IFSC commentator Charlie Boscoe reports on an eventful IFSC Lead World Cup in Chamonix...
Round 2 of the IFSC Lead season took place in Chamonix over the weekend and, as ever, it was an excellent event. The Place du Mont Blanc, which feels impossibly huge during the qualifying round and then not quite huge enough when the crowd starts pouring in for the final, was packed and the atmosphere superb. The sight of the wall silhouetted against Mont Blanc in the evening sun is truly unique, and I think nobody could question Chamonix being the most aesthetic venue of anywhere we visit with the IFSC.
Personally it's always great for me to be back in Chamonix; I spent nearly 8 years there and I had some wild adventures and did an awful lot of growing up in that time. Not many people go there and leave unchanged, whether they went big in the mountains or climbed in front of the Place du Mont Blanc in a World Cup.
It's hard to know where to start when it comes to storylines from the weekend, but without question the biggest surprise to come out of the event was Janja Garnbret (SLO) missing out on the finals. She's never missed a Lead final before and I thought she looked in cruise control on the semi final route until about half a second before she fell. I've seen some chat online that people reckoned she looked pumped when she fell off but I suspect that might be hindsight talking; she looked OK to me and everyone I spoke to. All good things come to an end but I can't help but be slightly sad that Janja's perfect record of making every Lead final has ended, simply because it was such a ridiculous record to have maintained and it's surely never going to be repeated. That said, the winner from Chamonix (Chaehyun Seo (KOR)) has a pretty good record after 2 World Cups….more to come on that later.
For the first time ever (Graeme Alderson is 99.99% sure, anyway) we had a British finalist in both the men's and women's final, represented by Will Bosi and Molly Thompson-Smith.
Unfortunately we got another poor women's final, with a decent route which sadly culminated in a stopper move. The climbers were at least made to work hard to reach the key hold (number 34) and the climbers who fell from it all fell for slightly different reasons and in slightly different ways, but it was by no means a classic final. I thought Jessy Pilz (AUT) could maybe count herself a little unlucky not to have been awarded 35 by the judges but either way, it wasn't a great show. That said, I think that after pretty shaky start last week in Villars, Jessy will - when the dusts settles - be pretty happy with a podium.
YueTong Zhang (CHN) is also probably pretty chuffed with her result (2nd) after making 3 Boulder semis this year but not really hinting that she might be a World Cup podiumist (is that a word?) this season. She stormed up the final route and looked every inch the contender.
Chaehyun Seo (KOR) has, meanwhile, come from absolutely nowhere to suddenly look like Janja's biggest threat. She comes from a climbing family and her Dad apparently owns a climbing gym in South Korea, but her results in the Youth categories did little to suggest anything more than some decent potential. She looks calm, composed and extremely strong. It's still very early days in her career but Villars was clearly not an exception and it appears she will be right up there for the rest of the season.
Elsewhere in the women's field, Ashima Shiraishi (USA) is still waiting for that World Cup win and she still looks slightly short of it right now. She was an absolute sensation in her early teens but the human body changes a lot as it approaches 20 years old, and I suspect Ashima is just adapting to that right now. Her raw talent and ability are beyond question and I suspect that as the next few years go by she'll deliver the performances we've all been waiting to see since she burst onto the World Cup scene a couple of years back.
The British women had a good time overall in Chamonix. Molly Thompson Smith is still not far out from a horrific finger injury and looks slightly short of match fitness but did brilliantly to make the finals, and ended up 6th - an excellent result. I saw some comments online that Janja had somehow been unfairly denied a finals berth and that she should have been there in place of Molly (who was 8th in the semis). What absolute nonsense - Molly deserved her big moment in Chamonix and put on a good show for the crowd; I'm enjoying seeing her back and climbing well.
Watch a UKC livestream of Molly's climb:
Shauna Coxsey made semis but didn't deliver the performance she was hoping for on the day and ended up down in 23rd. Jo Neame finished 37th, Emily Phillips 64th and Rhoslyn Frugtniet 75th.
I thought that the men's final was an absolute cracker, with big names everywhere and a couple of young bolters (if 2018 Boulder World Champion Kai Harada (JPN) can be considered a young bolter) thrown in to spice things up. As ever there were a lot of disappointed climbers following the semi final, with Domen Skofic (SLO), Romain Desgranges (FRA) and Stefano Ghisolfi (ITA) all falling far short of a finals spot, but I think we ended up with an excellent lineup for Saturday evening and a route to match.
