IFSC Commentator Charlie Boscoe reports on the Austrian Climbing Championships in Innsbruck last weekend, which took place over four days across three disciplines and provided an exciting Combined finale...
Despite the coronavirus crisis, it feels like we've had a fair amount of competition climbing to watch this summer, with the Austria Climbing Summer Series being followed by the Briançon World Cup and finally the British Climbing Cup and Austrian National Championships over last weekend. I was at the Austrian National Championships in Innsbruck rather than the British Climbing Cup in Sheffield, but the weather in Austria was more Yorkshire than Tirol, with freezing temperatures and lashing rain characterising the weekend. Luckily some kind chap brought us a heater to the commentary box but it was still a chilly few days for athletes and everyone else.
Before the Combined part of the event we had all three competition climbing disciplines contested separately over the previous three days, meaning that by the time we got to the final part of the competition, some of the climbers had been on the go for four days straight. That meant that fatigue was a major factor in the results, and very few of the climbers were able to give the Combined competition their all due to skin issues alone, as if being knackered wasn't reason enough to not be at their best.
In the individual disciplines, Tobias Plangger dipped under six seconds to win the men's Speed and Alexandra Elmer took gold on the women's side. In the Boulder, Johanna Färber won to complete a scarcely believable summer in which she's won both Summer Series Boulder events and now the Austrian Championship. Given that those wins required her to beat World Champions Jessy Pilz and Petra Klinger three and two times respectively, Johanna must surely now be considered a real threat for World Cup wins whenever the IFSC events get going again.
Nikolai Uznik crushed everyone in sight to win the men's Boulder events and although Florian Klingler arguably looked the strongest climber in the competition, he didn't seem able to figure out any boulder which he couldn't simply muscle his way up. Climbing is a test of both brains and brawn - Nikolai had both where Florian only seemed to have one. By the way - and before you ask - Jakob Schubert was carrying a minor bicep injury and decided not to compete in the Boulder, although he did help out the route setting team. When I arrived at the venue before the finals I was delighted to see him struggling to use a drill efficiently, and dropping screws all over the floor, so maybe there are some things even Jakob isn't good at. There's no doubt he's still good at Lead climbing however - he won the Austrian title at a canter the day after the Boulder round - not bad for someone whose "rest" days had been setting three Boulder rounds, and who was supposed to be injured. Jessy Pilz delivered the expected result on the women's side of the Lead too, picking up the win thanks to a top in the final.
By the time the Combined came around, the isolation zone was full of tired bodies and shredded skin, but with no competitions anywhere on the horizon, everyone gave 100% for what might be their last event of the year. The Speed was up first and Stefan Scherz put in the standout performance, bagging 2nd in his weakest discipline.
Next up was Boulder and the climbs were brutally hard, with only the first of the three women's boulders being topped, and even then it was only by Jessy Pilz and Eva-Maria Hammelmüller. Nobody else managed more than one zone on the women's side! For the men things were ever so slightly easier, but there were still only two climbers who walked away with a top - the aforementioned Stefan Scherz (who got 2) and Jan-Luca Posch. Sadly Jakob Schubert and recently crowned Austrian Boulder champion Nikolai Uznik pulled out of the competition before the Boulder round due to minor injuries, so the scores might have looked a little better had they competed, but there's no doubt that the difficulty level was a bit overcooked. Spare a thought for the setters though - it's pretty hard to estimate what sort of shape the climbers will be in after four days of competition. We've seen some Combined comps where the boulders are far too easy and we don't get an effective ranking, but this time things just went a little too far the other way. Such is life.
Come the Lead, some of the climbers barely looked able to walk to the wall, let alone get to the top of it, so it was a fine collective effort from them to get as far as they did. On the women's side, it was once again Jessy Pilz and Eva-Maria Hammelmüller who led the way, with both of them topping the route and Eva-Maria ranking first having outperformed Jessy in the Lead part of the qualifying. That all meant that Eva-Maria won the Combined title having been top three in all three disciplines - not bad going when you're 20 years old and taking on qualified-Olympian Jessy.
The men's Lead route really kicked in on the headwall and it spat off everyone below the top. Stefan Scherz got highest though, meaning that he'd got 2nd in Speed. He then won the other two disciplines for a final score of 2 (2 x 1 x 1). Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that's the best score in the history of Combined competitions. I remember Tomoa Narasaki (JPN) getting a score of 4 in the IFSC World Championships but I can't remember anyone scoring 2 before. Record or not, it was a huge performance and Stefan is going to be a man well worth keeping an eye on.
In the commentary box, Anna Stöhr joined me for the Boulder and brought brilliant insight and energy. I did the Boulder semi finals on my own and I must admit that doing a commentary alone - without anyone to bounce off or introduce new topics - does feel slightly dry, and having Anna turn up just when I was starting to feel a bit weary was great. Since retiring from comps a few years ago Anna has been focusing on her teaching career and is now educating the youth of Innsbruck three days per week. That still leaves her plenty of time for broadcasting, so hopefully she can do a bit more of it in the future. For the Lead and Combined, Hannah Schubert volunteered at the last minute to help me out and she was brilliant - enthusiastic, knowledgeable and able to combine those two things perfectly. She's taking a year off competing this year (it's been a good year to miss!) but I'm confident she can get back to top form in 2021.
So, that could well be it for 2020. Theoretically we've got the Asian, European and Oceanian Championships coming up towards the end of the year, but let's just say I'm not booking my flights yet. Regardless, it's been fun to have a little sample of something resembling reality over the past few months and hopefully it won't be too long before the World's best are back on our screens. Speak to you soon, hopefully.
All livestreams for Speed, Boulder, Lead and Combined can be accessed via the Austria Climbing YouTube channel below: