Last weekend the 2019 La Sportiva BMC British Bouldering Championships, supported by Clif Bar, took place on Devonshire Green in Sheffield. The event attracted its highest number of entries ever, with 110 of Britain's best boulderers vying for the title of British Bouldering Champion. Nathan Phillips returned to defend his title in the men's event, while a new women's champion was to be crowned in the absence of 2018 champion Hannah Slaney.
The top 20 athletes from the qualifying round on Saturday reached semi-finals on Sunday morning, where a more complex round of boulders decided the top 6 climbers to progress to finals. The semi-finals and finals were livestreamed on BBC Sport online and on Red Button for the second year running.
The men's final line-up consisted of (in qualifying order): Nathan Phillips, Billy Ridal, Jim Pope, Matt Varela-Christie, Dave Barrans and Max Milne.
Women's final: Natalie Berry, Holly Toothill, Rhoslyn Frugtniet, Jen Wood, Hannah Smith and Imogen Horrocks.
A packed crowd of spectators gathered on Devonshire Green in blazing sunshine to watch the finals. The routesetters didn't hold back in creating some seriously gymnastic problems which tested the climbers and thrilled the crowd. Dynamic was the operative word for the boulders in both categories.
Reigning champion Nathan Phillips topped the more technical first boulder on his second attempt, while Jim Pope required just one attempt more. Dave Barrans topped in an impressive 6 attempts.
The second boulder involved a potential jamming move, which nobody managed to surpass, with only Nathan, Dave and Billy reaching the zone.
Boulder 3 involved some nasty slopey volumes and was topped by both Nathan (2 attempts) and Dave (3 attempts), with all climbers reaching the zone hold.
The final boulder was the real showstopper, though, with 3 double dynos in a row, including a funky toe-catch dyno to finish. Jim Pope quickly dispatched all three dynos in just two attempts, while Nathan and Aberdeen-based Max Milne topped on their third attempts. Clearly overjoyed by finishing his first senior final on a high, Max turned to the crowd and requested more noise!
With 3 tops in 7 attempts, Nathan retained his title of British Bouldering Champion. This was a fitting end to a successful year on the IFSC World Cup circuit, where he achieved multiple top-30 finishes, including a 14th place in Munich.
The women's final was equally exciting as the final boulder decided the podium. Boulder 1 was a tricky slab with a punchy dynamic move to start. It was topped by Jen Wood only, while Imogen Horrocks, Holly Toothill and Hannah Smith all reached the zone and came close to a top. Some heart-in-mouth slips from high up on the slab kept the crowd - and climbers - on edge.
The second boulder was a technical off-vertical number with some crimpy volumes and awkward body positions. Hannah Smith and Holly Toothill both smoothly flashed this, while Imogen Horrocks topped on her second attempt and Rhoslyn and Jen topped on their third goes.
Boulder 3 required a dynamic coordination toe-hook to start, then some powerful compression between triangular volumes and slopers. Holly, Hannah and Rhoslyn all reached the zone after figuring out the tricky start, with Hannah and Holly coming close to tops.
Natalie flashed the problem after catching the toe-hook and working out the physical top section, before catching the top hold and just managing to control the swing.
It all came down to the last boulder, which boasted a coordination dyno and a heartbreaker last move. Jen and Hannah were victims of the finishing hold - a pocket posing as a jug which was actually a shallow sloper - and were denied tops. Imogen was equally surprised by the nasty trick of the routesetters, but cleverly changed tack and managed to statically reach for the hold and match to earn her well-deserved second top.
Holly flashed the problem with impressive ease to take the win (unbeknown to her at this point!) The podium remained uncertain as Natalie neared the top on her third attempt. If she topped, she would take 2nd place. The heartbreaker move struck again, and she fell from the slopey pocket. With 15 seconds to go Natalie neared the finish again - potentially lining up to take 3rd - but rushed the last move and fell.
Despite Holly's excellent performance, the jumbled tops and attempts across the board were confusing and hadn't convinced her that she'd won after finishing her round. Even after being interviewed by Gaz Parry on the BBC, Holly didn't realise she'd won until she was congratulated by Hannah and Natalie back in isolation. Confused exchanges followed and the news sunk in: Holly Toothill, women's British Bouldering Champion 2019, aged just 17. She told UKC: 'It came as a bit of a surprise, this year there was a really strong field so it was nice to see that my training had paid off and I was able to win the competition.'
A rising star, Holly recently placed 11th at the European Boulder Cup in Innsbruck, Austria.
Once again the incredible depth of British competition bouldering talent was showcased at this annual event and results will count towards possible selection for the GB Bouldering Team.
1. Nathan Phillips
2. Dave Barrans
3. Jim Pope
4. Max Milne
5. Billy Ridal
6. Matt Varela-Christie
1. Holly Toothill
2. Imogen Horrocks
3. Jen Wood
4. Hannah Smith
5. Natalie Berry
6. Rhoslyn Frugtniet
Watch the finals and semis replays below.