IFSC commentator Charlie Boscoe reports from the first event of the 2019 IFSC World Championships in Hachioji, Japan...
Just 11 months on from the last IFSC World Championships in Innsbruck we've got another one, this time in Hachioji, Japan and with Olympic qualification up for grabs. The IFSC World Championships used to be every "even" year but they've now switched to "odd" years so as not to clash with the Olympics. As such, we'll be going from World Championship feast to famine; there won't be another one until 2021 so we'd better enjoy this one.
The IFSC Boulder World Cup circuit has taken us to the Esforta Arena in Hachioji for the past 2 seasons and it's a good World Championship venue (albeit not as big as the previous 2 - the Accor Arena in Paris and the Olympia Halle in Innsbruck) in a country that knows how to organise, well, everything. The venue is well equipped for both spectators and staff, it's right next to a train station, air conditioned at all times, spotlessly clean and there's even an excellent little sushi restaurant about 200 metres away…but only if you know where to look. My lips are sealed lest the riff raff find out where it is.
This time we're here for a little longer than our usual 3 days (the competitors usually have 2 days there but we (the livestream team) have a setup day before the qualifiers get underway) at the arena, with the World Championships and Combined World Championships stretching over 11 days. The first medals to be decided were in Boulder and with all the hype about Olympic qualification, it's been easy to forget that there's still the most prized title in climbing up for grabs in each individual discipline before we get anywhere near anything related to Tokyo 2020.
Qualifiers took place on the 11th and 12th and then on August 13th we had the semi finals and then the finals on the same day. The schedule for the day was pretty full on for both the climbers and staff, with Mike Langley and I doing about 8 hours worth of live streaming to ease us gently into what's going to be a frantic 3 weeks (we've got the IFSC Youth World Championships in Arco 2 days after the conclusion of Hachioji). With hindsight, screeching into Tokyo the day before the first livestream wasn't perhaps the best idea but with so much time away from home over the course of a season, an extra night in my own bed seemed worth being a bit bleary eyed. That said, adrenaline is a wonderful thing and when the director starts counting me in through my headphones, I never feel anything but nervously excited, and so it was in Hachioji yesterday.
Both of the semi finals were entertaining but fairly brutal, with the women in particular being given a savage set of boulders to work with. Only 4 women found a top in the women's semi, and while half of the men's field got one, only 5 climbers managed 2 or more. The packed schedule for the day meant that the route setters basically had time to quickly whip the boulders down after each round and chuck up the new ones without really being able to make any adjustments related to what they'd observed in semis, so I suspected we might end up with tough finals and so it proved.
With the women up first it looked like a straight fight between Janja Garnbret (SLO) and Akiyo Noguchi (JPN), who were on a different planet to everyone else in the semis. They did eventually end up first and second but Janja's top of Boulder 2, which nobody else got anywhere near, meant that she looked odds on to win from half through the final and eventually claimed gold at a canter. I've been accused many times of banging on too much about Janja but she's 20 years old, has won World Championships in 2 disciplines (the first woman to do so), World Cup seasons in 2 disciplines (the first woman to do so), clean swept a Boulder World Cup season (another first) and here in Hachioji became the first woman to retain a Boulder World Championship. Oh yeah, and the Lead is still to come and so is the Olympic format Combined, which, let's not forget, she's the only woman to have ever won. If I wasn't banging on about how amazing she is, I wouldn't be doing my job properly.
For Akiyo, last night must have been a tough pill to swallow because the one title that has always alluded her is the World Championships and missing out here means that she'll probably retire without winning one. Her longevity has been utterly extraordinary and she continues to amaze me every time I watch her, but with the Olympics next year and her turning 31 shortly before them, I'd be surprised if she kept going into 2021 and the next World Championships. That said, I think everyone would have been surprised if you'd said in 2005, when she first appeared in a World Championships, that 14 years later she'd still be picking up medals week in, week out. She might never get that elusive World Championship gold, but for her to have stayed consistently at the forefront of a sport as demanding as bouldering for well over a decade is breathtaking. The styles have changed and yet she's adapted, moved with the times and remains comfortably the second best competition boulderer on the planet. In a sport that demands so much power, flexibility and mobility (ie. the things you're supposed to lose as you age) I doubt we'll see the like of Akiyo again, not least because of the motivation needed to keep training, traveling and competing at this level. Janja will almost certainly break all the records in the book but I doubt she'll be able to match Akiyo's longevity. An IFSC scene without Akiyo will be a poorer place so let's enjoy her for as long as she's around, and hope that it's for a couple of years yet.
