After an Olympic interlude, the 2021 IFSC Lead World Cup series continued and culminated in the traditional, old-school sports hall venue in Kranj, Slovenia last weekend. Giant coloured blobs were set against grey featured panels from the '90s with inserts and tickmarks, and the routesetting gave both surprises and suspense.
A lack of Olympians (none in the men's event, only Janja Garnbret (SLO), Laura Rogora (ITA), Chaehyun Seo (KOR), Mia Krampl (SLO) and Jessy Pilz (AUT) in the women's) opened up the field and made for an exciting finale, especially with regard to the fight for the women's overall title.
Three Brits made semi-finals: Molly Thompson-Smith finished 11th, Billy Ridal 19th and Jim Pope 22nd.
The big headline was that freshly-crowned Olympic Champion Janja Garnbret won the 31st World Cup gold medal of her career, a tally that puts her ahead of South Korea's Jain Kim, and makes her the most successful competition climber of all time. The 22-year-old also won the overall 2021 Lead World Cup title — but didn't realise until Matt Groom informed her in a post-climb IFSC interview. Garnbret commented:
"It means a lot because my last win here was in 2017 and since then I wasn't in the finals here two years ago, so I had a 'love-hate' relationship with Kranj. I really enjoyed it, of course I was feeling the pressure with a home crowd but I wanted to win and show my best. I could relax and enjoy it. The route was so nice even though I did the wrong sequence a little bit."
"I wasn't looking for the overall but now that I won, wow!"
In a pre-competition interview, Garnbret explained that the "euphoria" of her Olympic win was "starting to calm down". After a shaky start in qualifiers, where she placed 5th, Garnbret topped the semi-final leaderboard. A complex final route with some uncertain moves and a powerful traverse split the women's field well. In her typical confident style, Garnbret used an unconventional - and potentially risky - sequence across the powerful bulge, before smoothly reaching through the upper roof and onto the headwall to take the win. Seo Chaehyun (KOR) finished 2nd and young up-and-comer Natalia Grossman (USA) took bronze with 41+.
Garnbret had to beat Grossman in order to secure the overall World Cup title. With her victory, Garnbret clinched the 2021 Lead World Cup title, jumping from fourth to first place in the ranking and concluding the season with 300 points to earn her fourth overall Lead World Cup win. Natalia Grossman placed second overall with 296, and Laura Rogora (ITA) finished third with 278.
The full women's Lead World Cup ranking is available here.
The men's final route included a cryptic sequence between big volumes low down which became a stopper move for many. Domen Skofic (SLO) set an early highpoint, but was soon surpassed by Luka Potocar (SLO), Sebastian Halenke (GER), and Japan's 28-year-old Masahiro Higuchi, who smoothly earned first World Cup gold medal of his career (he had previously won bronze in Kranj in 2018).
Just weeks after repeating Alex Megos's Bibliographie 9b+, Stefano Ghisolfi (ITA) won the 2021 men's Lead World Cup title with 319 points, Sean Bailey (USA) followed in second place with 277, while Masahiro Higuchi finished third with 263.
Commenting on Instagram, Ghisolfi wrote:
'This is definitely the best competition achievement in my whole life, less than two weeks after Bibliographie, I don't know what is exactly happening here but 2021 will be hard to forget. I competed in my first World Cup in 2009 with a great 58st place on my first comp, reached my first semifinal in 2010, first final in 2011, first podium in 2012, first victory in 2014, I touched the dream twice in 2017 and 2018 with 2 overall second places, and now, after a long journey, on my 12th season, I finally grabbed it and took it home. Again, please don't wake me up.'
The full 2021 men's Lead World Cup ranking is available here.
Watch the finals replay below:
Next stop: IFSC World Championships in Moscow, 15-21 September