The 2019 IFSC Boulder World Cup series culminated in an exciting finale in Vail, Colorado last weekend. At an altitude of 2,476 metres, the round is typically challenging for competitors living at lower elevations. Indeed, Adam Ondra and many other athletes packed canned oxygen to assist their breathing. Despite the thin air, the atmosphere at the event was on a par with that in Munich's Olympiastadion, with a high-energy crowd.
No Brits made semis, but Aidan Roberts came close with a 25th place overall, just shy of the top-20 cut-off. Team USA performed well across the board despite not being represented in finals, with 8 semi-finalists.
Having already sealed her overall Boulder World Cup title in Munich, Slovenia's Janja Garnbret was looking to make history by becoming the first person to win all 6 rounds of a season. After qualifying in second place and appearing nervous at times, Garnbret fought hard in the finals to take the win – all the while being pushed hard by Japan's Akiyo Noguchi and Fanny Gibert of France. Yoshiyuki Ogata (JPN) achieved his first World Cup win by completing the final boulder, which he flashed.
Perhaps anxious about performing well due to the pressure of aiming for 6 wins, Garnbret was visibly hesitant at certain points in the semi-finals. Garnbret failed to top the first boulder, a steep and crimpy number that hadn't caused issues for Gibert, Noguchi (JPN) or Miho Nonaka (JPN), who each flashed it. The crowd gasped as she fell before the zone on her flash attempt, and then dropped from the top moves twice more, eventually tickling the finishing jug but just missing it. Repeated shoulder manipulations by Garnbret prompted concerns about an injury for onlookers. A series of flashes – the third and fourth boulders being particularly hard-fought – saw Garnbret through to the finals behind Gibert, whose top of the first boulder earned her 1st place.
The women's final saw a mix of four big names and two newcomers: 16 year-old Luce Douady (FRA), who won the European Cup in Innsbruck last month, and young Japanese star Mao Nakamura. Gibert, Garnbret, Noguchi and Nonaka headed up the finalists. The first boulder on a slab was topped by all finalists, making for an exciting start to the round. Flashes from Noguchi and Gibert raised expectations, and the crowd gasped when Garnbret fell below the zone. Her next attempt was successful, but now Garnbret was ranked below Gibert and Noguchi. Boulder 2 involved a dynamic coordination move and was topped by Noguchi and Nonaka in 2 and 3 attempts respectively. Garnbret – ordinarily at home on this style of move – fell repeatedly, much to the surprise of the spectators. On her 4th attempt Garnbret caught the move and topped, her face beaming a sense of relief as she turned to towards the crowd.
At this point, Noguchi was in the lead by three attempts. The third boulder involved technical movements on dual texture volumes, with an intricate sequence. The first top came from Fanny Gibert, who solved the awkward corner moves to match the top hold. Garnbret came close to a flash, but fell just below the finish. After composing herself by resting for a while, Garnbret smoothly completed the boulder, which bumped her up to 1st place.
The final boulder was decisive. Noguchi solved the steep problem on her second attempt, putting pressure on Garnbret: she would now have to top the boulder to win. She pulled through the pockets in the roof and lined up for the crux move: a throw to a flat volume out right. The crowd watched in awe as Garnbret jumped, caught the hold and immediately channelled her rightwards-moving momentum upwards to catch the next hold above in an efficient fell swoop, before making one final leap to the finishing jug. The crowd erupted as Garnbret covered her mouth in shock and burst into tears. 6/6 wins – a first in the history of the World Cup circuit. Garnbret also became the first woman to win overall World Cup titles in two disciplines, following her three consecutive overall lead wins in 2016, 2017 and 2018, in addition to having already become the first woman to win the World Championships in two disciplines.
Watch the moment of Garnbret's win and her reaction in our Facebook video.
Over the course of the 2019 season, Garnbret topped a staggering 74/78 boulders across all rounds. The question remains: can she do a clean sweep of the lead season too?
Women's overall podium
1. Janja Garnbret (SLO)
2. Akiyo Noguchi (JPN)
3. Fanny Gibert (FRA)
Although of less historic import, the men's final was nonetheless exciting. The overall men's World Cup win was still hanging in the air, since both Tomoa Narasaki (JPN) and Adam Ondra (CZE) had both made finals. In order for Adam to win, he had to beat Narasaki. In order for Narasaki to win, he had to finish at least second and ahead of Ondra. The first boulder was comfortably flashed by Jan Hojer (GER) and Tomoa Narasaki (JPN). Ondra both reached the zone and completed the boulder second go, putting him in a provisional 3rd place. 2017 overall World Cup winner Jongwon Chon (KOR) flashed the second boulder, a feat matched by Ondra. All finalists topped this boulder and Narasaki topped the rankings after the first two climbs, marginally ahead of Ondra by one zone attempt. The pressure was mounting for Adam to keep ahead of Narasaki and this perhaps began affecting his performance.
Ondra failed to reach the zone on B3 and ended up with no score on this boulder. Both Japanese climbers Narasaki and Ogata topped on their second attempts, which pushed Ogata into 2nd place after ranking 6th following the first boulder and 5th after two boulders. The final boulder involved a jump into a coordination move and a crux finish with an undercut, which appeared to be harder for taller climbers. All finalists flashed to the zone, but only Ogata and Chon found a top. Ogata's impressive flash earned him his fourth top and 1st place – his first ever World Cup win - as well as 3rd place in the overall rankings. Tomoa Narasaki placed 2nd and Chon 3rd.
Many athletes are now looking towards the lead season, which kicks off in Villars, Switzerland at the start of July. With some speed World Cups, the full lead season and the 2019 World Championships in Tokyo ahead, it remains to be seen who will qualify for Olympic selection. Shauna Coxsey is currently our highest-ranked Brit in boulder, having managed to achieve a top-10 ranking in 10th place despite only competing in Meiringen and Moscow. Stay tuned for more articles on Tokyo 2020 Olympic selection.
On Sunday, UKClimbing.com attended the IFSC Olympic Climbing Workshop in Vail as part of the Olympic Engagement Project. Stay tuned for a write-up.
Men's overall podium 2019
1. Tomoa Narasaki (JPN)
2. Adam Ondra (CZE)
3. Yoshiyuki Ogata (JPN)
IFSC Climbing Worldcup (B) - Vail (USA) 2019