Kai Harada (JPN) never really got going on the route and looked a bit all over the place from the start while Sean McColl (CAN) made a slight mistake and slid, seemingly in slow motion, off the route at mid-height. The look on his face when the camera found him later on told the story. Martin Stranik (CZE) put in a strong shift to take 6th and Alberto Ginés Lopés (ESP) produced one of the moments of the season to seal 5th. He looked pumped out of his mind from about halfway to where he eventually fell, and it seemed that he basically fell off for about 12 moves running and simply refused to let gravity take him. A friend of mine texted me during the stream describing him as a "gladiator" and that sounded about right. I really hope we see him in some more finals because as I said during the stream, he's from the Jakob Schubert "he won't die wondering" mould, and fights until the last millisecond.
Will Bosi (GBR) took an excellent 4th and is looking more and more like a genuine contender with every week that passes. I've rarely seen someone as excited as Will was when Mike Langley and I ran into him en route to isolation and as I said to him at the time, if you can't enjoy climbing in front of 12,000 people in the Place du Mont Blanc, you're in the wrong game. There aren't many climbers out there that love competing on the big stage as much as Will and that desire to seize the big moments will be a real asset to him in the future. Elsewhere the Team GB guys ended up 40th (Jim Pope), 42nd (Dave Barrans) and 55th (Hamish McArthur) meaning that all 4 of the men finished in the top half of the field.
Big shout out by the way to Jim Pope, who was seriously considering walking across the mountains from Chamonix to Briançon for the next World Cup. I don't think he ended up doing it but Jim travels around Europe every summer with his hammock in his bag, well aware of just how cool it is to be living the life he is. Some climbers can get a bit wrapped up in the cocoon of IFSC events but Jim is always psyched to be travelling around some of the nicest parts of Europe and it's a breath of fresh air. Much to the annoyance of the British coaches, I was very encouraging of his walking idea but I think he ended up driving down to Briançon like the rest of us.
Watch a UKC livestream of Will's climb:
Just ahead of Will in the final was Jakob Schubert (AUT), who doesn't look quite as Lead fit as he could be, but who's just so skilled at route reading and climbing efficiently that he can still take a medal even when he's not in top physical shape. He's only going to get better as the season progresses.
Alex Megos (GER) looked mighty on the route and were it not for a foot slip as he tried to get onto the headwall, he might have found a top. As it was, he ended up second but you could tell from his reaction how frustrated he was and how much he clearly felt he had left in the tank. Alex is great fun, always has time to chat and is generally an all round great guy, but every now and then you glimpse how much climbing means to him and his shout of annoyance as he lowered off in the final was a good example of that. I've always liked Alex since an evening I hosted in a Chamonix pub back in 2014 where we got a series of famous climbers on stage and did live interviews in front of a (fairly raucous and pissed) crowd. Hazel Findlay, Emily Harrington and Tommy Caldwell were all predictably well received but Alex absolutely stole the show. Someone asked during the Q & A, "Do you take steroids?" and Alex replied (without a second's hesitation) "Are you asking that because I look so buff?" I remember looking over at him and thinking, "bloody hell, good answer". He was 20 years old, speaking his second language and had just been put on the spot by a really awkward - and frankly inappropriate - question but he shot the guy dead. I stuck the knife into the questioner by pointing out to the crowd that he'd just been schooled in sarcasm by a 20 year old German kid with floppy hair.
Watch Alex get bendy on the final route:
Out last in the Chamonix final was Adam Ondra (CZE) and I don't think I was alone in thinking he was going to deliver something special. He looked superb in every round of the comp and then put on an amazing show in the final, only getting stopped when he reached some essentially non-existent crimps a couple of moves below the top.
He's won a Boulder and Lead World Cup already this season and looks every inch the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) to use some American sports terminology. He's skipping Briançon and missed Villars with a minor wrist injury but he's out ahead of the competition fitness-wise now and is going to take some reeling in.
Up next is a trip to Briançon which, in my humble opinion, is possibly the best town in France for lovers of the outdoors. There's several lifetimes' worth of climbing, via ferrata, kayaking, hiking, mountaineering and paragliding to be had within an hour's drive of the town, and Briançon itself is civilised, quiet and utterly charming. There are worse offices, that's for sure.
Before the Lead World Cup we've got the Para Climbing World Championships and I'm really looking forward to it. It's always a fantastic show, the climbers are always psyched to be competing and the whole vibe is friendly, positive and still highly competitive. It should be a fun week and I'm looking forward to every bit of it.
IFSC Climbing Worldcup (L, S) - Chamonix (FRA) 2019