IFSC commentator Charlie Boscoe sums up the final competition of the 2019 IFSC season - and what an event it was. A further 12 Olympic quota places were decided, with plenty of drama...
Almost 8 months after an unseasonable alpine snow storm hit us in Meiringen at the first event of the year, the IFSC season came to an end in the Pyrenean city of Toulouse with the Olympic selection event. The build-up to the event was far from perfect, with various miscommunications resulting in there being 22 starters per gender instead of the intended 20 and (due to a separate issue) the Japanese Mountaineering and Sport Climbing Association (JMSCA) suing the IFSC over allocation of the Host Country Olympic slot (UKC News).
We actually had a meeting about the Olympic selection process with the IFSC top brass at the Hachioji World Championships back in August and I specifically asked them to clarify the situation with the Host Country Olympic slot. I can't help but think that Team Japan should really have clarified the situation too seeing as they were basically betting on the farm on it, but it's a legal matter and we'll leave it to the lawyers.
Like I said, it's not been an ideal build-up but while I was able to watch all these shenanigans from a distance as a bemused observer, it must have been incredibly disruptive to climbers whose participation in Toulouse was in question until a few weeks ago. Still, sport is rarely about everything going perfectly and you delivering your very best in ideal conditions; it's generally a battle of who can react best to what is going on around them. Toulouse would certainly be an example of that.
I seem to put a plug in for my UKC Olympic Selection article into every competition report these days, but before going any further I really do recommend reading that article just so that all this Olympic chat makes sense. Basically (if you can't be bothered reading it again) there have already been 8 Olympic slots per gender allocated after the Hachioji World Championships and 6 more were to be allocated in Toulouse. However, there can't be more than 2 climbers per gender per country at the Olympics so the slots handed out in Toulouse weren't necessarily going to go to the top-6 ranked climbers. Furthermore, Team Japan sent climbers to the event, but they had already filled their national Olympic quota so if any of their climbers were in the top 6, their slot would be passed down the order to the next eligible climber. I could carry on writing about every nuance of this situation, but you only get so many hours on this planet and I've spent enough of them dwelling on the IFSC's Olympic Selection process so I'll leave it there.
Toulouse had a very strange feeling about it from the start because generally at a World Cup you have quite a mix of climbers from rookies who are just psyched to be there, right through to the elite for whom only a win is good enough. In Toulouse, everybody had a once in a lifetime opportunity, and nobody cared at all where they finished provided they got that Olympic slot. Normally at World Cups we have climbers scurrying around hugging people when they make a semi/final for the first time but in Toulouse it was all or nothing for every single climber. As such, the atmosphere was rather tense and every second of competition counted for something.
Things went as expected in the Men's Speed qualifiers, with Bassa Mawem (FRA) doing what was required for 1st and then Alfian Muhammed (INA), as the other Speed "specialist" (if anyone in a combined competition can be described as such) took 2nd. Jan Hojer (GER) was perhaps the standout performer though, taking 3rd and shattering his personal best in the process.
On the boulders things were pretty tight, with no less than 10 climbers finding 3 tops and 4 zones but nobody finding 4 tops. It all came down to attempts and YuFei Pan (CHN) emerged in 1st having been 7th in Speed and he headed to Lead all but certain of his place in the Top 8. Will Bosi (GBR) went well on the boulders but ended up 9th (part of the 3 tops, 4 zones club) after 12th in Speed and then sadly missed out on the final (and Olympic qualification) when he came 9th in Lead.
And so onto what was always going to be a dramatic - and mathematically challenging - couple of hours on the Lead wall. Jernej Kruder (SLO), climbing 2nd, gave us our first bit of drama when he pulled a volume off the wall after 11 moves. He managed to get out of the way as it fell and it fortunately also missed the belayer. The route setters told me they'd originally put it in with 5 screws - which is plenty for a volume of that size - but stuck it back on the wall with 9, after which you could probably have towed a car from it.
The Lead route was enjoyable to watch and while it was maybe a tiny bit too easy, it did an OK job of separating the climbers and presented them with a pretty traditional Lead climbing challenge. We ended up with 4 tops and time was crucial to who ranked where amongst that top 4. Adam Ondra (CZE) eventually emerged 1st, Stefano Ghisolfi (ITA) and Alberto Ginés Lopéz (ESP) tied in 2nd (I kid you not - I watched the replays with the judges and they were literally tied to the nearest 1/10th of a second) and Sascha Lehmann (SUI) was 4th.
