going into the final problem, there were four of the five who could take the victory. Rei, the first up, fell short, and due to the huge number of attempts he’d taken on his 2 tops was out of medal contention. Coming out next, Jan closed out the Gold medal position with a flash, meaning it was in the bag on attempts before Kilian or Dmitrii even pulled on. Dmitrii fought his way to Silver with an impressive third attempt top, while the problem proved one too many for Kilian, although he had already secured Bronze with his earlier efforts.
Matching the men’s event for excitement was the women’s. On the first problem Shauna and Jule both had perfect starts with flashes putting them ahead of Anna and Akiyo, who each needed two attempts, and Rebekka and Alex who both failed to find the top.
The second problem thwarted Alex right at the top where, after disposing of the tricky dyno down low, she failed to hold the swing on the finish hold. You could already sense it wasn’t to be the strong American’s night. Anna and Jule both got to the top taking 7 attempts. This gave Shauna the advantage when she came out and disposed of the problem in only 5.
Looking like a race between Jule and Shauna, it wasn’t to be for the young German, as she was undone by a low jump on the third problem. Flashes to Akiyo, Anna and Shauna consolidated their scores and meant it all came down to the last problem. Would Shauna finally get the win or would her run of bridesmaid positions continue?
On the final problem, a nasty number punching through a blocky roof, it looked like it might be too hard for all the ladies. First Rebekka then Alex then Akiyo looked nowhere near unlocking the sequence. Jule changed the crowd’s perception though, fighting through on her second attempt before taking a nasty face plant from the very top after rotating out on the finish hold. She did a fantastic job of pulling herself together to send next attempt while still looking very shaken!
Anna came out and dispatched the problem second attempt. It was all on Shauna, could she finally do it? Struggling with beta Shauna fell once, then again. It was looking bad, could she adjust her beta, and did she have the energy? Third attempt and it was all over. Shauna answered the questions with a resounding yes. Powering to a popular and well deserved maiden win.
So as the curtain came down Grindelwald had proven to be the event of the year so far. Now we only had a few days for the whole circus to pick up and move to what is undoubtedly competition bouldering’s most iconic venue: Innsbruck, Austria.
Innsbruck is more than a stunning alpine city. It is, and has been for over a decade, a mecca for hard climbers. As such it’s no surprise that it holds such a fantastic World Cup every year. The time has come though, where the World Cup round has outgrown the current venue in the Marketplatz and it will, in a couple of years, be moving to a larger venue. This will in some ways be disappointing as the sight of the bouldering wall nestled beneath the peaks of the alpine ranges is an iconic one in world bouldering. But it’s worth the move to optimize the experience of the many thousands of spectators who attend annually.
The first thing Innsbruck did this year was burst Grindelwald’s bubble. Flush with having the biggest athlete turnout in World Cup history it must’ve been disappointing for the Swiss to see Innsbruck getting an even bigger field! Oh well, records are made to be broken.
As soon as the men’s qualification round got underway it was clear that all problems are not created equal and one half of the draw were on their way to getting way more climbing done in their qualification than the other group. In fact Dmitrii Sharafutdinov said they were the toughest problems he had ever encountered at that stage of a competition. A perfect split was still achieved but with group (A) facing several problems with hard dynamic moves right from the start, morale was low. The simple truth is that, although a large number of the field accept that advancing to the semis is beyond them, traveling all the way to a competition to fail to leave the ground on more than half the qualifiers feels like a bit of a kick in the guts, especially as they didn’t challenge a range of skills in the climbers. On the other side of the draw, group (B) had a more consistent group of problems and made far better progress on them. The thing of note in this group was the return to competition of a certain Adam Ondra, who just squeaked through to semis in 10th equal in his group. In the men’s field of 81, Jeremy Bonder, James Kassay and Tsukuru Hori were the biggest name casualties, knocked out before semis.
In the women’s field, the problems were more consistent and the separation saw all of the usual names through to the semis along, with a strong group of challengers ready to put the big 5 to the test. Missing out on progressing were the Slovenian powerhouse, Mina Markovic, and World Champion, Melanie Sandoz.
Finals day dawned warmer and drier with a good sized crowd packing the venue for semifinals. With Adam Ondra as the first athlete out it was a good indicator of the problems level. After 4 tops in 5 attempts the bar had been set and we knew what to look for from the other competitors. Adam’s efforts were enough to put him through to finals where he would be joined by series leader, Dmitrii Sharafutdinov, his fellow Russian, Rustam Gelmanov, as well as local star, Kilian Fischhuber, GuiGui and rising star Michael Piccolruaz. Missing out in 7th was last weekend’s top qualifier Jernej Kruder and shockingly series leader and last year’s Innsbruck winner Jan Hojer who was left languishing in 10th.
In the ladies field the climbers faced tough problems, with only Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi able to secure the top hold on every problem. Joining her was Grindelwald winner Shauna Coxsey who just snuck in with an ascent of the final problem pushing out local Katharina Saurwein. Also missing out were two members of ‘the big 5’ Juliane Wurm and Alex Puccio. Filling the remaining 4 finals positions were Anna Stöhr, Japan’s Miho Nonaka and semi local and crowd favorite, Melissa Le Neve.
As the finals neared, the anticipation built. The crowd at Innsbruck are like none other on the Bouldering World Circuit and well before the start of the action the barriers were drawn across the entrances to the square, capping the huge crowd at an uncomfortable squash that felt more like being at a concert than a sporting event. The crowd was so packed in that we know of one spectating athlete who left his position for a pre-event pit stop and spent the rest of the finals watching from the side as it was impossible to get back to his seat.
As the finals started Shauna was the only climber to unlock the desperate opening crux on the women’s first problem. This was followed by sends on the second and third problem but failure on the last. If Anna could unlock the last problem it would be an Austrian victory in Austria and she came so, so close! But in the end Shauna’s effort on problem one proved the difference and for the second consecutive week she would stand on the top of a World Cup podium. Following Shauna and Anna onto the podium was the ever-consistent Akiyo Noguchi, who had just crept ahead of Germany’s Juliane Wurm in the overall as well – the podium mirroring the current rankings.
In the men’s, Adam Ondra looked unstoppable over the first 2 problems, especially his seemingly effortless ascent of men’s problem 2 which the climbers out before had made look epically hard. Rustam’s efforts on men’s 2 prompted calls for an instant gold medal as he fought long and hard after his 4 minutes was up, never giving up and finally tasting success. The Rustam of old was back!
Come the 3rd problem and it all started to unravel for Adam on the slab. Where others crucially flashed, Adam slipped, then again, then again – crucial attempts in such a close final. Austrian Veteran Kilian Fischhuber was climbing flawlessly and all the pressure came on Adam to flash the final problem to ensure victory. Then, after a false start where he didn’t establish himself correctly, Adam was down and his hopes of a dream comeback victory were slipping away. Coming out and nailing it sealed the deal for Kilian who reigned supreme in Innsbruck!
The time had come for the athletes to have a much needed weekend off. After four back to back events there was a refreshing 13 day rest before the circus reconvened in Toronto for the first North American World Cup of the 2014 season.
To come from the mountains of the Tyrolean Alps to the flatlands surrounding Toronto was a huge culture shock. The size of the cars and trucks that filled the roads was only matched by the huge portion sizes at every café and restaurant. Held an hour south of metropolitan Toronto in the city of Hamilton, the Canadian round of the IFSC Bouldering World Cup was the only round held in a climbing gym, converted to hold 400 spectators and the 80 athletes as well as coaches, media and officials. Uncomfortably hot last season the organizers had added more fans but it was still a warm summer weekend under cloudless skies.
The local Canadian fans had a great knowledge of the sport and the atmosphere was buzzing through the qualifiers. Who looked strong, who didn’t? Would there be any dark horses at this competition?
In the first round all the stars came out firing, looking strong and comfortably making it through to the semis. However as the semis progressed it became clear that the Austrian team, who’d been caught by a travel delay that saw the team spending a full day at Munich airport, were in trouble. Innsbruck winner and crowd favorite, Kilian Fischhuber, and Anna Stöhr, both just missed the finals cut – something that hadn’t happened to Anna since the Sheffield World Cup in 2010.
Stepping up after great semifinal climbs, young Korean, Jongwon Chon, and the Slovenian, Julija Kruder (younger sister of Jernej), were the surprise inclusions. Julija was included in the women’s field alongside fellow youngster Miho Nonaka of Japan, who was backing up two top ten placing’s in the previous rounds. Series leader, Shauna Coxsey, Akiyo Noguchi, Alex Puccio and Juliane Wurm rounded out the top six. In the men’s, Jongwon was joined by local hero, Sean McColl, James Kassay, Jan Hojer, GuiGui and the Russian, Rustam Gelmanov. Joining Kilian on the conspicuously absent list was series leader Dmitrii Sharafutdinov, who was sitting out the weekend due to visa issues.