Shauna Coxsey (GBR) had a great day in Hachioji and took a bronze medal which must have seemed very unlikely over the past few years as she's battled a series of injuries and plugged away in the gym getting ready for the Olympics. I spoke to her on the way to the podium and she sounded dreadful so to have climbed that well carrying a heavy cold is doubly impressive. She's showing signs of getting back to her old Boulder level but with all her focus on the Combined I don't think she's too fussed about each individual discipline anymore and will instead keep her eyes on the Olympic prize.
Ievgeniia Kazbekova (UKR) had an excellent day and ended up 4th. I really like Ievgeniia - she competes with a smile on her face and climbs like a beast, which is a good combination for us fans looking on. Some climbers don't seem to relish the experience of competing that much and when they retire they might look back and wonder if they should have tried to savour it a bit more. Ievgeniia is clearly loving every minute of it and that's always fun to watch.
Miho Nonaka (JPN) is clearly still not 100% fit but did well to take 5th. When I was on stage after the women's final, her upper body was basically covered in one big ice pack, which is quite worrying given how long she's been carrying these shoulder injuries. I hope she doesn't compete again this season, gets the shoulders sorted and then crushes it in 2020 because she's absolutely capable of getting an Olympic medal if she's fully fit.
Nanako Kura (JPN) came in 6th and, sadly for her, was the only climber not to find a top in the final. I felt slightly sorry for her because she was clearly the 6th best climber on the day but she's beaten both Akiyo and Miho in the Asian Championships so don't judge her just yet; she's got some serious horsepower and will unleash it as she learns the game.
The men's final was a tough one to watch, with desperately hard boulders meaning that we didn't get a great show. I had a couple of mates texting me after the final asking how the route setters could have got the level so wrong, but it's a fiendishly tight call on each move and they just overcooked it a bit. Having a realistic forerunning of the boulders isn't really possible because these boulders are supposed to challenge Adam Ondra, Tomoa Narasaki, Jakob Schubert et al in the space of 4 minutes - anyone who can climb them quickly would be competing not forerunning. Any attempt to test the boulders has to have some element of compromise; if they just gave the testers 4 minutes on each boulder then they'd barely climb any of them and if they did the setters would (rightly) assume that they needed to up the difficulty level. It's basically impossible to replicate the best climbers in the world having 4 minutes on a boulder, so the setters just need a bit of luck and didn't get it here. I suspect that if they had their time again they might have included a little less complexity and a bit more straight pulling, because if climbers don't "get" the boulders quickly, it just doesn't work and sadly a couple of boulders in the men's final went that way.
Just as a quick aside, I can't help but be slightly amused when I see social media comments saying that the setting was "shameful" or, even funnier, when someone writes a YouTube comment in CAPITALS to illustrate their anger about the "disastrous" setting. Genocide is shameful. Climate change is disastrous. We all want to see a good show but let's try to remember that this is a climbing competition broadcast to the world (for free) to entertain people. I put a lot of time and energy into the IFSC circuit and I want to see a great show, but I try to keep a healthy perspective on it. The sun will still rise tomorrow if the boulders didn't work in the men's final, and I can assure you that nobody takes it harder than the setters when things don't go to plan. The IFSC setters work harder than any other group of people I've been around and they try to consider every micro detail and every single possibility. Sometimes it doesn't quite work on. Nobody died, the Earth appears to still be turning.
Lest we forget, we did actually get a result last night and it was Tomoa Narasaki (JPN) who won it to claim his second World Championship title. He got 2 tops and 4 zones - 2 tops and 1 zone more than anyone else managed - and was head and shoulders above the competition. Tomoa is not one for outward displays of emotion and he doesn't give much away, but I suspect even he danced home last night. His climbing style is amazing to watch and it's easy to forget when you see him springing around that you can only do that if you've got more power than the people doing the moves a bit slower. Tomoa is easy to categorise as a "jumpy" climber but he's immensely strong with it. He was amazing last night and to win a World Championships is a huge achievement; to win 2 puts you in very elite company.
Already in that elite group is Jakob Schubert (AUT) who's won 2 Lead World Championships and the only Olympic format Combined World Championships we've had so far. Statistically he's the greatest male competition climber in history with 21 World Cup wins, those World Championships and now a silver in a Boulder World Championships. Ramonet (ESP) and Kilian Fischuber (AUT) also have 21 World Cup wins each but what is so impressive about Jakob is that his wins are across 2 disciplines (18 in Lead, 3 in Boulder). If he wins one more World Cup he'll be out on his own as having the most wins of any man in history and that seems more of a "when" than an "if". He is a fabulous climber and just knows how to do this competition thing. Gary Lineker once quipped that "football is a game played for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win". Well, climbing is a sport that takes place on walls and at the end, Jakob Schubert is on the podium. I often find it amazing that climbers come and go, but the true elite always find a way to be at their best when it matters most. Jakob didn't have a great start to the season but then won in Munich (perhaps the most prestigious Boulder World Cup of all) and is absolutely at the peak of his powers here in Hachioji. Last year he was up and down but then won everything in sight at this home World Championships. It's one thing to pull a big result out of the bag in mid season but the best climbers perform in the big ones. Bet against him in the Lead or Combined at your peril.
