IFSC commentator Charlie Boscoe puts down his headset and reports on the fourth IFSC Lead World Cup of a very busy 2019 season...
After all the climbing action there's been over the past few months (both IFSC and other comps) it's hard to believe that the last World Cup was over 2 months ago; a now-distant Briançon event where Japan clean swept the men's podium and Chaeyhun Seo (KOR) beat Janja Garnbret (SLO) for the second time in the space of a week.
In the intervening time there was the frankly epic (in both quality and duration) World Championships, and the Youth World Championships in Arco which passed in something of a jetlagged/exhausted haze for me but still provided some excellent action and epic swimming breaks between broadcasts. After every Youth World Championships I'm always interested to see which of the climbers we've been watching will make the breakthrough to the senior comps, and how they fare when they get there. Everyone will have their own opinions from Arco, but I have to say that Oriane Bertone (FRA) (who won both the Lead and Boulder in Youth B) looked the real deal to me, and I'm really excited about seeing her in the years to come. Go back and watch the replays from her wins if you want to see someone climbing out of sheer love for the sport, and if you want a glimpse of the future.
Anyway, this weekend we were back at it with the 2019 edition of the legendary Kranj World Cup. The Sport hall Zlato Polje has been hosting World Cups since 1996 and it's a rightly famous competition which is still organised by the formidable Tomo Česen (now there's a man with an interesting life story) who still looks in better shape than most people half his age and is about as tough and impenetrable as the local limestone crags. I like Tomo and his son Aleš (who rented my spare room in Chamonix for a month a few years back) but I wouldn't take either of them on despite how friendly and helpful they are during the Kranj competition. If it ever kicks off at an IFSC organisers meeting, I'm backing the Česens to walk out of the room.
The venue itself is quite strange really; when you walk in the day before qualifying it seems hard to believe that the unremarkable sports hall you're looking at is the legendary Kranj venue which has seen all the greats competing in it down the years. However, by the time the finals come round the DJ is doing his thing, the hall is packed with spectators and it all makes sense.
There are some funny little quirks at the venue, such as the fact that the wall extends right into the roof beams so our cameras can't see the last metre or 2 of the routes (we get around it by installing a camera and operator in the rafters who can film climbers as they finish their routes). There's also quite a weird setup whereby the officials and press areas are overlooking the hall in a glass fronted room which looks like the bridge of a ship. It makes the venue feel ever so slightly like the playground at school where you'd be up to no good and then suddenly turn round and see a teacher watching you through a window. All in all I love Kranj, but it's firmly old-school.
Last year we had semis and finals on separate days, meaning that I and many of the IFSC athletes, coaches and staff could get some climbing time in ahead of the final, but this year Saturday was qualifying day and then we had semis and finals on Sunday. It scuppered my climbing plans, but I do think that it works better that way than having qualifiers and semis on one day and then finals all on their lonesome.
In the men's qualifying quite a few of the big names had a bad day but given the depth of the field, there's always someone missing out on the semis who might have hoped to make the final. Loïc Timmermans (BEL) was unlucky 27th, and he was joined on the semi-final sidelines by Max Rudigier (AUT), Hannes Puman (SWE), Francesco Vettorata (ITA), Meichi Narasaki (JPN) and Jongwon Chon (KOR), all of whom have previously made World Cup finals. The British men had a cracking day, with Will Bosi, Jim Pope and Hamish McArthur all making semis, but sadly none of them then made the final. Kieran Forrest missed out but it was only his second World Cup and his time will come.
Things tend to be slightly more predictable for the women, where there is clearly a divide between the top dozen or so climbers and the rest of the field. That said, Emily Phillips (GBR), Hannah Schubert (AUT) and Sandra Lettner (AUT) would all have been hoping for a semi final spot but couldn't secure one. Molly Thompson-Smith (GBR) did get in though, scraping through in joint 26th after a nervous wait to see if anyone could displace her in the last hour of qualifying. Sadly for Molly she fell low down on the semi final route and ended up 27th.
The big story in the semis was Janja Garnbret missing out on a place in the final at her home event. She's now missed two Lead finals this year and 13th in Kranj represented her worst ever finish at a World Cup. I've mentioned in a previous report that Janja sometimes has weekends where she is visibly not in the mood for whatever reason, and as soon as she walked into the arena on Saturday morning to watch the men's qualifying, I caught a couple of peoples' eyes and raised my eyebrows. You could tell from her expression and body language that it was going to be "one of those weekends" and so it proved. She told me afterwards that she's been feeling really nervous and frankly it showed in her climbing. Janja is at her best when she just climbs, and seems to struggle whenever any added complexity or significance is added to a situation. I think that the day before the Olympics begins, the best thing anyone could do for her is take her out for a beer and a sushi, because she's unbeatable when all she's got to do is climb and not think about it too much. If there's more to think about than simply smashing her way up the wall, she looks vulnerable.
