In this new series, GB Climbing Team member and Berghaus athlete Molly Thompson-Smith reports from IFSC events as she works towards qualification for Tokyo 2020. In her first diary entry, Molly reflects on the start of the the 2019 IFSC Lead season.
Despite 2019 being the first proper 'combined focused' year, all I'd been thinking about was the start of the IFSC Lead World Cup season. In a weird way, it had felt like it'd been forever since I last did a lead World Cup; after taking 8 months out to recover from 3 ruptured pulleys, I'd only managed to compete in the World Championships and the following lead World Cup in 2018. I'd decided to spend the few months leading up to the World Championships in Innsbruck, so World Championships almost felt like a home event, and more of a bonus prize getting to compete so soon after injury. I had similar feelings at the World Cup in Kranj only a few weeks later. So it really did feel like a long time coming by the time Villars kicked off!
But first, let's rewind to the end of the bouldering season. Like most current competition climbers, I decided to try my hand at the combined format in the hopes of qualifying for climbing's first Olympic Games in Tokyo next year. This meant entering bouldering and speed world cups as well as lead competitions too. The last boulder World Cup happened at the beginning of June, in the beautiful mountain Village of Vail. My partner and I spent 2 and a half weeks in Boulder to acclimatise to the challenge of altitude this round is famous for. As well as this, I had planned to get in shape for lead season.
6 days into the trip the jet lag had finally faded, and I had my first session where I felt like myself on the wall again. I was thrilled to be feeling good again after the finger injury that prevented me from the results I wanted in the earlier BWC rounds, and I felt that luck was finally on my side! But two days later I heard a pop in my shoulder on the wall, and for the next few days questioned whether I'd even be able to pull onto the wall in Vail. It wasn't just the prospect of not being able to start in Vail, but also the fact that I had then decreased the preparation time I had for lead season - what I really, truly cared about.
I ended up competing in Vail despite some shoulder pain and feeling a little lost on the wall, and flew home disappointed but determined not to let it have any more of an impact on my lead season.
Going to Vail was pretty risky anyway as it left only 3 and a half weeks to train before the first lead World Cup. I spent some of that time in Innsbruck, which in my opinion is the best place to train for lead climbing. But even that didn't feel enough to catch up on the training I should've been doing already, and I was disappointed knowing I'd have to start the season far from the shape I wanted to be in. Luckily, I'm a fast responder to training, and it doesn't take a whole lot for me to get better quickly. I felt like I made a lot of gains before Villars, and was just so excited to climb a World Cup route again without injury.
The style has changed a lot even between 2018 and 2019, even more so since when I was regularly climbing at World Cups in 2017. Maybe because of the addition of bouldering athletes to the lead events, there is a huge emphasis on power and crux moves/sections on the women's side of things. It almost feels like you have to be able to do several boulder problems on a rope! Villars was probably the most bouldery event in the first half of the lead season; with tricky toe hooks, hugging rounded volumes and even triple jumps featuring in the qualification rounds. I felt a little shaky on the wall, but it felt like the flow was coming back every time I pulled on. I had a solid qualification round, and felt good going into the semi finals. We had really bouldery routes, and I think it suited my style with some committing moves on pretty good holds. I climbed really well with minimal hesitation falling on the second crux move, but knowing I definitely had more to give. I could moan about conditions (super sunny and slippy holds) and probably less than ideal route setting, but honestly it just felt so good to be back on the wall and not in pain for the first time in a long time.
Villars- 13th🇨🇭✅✨ . I could complain about the setting, conditions, and wanting to do better... but I had WAY too much fun being out here climbing on a rope again - injury free (😳!) - and hanging out with awesome people 🤩😍 . Looking forward to doing it all over again in only a few days time 🇫🇷💥 . 📷: @afrahoenig 😍 . #climbing #ifscwc #skyscholarships #athlete #bestjob
I was pretty excited, but also a little nervous for the Chamonix round; the last time I'd competed there was in 2014 and it was a very different experience. I've never been out as late as I was in this round, climbing 102/103 climbers. It was far more challenging than I'd anticipated, and it really did have an effect on my performance on the second route. Seeing people finish their qualification round before I'd even started mine was a little frustrating, and it was tiring trying to stay focused the entire day. I had a good run on my first route, sticking the crux move that many climbers had struggled on, and it was a relief to know I didn't have to do a whole lot on the second route to keep my semi final position. And just as well really, as I'm not sure I'd have had a good round had I had to go out and perform on the second route. I felt drained when re-warming up, and wasn't psyched when I pulled on almost 8 hours after the start of the competition. I climbed badly, and the result matched that. But still, I'd done enough to qualify, and looked for the positives in that I'd be climbing fairly early the next morning meaning cooler conditions and some shade!