The finals in Hamilton treated the crowd to some of the most artistically and intriguingly set routes of the season. Starting with a cryptic corner to jump problem the men were faced with problems that tested the full range of their skills. Problem 1 stopped everybody except Jan Hojer, leaving the chasing pack only three problems to catch him in. Problem 2 fell first to GuiGui, followed in short order by James Kassay, Jongwon Chon and Jan Hojer. Missing out on the top local hero Sean McColl and the diminutive Rustam Gelmanov put themselves further behind at the half way point.
The 3rd men’s problem was one of the standouts of the season. A tricky, outward facing start had the climbers thinking early before a huge doorknob hold over the lip had them turning circles. GuiGui fought and thought on his flash attempt, and turned out from the wall, he ended up sitting on the doorknob battling to match the finish hold. Once it was matched the crowd rose to their feet in appreciation – the most surprised looking people in the audience were the route setters who had never envisaged such a sequence working. After GuiGui’s flash the competition was wide open again. Jongwon and Sean joined GuiGui in topping the problem while James, Rustam and Jan missed out.
Moving into the last climb it was a showdown between GuiGui, Jongwon and Jan, with all three on 2 sends in 7 attempts. GuiGui walked out and made the problem look like a warm up – easily flashing it. Jongwon slipped out of contention and off the podium by failing to top, and then there was only one other who could challenge GuiGui for the Gold. Jan walked out and after easily pulling through the first moves, slipped to the ground. The flash had gone and so had the Gold – to French veteran GuiGui. He took the top step above Jan and home favorite, Sean.
In the women’s finals it was wide open going into the last problem, with five of the six girls still having a chance to make podium on attempts, having completed the first three problems. Trailing in 5th and appearing to be struggling, Alex Puccio found the last problem much more to her liking and powered up it. When Jule and Miho failed to top, Alex had assured herself of a podium position. It was down to attempts between Shauna and Akiyo, to decide who would stand on which step. Shauna got to the top on her third attempt, unleashing a perfect figure 4 to turn the lip of the overhang and moved into provisional first. Was it to be three in a row for the young British star? Akiyo came out and decided the answer was to be no, it was her turn on top. She capped off a great weekend with a controlled flash, marking her as Shauna’s big competition for the 2014 season.
After an amazing competition with great atmosphere and the friendliest locals you’ll find anywhere, it was time to head down and up – down to Colorado and up to Vail in the Rockies – for the GoPro Games, the US round of the World Cup circuit.
After settling into our little villa in Vail it became clear very quickly that all the stories of it being difficult to operate at altitude were true. Walking to the venue with all the camera kit was draining even though it was only a 5 minute stroll. In an attempt to acclimatize (or at least have fun), a large contingent of the climbers spent the day before the competition longboarding the cycle ways around Vail, being careful to keep on the decks after Jan’s skating injury from last year.
The wall positioning in Vail was spectacular and the crowd built every round until finals when a huge mass of fans packed the grass facing the stage, giving the feeling of being at a concert more than a sporting event.
In the qualifiers it wasn’t long before things got interesting. A deep field meant that no one was safely assured of progressing to the semifinals. In the men’s draw it was a huge shock to see local hero Daniel Woods fall out of contention with a 27th place finish, but he wasn’t alone in missing out. He was flanked by Britain’s Tyler Landman, as well as recent finalists, James Kassay and Tsukuru Hori. Making it through to semis though were 6 US men, mostly rookies at that level.
In the ladies field it was no easier, with last week’s finalist Julija Kruder, and strong Korean, Sol Sa, missing the cut. Going one better than their male counterparts the US ladies had 7 athletes progressing to the next round.
In the semifinals the pressure was on. Many of the climbers had struggled to recover from qualifying and the pain was etched clear on their faces. As the female field filtered through the 4 problems it was clear that some strong climbers were going to miss out. Juliane Wurm and Alex Puccio of the big 5 were two that amazingly missed the cut. It was coming down to attempts and Shauna Coxsey had already retreated back to her accommodation, convinced she hadn’t done enough to make finals. Alex’s failure on the final problem threw Shauna a lifeline – joining Shauna in finals would be the French duo of Marine Thevenet and Fanny Gibert, as well as Anna Stöhr, showing that last weekend was just a blip on the radar. Also in finals, Akiyo Noguchi was looking unstoppable, maintaining her form from Hamilton. The last finalist was the young Megan Mascarenas of the US, competing in her second ever World Cup.
In the men’s field it wasn’t easy for the local athletes with only Carlo Traversi sneaking into the top 10 – still four positions short of a finals berth. Joining him on the outside looking in were World Cup stalwarts Jorg Verhoeven, Jernej Kruder, and most surprisingly series leader Jan Hojer,** who left the returning Dmitrii Sharafutdinov with a huge opportunity to make up ground in the overall! Joining Dmitrii in the finals was last week’s winner GuiGui, along with his compatriot Jeremy Bonder, Austrian legend Kilian Fischhuber, young Japanese star Kokoro Fuji, and fan favorite, Sean McColl.
With the large crowd looking on, the finals were a huge test of the athlete’s strength and technical ability. Strong climbers like Marine and Shauna were clearly struggling, with the problems for the ladies field set very hard. Some might say too hard, but Akiyo Noguchi dispelled that notion with masterful climbing. She made sure to keep her run of clean rounds going by topping every problem and taking a commanding win. French star Fanny Gibert secured her best ever result with 2nd place after topping 2 problems in less attempts than it took Anna Stöhr who snuck home in 3rd. Just behind Anna was young Megan Mascarenas, who had marked herself as one to watch for the future.
In the men’s final Dmitrii showed that the time off had done him good, dominating the field with 4 in 8 to seal out top spot. Keeping him honest with another great comp was GuiGui, who managed to secure silver and his second podium in two weeks with 3 tops in 6. In 3rd position, Sean McColl edged out France’s Jeremy Bonder by a couple of attempts. 4th is still the career highlight so far for the young Frenchman.
Now finally there was a break before the circuit marched off to China for its second visit of the year, and then to Laval for the final World Cup of the season.
With small fields of only 22 ladies and 25 men The Circuit skipped Haiyang, preferring to head back to Europe and prepare for the climax of the season. Notable in their absences were Kilian Fischhuber, who packed in his season to focus on overcoming a persistent injury and prepare for World Championships, and Alex Puccio, who wasn’t happy with her season and decided to train up and complete some outdoor projects before likewise heading to World Championships.
Haiyang was Akiyo’s 3rd win in a row, putting her right up against Shauna in the points and making it winner takes all in Laval. Shauna edged Anna for 2nd, with young Russian, Dinara Fakhritdinova, having her best result in 4th – a highlight to a disappointing season where she was plagued by injury.
In the men’s, Dmitrii missed finals letting Jan, who won the event, draw further ahead in the overall. Sean McColl took 2nd in a fantastic display of endurance on a weekend where he also competed in both Lead and Speed – matching his silver in Bouldering with one in Lead, a huge effort. GuiGui took home 3rd, keeping up his run of podiums and looking good for a podium in the overall as well.
Laval, a beautiful city a couple of hours west of Paris, was the host of the final round of the 2014 Bouldering World Cup. The math going in was pretty straightforward. In the women’s field the winner of the Akiyo and Shauna battle for the overall would be the one who did best in this competition. In the men’s, Jan held a narrow lead over Dmitrii, and even if Dmitrii won, Jan would have to miss the final for Dmitrii to be crowned champion.
Coming into the event anticipation was high. Laval was also the last major comp before the climbers had some time off to train for the World Championships in Munich. Word on the street was that Dmitrii was feeling out of sorts, and that was confirmed by seeing his disheveled appearance as the competition started. Was Haiyang just a glitch or was the Russian master fading under late season pressure?
Coming out in qualifying Dmitrii climbed early in his group but failed on two of the problems, making them look desperate. Thinking it must have been a super hard set of qualifying problems like there’d been in Innsbruck, it came as a surprise as first one, then another, then another climber came out and solved the problems. As the round went on more and more climbers moved ahead of Dmitrii on the scoreboard and the tension in the arena heightened. If Dmitrii went out in qualifiers it would be all over, Jan would take the overall.
Dmitrii stayed grimly in 10th, the last transfer position in his group. Scanning the names still to come, he looked safe; but there was one French climber I hadn’t seen climb before. Going to the French trainer I asked about this Mickael Mawem, the brother of Speed star Bassa Mawem. The response I got from the trainer was ominous, Mikael could do it, the French were confident of his abilities!
The tension was high but all the wise money was on Dmitrii. The last time he’d missed the semifinal cut at World level was in Yekaterinburg, Russia back in 2003! As Mickael moved through the problems it became clear that trouble was brewing. Coming into the last problem with 3 tops already but behind on attempts Mickael held the outcome of the whole 2014 season in his hands. And then it was over, waving from the top Mickael probably had no idea that his ascent had just sealed the 2014 IFSC Bouldering World Cup overall in favor of Jan Hojer.
In the women’s field nothing so monumental happened and the stage was set for the semifinals. Who would reign supreme before the French fans?