The nuances and subtleties of this Combined format are such that we could spend hours debating who could/should have finished where, but when the dust had settled we had 2 Japanese climbers in the final, meaning that whoever joined them in the Top 8 (and therefore made the final in Toulouse) would automatically be receiving an invitation to the Olympics. That turned out to be Adam Ondra, YuFei Pan, Alberto Ginés Lopéz, Jan Hojer, Bassa Mawem and Nathaniel Coleman (USA), all of whom were understandably rather pleased with how things had gone. I hear whispers that one or 2 of them had a rather "sociable" evening in Toulouse after the competition had finished and I hope they had a good night - there are not many days in your life when you qualify for the Olympics. Bassa's success is made all the more special by the fact that he will be representing France in Tokyo 2020 alongside his younger brother Mickaël Mawem, who secured a spot in Hachioji.
On Friday the women had their qualifying round and, like the men, it seemed more than possible that Japan would send 2 climbers to the final round of 8, thereby securing an invite to the Olympics for anyone who could join them.
A huge amount was riding on the Speed because there were 5 Speed "specialists", all of whom knew that their chances of making the finals (and the Olympics) relied on them being 1st in Speed. Iuliia Kaplina (RUS) held her nerve and took the win, an impressive achievement given that she's arguably had the worst World Cup season of all of the 5.
On the boulders we ended up with 3 climbers getting 4 tops - Mia Krampl and Lucka Rakovec (both SLO) and Ai Mori (JPN). Below them were 6 climbers on 3 tops and 4 zones, all of whom were separated by attempts.
After the Boulder we moved to the Lead wall and the culmination/destruction of 22 dreams. The route was, like the men's, a good test of endurance and it separated the climbers pretty well so we got a good show, albeit a rather tense one with the rankings constantly in flux. Ai Mori found the only top having done her normal routine of fluffing the crux moves, almost falling off and then seemingly recovering in the space of about 5 seconds on some crap hold near the top. Elsewhere Mia Krampl, Lucka Rakovec and Laura Rogara (ITA) tried the last move but all fell on it, and they were separated by time.
I long since gave up on trying to do the maths of this stuff while trying to talk coherently on the livestream, but when the results did come through they left 2 Japanese climbers in the final as well as 2 Slovenians. That meant that every non-Slovenian/Japanese climber in the final (Laura Rogora (ITA), Julia Chanourdie (FRA), Iuliia Kaplina, Kyra Condie (USA)) would be getting an Olympic invite and so would YiLing Song (CHN), who by finishing 9th did enough for an Olympic slot as well.
I'm strictly neutral (seriously) during broadcasts but afterwards I couldn't help but be delighted for Kyra, who was told after 10 of her vertebrae were fused that she'd never climb again and is now an Olympian. I sent her a heartfelt text afterwards that included the phrase "You're an Olympian. Like, the Olympics. The f**king Olympics." Sometimes professionalism comes second to telling someone that you're really happy for them.
As a result of the qualification rankings there was nothing to play for other than Olympic seeding in the men's final and amongst the women, only the 2 Slovenians had anything to battle for because only the higher finisher of them would join Janja Garnbret (who stamped her Olympic ticket at the IFSC World Championships in August) in receiving an Olympic invite. As such, the finals felt somewhat anti-climatic, but that was always possible given that Japan sent a strong team to Toulouse, none of whom could take an Olympic slot. Plus, there had been enough drama/heartbreak/euphoria to last a lifetime in the first 2 days of the event and I was pretty glad to just watch some good action in the finals without too much stress.
On the men's side we got a good show, with Bassa Mawem taking a predicted win in Speed and then a tough set of boulders yielding only 7 tops shared among the 8 men. On the Lead wall we had a few tired-looking climbers and only Adam Ondra and Kokoro Fujii got close to a top. Adam had been ill all day (and the day before) and he looked awful when I saw him after the final so claiming 2nd overall was a bloody good effort. Kokoro Fujii took the win, not that it counted for much, if only to underline how much talent Japan have at their disposal.
In the women's final there was a huge amount riding on the evening for the two Slovenian women (Lucka Rakovec and Mia Krampl), only 1 of whom could join Janja Garnbret at the Olympics. The battle between them went right down to the wire and could not have been much closer or more dramatic.