Semis day came round and I felt good! The route looked physical but also endurance based - a good mix for me. It was really great to read the route and prepare for it with Shauna Coxsey, who despite only having done 1 lead World Cup prior to this year, has looked pretty comfortable on a rope and on the way to crushing in finals! I climbed really relaxed and didn't struggle on any sequences through the majority of the route, and it was all going well until I'd climbed past the high point, but also the easiest position to clip the previous clip from. I then downclimbed to try and clip this, knowing that if I could get it in quickly, I could power through a few more moves onto the flatter section of wall and recover from the increasing pump in my forearms. After going down, I realised I couldn't clip, so I fought my way back up to try and go for a plus. It was a long and agonising wait of 18 climbers to see if my climb was just enough for a spot in the finals. Eventually, sitting in 8th and with just Janja Garnbret left to climb, I'd accepted I'd be watching finals that evening. But after a shock fall from Janja, it seemed I'd squeezed into finals in 8th! It wasn't that simple though, and after about an hour and half of appeals and worrying I'd be bumped out, it was confirmed I was in and would get to climb in what I believe to be the best finals of the lead World Cup season.
Finals was a bit of a blur, and I was more than anything just happy to be there! The route was trickier than expected at the bottom, and featured a twisted campus move in the middle that none of us spotted during observation! I climbed hesitantly, and this route left no room for uncertainty. I wasn't thrilled with my climbing, but as I came down and saw the thousands of people watching it didn't really matter and I just enjoyed the moment.
It was a privilege to climb in such an iconic and dramatic setting as the sun set in Chamonix Town. Unexpected, thrilling, and unforgettable✨ . Thank you for all the support❤️ . And big congratulations to @chaehyun.s for🥇👏🏽 . 📷: @signarthur_ . #climbing #ifscwc #finals #chamonix #goals #skyscholarships
My confidence had been growing with every competition route I tried, and the forced discomfort was starting to feel comfortable again. I was out 3rd on one route in the qualification round, meaning I was one of the lucky/unlucky climbers who had to be at the warm up wall for its opening at 6:30am! We didn't have a coach out in Briançon, so it was pretty hard to get going so early all on my own. I struggled to warm up; my old injured finger was causing me quite a lot of grief and once the majority of the competitors arrived it was extremely difficult to get onto the tiny warm up board. I wasn't prepared perfectly for the first route, but as it was a fairly basic endurance route without any scary or committing moves I took my chances and was lucky to fall going for the last hold and get away with a dodgy warm up.
After pretty much warming up on the first route, I felt much better on the second. It had a hard start and ran through much quicker than the route I'd climbed first, meaning I didn't have a huge gap before climbing again. I enjoyed the slightly sketchy start, sloping holds and athletic nature of the route, and found myself above the crux and climbing onto the headwall fairly swiftly. It was a good round for me and I'd secured my place in semis that evening in a strong 8th place.
Since I ruptured my pulleys, I've struggled to train or climb more than once a day... I just don't seem to recover as fast as I used to, and the other girls can. Therefore I knew climbing in semi finals the same day as qualifiers would be difficult. The warming up, cooling down, re warming up, cooling down etc. of a competition day is tricky and my finger doesn't like it so much. But surprisingly I felt pretty good warming up in the evening and was psyched to climb again. To be honest, I thought the semi final route was a boring route and maybe my least favourite of the season so far. There were no tricky or committing moves for over half of the route - it felt like we'd gone back a few years to the typical tic-tac style that was always set for the women. Most of the women fell around the same area of wall, and I ended up in the middle part of the cluster. A 16th place, a result I was pretty disappointed with. However, I'm not sure I could've climbed much better so I guess the route just wasn't for me? It hit me pretty hard, and I was mostly frustrated with the thought that that had been my best, and it simply hadn't been good enough.
But upon reflection of the last few weeks, I decided I couldn't be upset with how the comps went. A month beforehand, I was nursing an injured shoulder and disheartened attitude after a demotivating bouldering season. I knew I wouldn't be in the shape I wanted to be because I hadn't had the preparation time I'd planned to have. So to come away with a final in the biggest World Cup of the year, and the knowledge that I can be consistent and strong enough to be near the top was for sure a successful start to the year, and an achievement I was happy with.
In a few weeks I'll be competing in the lead event at the World Championships in Japan. I finally have a small training block and I can't wait to get back into the flow of training injury free, and make some improvements on my current form and the weaknesses that were highlighted in the first 3 rounds.