With the semifinals came controversy. As the athletes moved through, reports started to come back that some of the French athletes were sharing information in the staging area. The reports seemed to be supported by the ease with which the French were moving up in the field. Sharing beta is illegal in competition and it is up to the officials looking after the athletes in staging to monitor and stop any incursions. This however hadn’t been happening, and by the time word got back to the IFSC officials it was too late to act. The only thing left to do was wonder – did 4 of the 6 French athletes in semis really climb well enough to beat so many of the best in the world? Or was something fishy going on?
The men’s finals field was set. The only way to make finals had been to top all 4 problems and that left climbers of the caliber of Sean McColl, Jernej Kruder and many others on the outside looking in.
In the female competition it was once again the seemingly unstoppable Akiyo Noguchi leading the pack after topping all 4 problems. This was a huge feat as the problems were so hard that 2 tops were enough to get to finals. Joining Akiyo was Shauna, clearly looking super strong and ready to fight till the end, Anna Stöhr, the outgoing overall champion looking to end the season on a high, Miho Nonaka, who’d grown in strength and confidence throughout the season, France’s Fanny Gibert and German, Juliane Wurm.
Finals in Laval was a huge event. The hall was packed tight with fans and the four boulders were picked out of the darkness with swirling stage lights – a visual feast as the crowd waited for the action to begin.
The first men’s problem was a hugely challenging set of gray blobs requiring pinpoint accuracy and great contact strength to hold on. First French veteran Stephene Julien was thwarted, then his countryman, Alban Levier, and new World Cup champion, Jan Hojer, failed to make progress. Was it too hard? Jeremy Bonder and GuiGui made no headway, it was clearly too hard… Or at least that’s what we thought until the last climber, Russian featherweight Rustam Gelmanov, came out and flashed it with apparent ease.
The second problem was a gimme with all the climbers successfully making the sideways catch and swing within a few attempts. Come the third problem though and things stiffened right up. The first four climbers out were unable to secure the bonus and again the problem was looking super hard until GuiGui and Rustam showed it was possible with comfortable looking ascents.
Coming into the last problem the math was fascinating – with a win GuiGui would pass Dmitrii to take second in the overall. So it all came down to this. The last problem followed a contorted sequence through a series of red volumes to a nasty hand jam before a cross up to a couple of tiny crimps nested in some white slopers.
Again the first few climbers struggled, with Stephene and Alban bowing out before Jan once again got stumped, his lack of pleasure on the problem evident as he struggled to compact his big frame into the opening moves. Jeremy Bonder gave us our first top of the problem to secure 3rd and his first podium. GuiGui also topped leaving it all to Rustam. Would it be the enigmatic Frenchman or the diminutive Russian taking the glory? The answer was Rustam, cursing the problem he stomped his authority on the event, finishing in the best possible style!
So Jan was the World Cup overall winner, Dmitrii hung on for second and GuiGui secured 3rd in the overall once again.
In the women’s final things got crazy quickly. On the first problem a way was found to statically reach the final hold, negating the dyno the setters had wished for. This problem proved easy for Jule, Fanny, Akiyo and Miho but amazingly stopped Anna and Shauna, both perhaps struggling with the pressure of the overall.
On the second problem things evened out with all the climbers getting to the top. Again, critically, Anna and Shauna were still climbing tight and gave up attempts to Akiyo, something that could prove vital in the overall. The penultimate problem of the season was challenging once again with only Miho, Fanny and Shauna able to get to the top. This meant that for the comp Miho and Fanny were best placed for the win and that Shauna could still hold on for the overall should Akiyo fail to top the final problem.
On the final problem dreams were realised and dreams unraveled. Miho and Fanny, who had looked so dominant up until that point in the competition, suddenly faded, unable to unlock the powerful early moves. Juliane powered through putting herself back into podium contention and then Shauna, after more shaky attempts, got to the top. Now it was all down to Akiyo, who would take the 2014 overall crown? Akiyo came out and after a slip on her first attempt took the win and the overall, leaving young Miho Nonaka in the silver position with Juliane in bronze.
And that was the 2014 Bouldering World Cup season. Congratulations need to go not only to the victors but to all the athletes who undertook such a grueling schedule to compete in so many World Cups in such a short timeframe.
The World Championships followed the season and were again an amazing competition, with Adam Ondra taking a thrilling win ahead of the strong Slovenian Jernej Kruder, and Jan Hojer topping a breakthrough season with 3rd.
In the women’s field local favorite Juliane Wurm was on amazing form all weekend and took a well-deserved win over a rejuvenated Alex Puccio and Akiyo Noguchi.
What will 2015 hold? We’ll just have to wait and see.