In third was Yannick Flohé (GER) who is a true all rounder and put in a massive performance despite basically having no skin left by Boulder 2. Jan Hojer has been the standout German for so long in the combined rankings that Yannick has been able to sneak up relatively unnoticed, but he's not going to be unnoticed for much longer with performances like this. I think he could be a real force in the Combined if he can recover a bit of energy (and skin). One big difference you see between guys like Jakob and some younger climbers is that the "old hands" can keep going back to the well and digging it out day after day but the younger climbers burn out. We'll see as the week progresses whether Yannick can maintain his momentum but regardless he was immense last night and will be picking up more silverware in the years to come.
Kokoro Fujii (JPN) looked strong but the sheer savagery of the boulders meant that we didn't really get to see what he or Keita Dohi (JPN) could really do, and they ended up 4th and 5th respectively.
Adam Ondra (CZE) must be wondering what happened last night - he couldn't get even a single zone and looked flummoxed on every boulder. I got a text midway through the final last night from an Adam-supporting mate who had just tuned in and wanted to know why Adam's score wasn't updating. "It is" I texted back. You can probably guess his response.
With the Boulder results decided there is no rest for the climbers as they get stuck straight into the Lead qualifiers and then the Lead semis/finals on Thursday.
Boulder replays below:
IFSC Climbing World Championships - Hachioji (JPN) 2019
|1||Janja Garnbret||SLO||3T4z 7 6||3T3z 8 8|
|2||Akiyo Noguchi||JPN||2T4z 3 8||2T2z 4 2|
|3||Shauna Coxsey MBE||GBR||0T3z 0 6||2T2z 6 6|
|4||Ievgeniia Kazbekova||UKR||1T2z 2 3||1T2z 3 4|
|5||Miho Nonaka||JPN||0T3z 0 5||1T2z 5 6|
|6||Nanako Kura||JPN||1T2z 1 5||0T1z 0 1|
|7||Futaba Ito||JPN||0T3z 0 7|
|7||Alannah Yip||CAN||0T3z 0 7|
|9||Fanny Gibert||FRA||0T3z 0 8|
|10||Petra Klingler||SUI||0T3z 0 9|
|11||YueTong Zhang||CHN||0T2z 0 3|
|12||Lucka Rakovec||SLO||0T2z 0 5|
|13||Chaehyun Seo||KOR||0T2z 0 8|
|14||Kyra Condie||USA||0T2z 0 13|
|15||Urska Repusic||SLO||0T1z 0 1|
|15||Anne-Sophie Koller||SUI||0T1z 0 1|
|17||Sofya Yokoyama||SUI||0T1z 0 2|
|17||Mia Krampl||SLO||0T1z 0 2|
|19||Laura Rogora||ITA||0T1z 0 3|
|20||Luce Douady||FRA||0T1z 0 6|
|1||Tomoa Narasaki||JPN||2T4z 2 4||2T4z 12 2|
|2||Jakob Schubert||AUT||1T4z 3 12||0T3z 0 10|
|3||Yannick Flohé||GER||2T4z 13 1||0T3z 0 13|
|4||Kokoro Fujii||JPN||2T4z 5 6||0T3z 0 18|
|5||Keita Dohi||JPN||2T4z 5 10||0T2z 0 9|
|6||Adam Ondra||CZE||3T4z 11 7||0T0z 0 0|
|7||Rei Sugimoto||JPN||1T4z 5 9|
|8||Rudolph Ruana||USA||1T4z 5 20|
|9||Kai Harada||JPN||1T3z 1 5|
|10||Jernej Kruder||SLO||1T3z 1 10|
|11||Jan Hojer||GER||0T4z 0 10|
|12||Jongwon Chon||KOR||0T3z 0 6|
|13||Meichi Narasaki||JPN||0T3z 0 7|
|14||Yoshiyuki Ogata||JPN||0T3z 0 8|
|14||Sean McColl||CAN||0T3z 0 8|
|16||Manuel Cornu||FRA||0T3z 0 9|
|17||Nathaniel Coleman||USA||0T3z 0 11|
|18||Nathan Phillips||GBR||0T3z 0 13|
|19||Michael Piccolruaz||ITA||0T2z 0 4|
|20||Sergei Skorodumov||RUS||0T1z 0 5|