Come the finals the hall was packed and despite having been up since horrible o-clock for the semis (which started at 8am) everyone (me included) was pumped up for a big show. Sadly we didn't get one in the women's final, which ultimately came down to two moves. Such is life in a sport like ours, where the parameters of the game are essentially changed every round of every competition. I spoke to Christian Bindhammer (the chief route setter in Kranj) afterwards and he was philosophical about it and just said that the setters try to consider every detail, then make thousands of micro calculations and sometimes it just doesn't quite work. The moves around hold 34 were actually quite simple but only if you read them correctly, which none of the climbers did.
Despite the show not being what it might have been, Chaehyun Seo did give us a good story line by winning once again to make it 3 victories in her first 4 World Cup appearances. Not even Janja managed that. Chaehyun has been an absolute sensation this season and having seemingly come from nowhere, she is now the runaway favourite to take the season title. I wonder what odds you could have got on that at the start of July?
Jessy Pilz (AUT) picked up second - a much-needed good result after a poor Lead season so far - and Lucka Rackovec (SLO) gave the home fans something to cheer when she got bronze. Anak Verhoeven (BEL) almost picked up a podium and looked in really good shape. I really hope she can get to the bottom of this arm issue that has been troubling her for so long because when she's at full strength she can really do some damage.
The men's final was set up to be a classic, with an incredibly strong line up of veterans, legends and stars of the future like Alberto Ginés López (ESP). In my opinion it really delivered and will go down as one of the best finals we've had in recent times. The fact that 2 climbers (including double Lead World Champion Jakob Schubert (AUT)) fell at hold 12 just goes to show that the lower sections of routes still demand respect and are often much harder than the climbers make them look. After the event I was chatting to a coach and he said that it must have been a big moment for us on the broadcast when Jakob fell but I had to be honest and say that when someone falls unexpectedly, it's hard to come out with anything coherent because there was no warning of what was about to happen. When someone is smashing their way up a route it's easy to get some good lines in, but when there's a surprisingly low fall it's tough to say much of any use.
Sean McColl (CAN) put on a cracking show and was the first climber to get close to the "egg" section (it will make sense if you watch the replay). Alberto Ginés López then got a little further along it and then Kai Harada (JPN) did likewise, only for Adam Ondra (CZE) to come along and show all of us how it was done. Adam topped the route, seemingly without too much trouble, and gave the Hollywood ending to an otherwise entertaining but tense final. To say he dominated the event is barely to do it justice; he looked like he was on a different planet to everyone else there and rarely have we seen anyone on the men's side crush the competition as brutally as Adam did in Kranj.
After the event finished I had a beer with one of his "Road to Tokyo" guys and I asked him if Adam might be joining us for a drink. Not a bit of it apparently; he wanted to get some rest so that he could get up early and try to flash some 8c+ he liked the look of on the drive back to Brno. Such is Adam's appetite for climbing. He is really careful with his diet and lives like an athlete, but it's clearly not a chore for him; he absolutely loves climbing and all that comes with being World-class at it. How lucky we are to be watching the sport in the era when he is redefining so many parts of it. I'm still unsure about his ability to deal with moments of huge pressure or how wily he is at always finding a way to win, but it just comes to down to who is best at Lead climbing, Adam usually provides a conclusive answer. Adam and Janja are quite similar in that respect.
From a broadcasting perspective, the event felt like it went well. Loïc Timmermans joined me for the semis and he's unfailingly good company and insightful to boot. As if all that wasn't enough, he's in the process of becoming a barrister, he's a superb climber and (according to my wife) fairly easy on the eye. He'd be an easy man to hate.
Vanda Michalkova (SVK) helped me commentate the women's final and came out with some cracking bits of analysis, which was doubly impressive given that the show was pretty poor. Vanda clearly enjoys doing the stream and despite still being in her teens, is able to be confident, funny and interesting in front of a camera and some big lights, all in her second language. Hamish McArthur helped me out during the men's final and I thought he was excellent. He's only 17 but some of his insight was fantastic, and he seemed to have an innate understanding of when to talk, and when to be quiet, which is a vital part of the co-commentator role. His exit at the end of the show was irresistibly comical (I think he just had a brainfart) but overall he was brilliant. It's always a bit nerve-wracking for me to have someone co-commentate for the first time because you just don't know what a person will be like, but Hamish delivered in spades and I'll be trying to get him on again in the future.
Up next for the climbers is a trip to China and specifically the coastal town of Xiamen. The area is known for having wild weather and in 2017 I remember we got battered by lashing rain there. Hopefully we'll be luckier this time and enjoy the blue sky we had on our visit last year. After that we're all heading back to Japan for the final World Cup of the season in Inzai. I haven't been to Inzai before but it looks sleepy and quiet, which I suspect will feel quite nice after a busy year. For the next 3 weeks though, it's training time for the athletes as they prepare for the culmination of an epic season.
IFSC Climbing Worldcup (L) - Kranj (SLO) 2019
|3||Alberto Ginés López||ESP||31.5+||29+|
|23||Jim Pope||GBR||Qual' 35 12.|
|26||William Bosi||GBR||Qual' 30 24.|
|67||Kieran Forrest||GBR||Qual' 17+ 57.|
|27||Molly Thompson-Smith||GBR||Qual' 22+ 21.|
|45||Emily Phillips||GBR||Qual' 11+ 41.|