On the Speed wall Iuliia Kaplina did what was expected of her and took 1st and then on the boulders Team Japan dominated proceedings, with Futaba Ito leading the way, just ahead of Ai Mori. Crucially in the battle of the Slovenians, Lucka Rakovec was 3rd in Boulder (having been 6th in Speed) and Mia Krampl was down in 7th, just as she had been in Speed. With Lucka having beaten Mia in both of the first 2 disciplines, and with Lead (in which Lucka is European Champion) the only event left, it seemed that it was all over…
On the Lead route there was a stopper move at holds 31/32 which really bunched the field up and somehow, against all the odds, Mia Krampl managed to secure just about the only result that would move her ahead of Lucka in the overall rankings - 1st place in Lead, with Lucka 3rd or lower. As it became clear that Mia was going to somehow get the Olympic slot, the contrasting emotions between the two women were incredible to watch and when our Director cut away from the shot of them both I instantly got on the intercom to tell him to go back to it. The reality is that sport is brutal and part of me felt bad for broadcasting their reactions but we're there to make the best and most compelling show we can, and watching that moment was tough but exemplified in its most raw form what competition and sporting drama are all about.
Almost as an afterthought, Futaba Ito (JPN) won the competition, with Julia Chanourdie (who I'm backing to make the Olympic final) 2nd and Mia Krampl 3rd.
So there we have it - we now know who 14 of the 20 Olympians per gender will be and, for those still hoping to make it to the party, the Continental Championships early next year represent their final shot. Only the winners (or the highest ranked eligible athletes, more accurately) of the Continental Championships will get an Olympic ticket so the pressure will be excruciating, but there is at least a glimmer of hope for those who still dream of Tokyo 2020. I hear rumours that we (the Livestream team) might be covering a few of the Continental Championships, but nothing is confirmed just yet. After a season like this I'm not sure any more stress would be good for my heart, but with Los Angeles, Sydney and Cape Town hosting the Pan-American, Oceania and African events respectively, I could probably manage. For now, though, it's time for everyone to step back, take stock and get ready for an ever bigger year in 2020.
Olympic Quota Places determined in Toulouse (Pending confirmation by National Olympic Committees)
- Adam Ondra (CZE)
- Bassa Mawem (FRA)
- Jan Hojer (GER)
- YuFei Pan (CHN)
- Alberto Ginés López (ESP)
- Nathaniel Coleman (USA)
- Julia Chanourdie (FRA)
- Mia Krampl (SLO)
- Iuliia Kaplina (RUS)
- Kyra Condie (USA)
- Laura Rogora (ITA)
- YiLing Song (CHN)
IFSC Combined Qualifier - Toulouse/Tournefeuille (FRA) 2019
|1||Futaba Ito||JPN||28||24+ 7.||3T3z 5 5 1.||11.772 4.|
|2||Julia Chanourdie||FRA||30||31+ 2.||1T2z 1 2 5.||8.940 3.|
|3||Mia Krampl||SLO||49||32 1.||0T1z 0 2 7.||12.265 7.|
|4||Lucka Rakovec||SLO||54||31+ 3.||3T3z 11 11 3.||11.863 6.|
|5||Ai Mori||JPN||64||31+ 4.||3T3z 6 6 2.||13.790 8.|
|6||Iuliia Kaplina||RUS||64||8 8.||0T1z 0 4 8.||8.057 1.|
|7||Kyra Condie||USA||72||25+ 6.||1T2z 3 4 6.||8.722 2.|
|8||Laura Rogora||ITA||100||31+ 5.||2T2z 2 2 4.||11.380 5.|
|16||Aries Susanti Rahayu||INA|
|1||Kokoro Fujii||JPN||20||33+ 2.||2T3z 12 8 2.||6.808 5.|
|2||Adam Ondra||CZE||24||34 1.||1T3z 2 9 3.||fall 8.|
|3||Meichi Narasaki||JPN||28||26+ 7.||2T3z 5 11 1.||7.595 4.|
|4||Bassa Mawem||FRA||64||16+ 8.||0T0z 0 0 8.||5.727 1.|
|5||Jan Hojer||GER||70||27+ 5.||0T2z 0 4 7.||6.759 2.|
|6||YuFei Pan||CHN||72||27+ 6.||1T3z 6 7 4.||7.180 3.|
|7||Alberto Ginés López||ESP||105||32+ 3.||1T2z 9 5 5.||99.980 7.|
|8||Nathaniel Coleman||USA||144||32+ 4.||0T3z 0 4 6.||7.828 6.|