IFSC commentator Matt Groom reports on all the action from the first Boulder World Cup of the season in Meiringen, Switzerland.
A new IFSC season is a bit like the first day back at school after the summer holidays: it's the same mix of excitement, nerves and checking out who's been doing their homework. Competition climbing has changed. It was inevitable after the Olympics, and more eyes than ever are now on our sport.
The announcement was made just before the start of the season that Discovery + and Eurosport would now be hosting the broadcasts, with the free YouTube streams only being available in some countries. I won't debate the rights and wrongs of the decision in this article. I know there are strong opinions on all sides. My job is to talk about the climbing and do my best to call the action in a professional and entertaining way and help represent the athletes. I'll let others decide if it's a good or bad thing for the sport.
For this competition, a decision was made by Eurosport that they would use a commentator in the UK, and not use our feed. It was due to complications with communication between them and me on the ground. Hopefully this will be changed for future comps as I think there is a real benefit to having commentary from the event. Having the chance to be on the ground and pick up unique insights should add to the broadcast, in my view.
Friday in Meiringen saw both the men and women qualifying, and the general consensus was that the route setters had set some unusually hard boulders. There is a bit of a tradition in Meiringen for boulders with cracks in them, and we saw this feature in the men's round. The athletes jammed their way upwards with different degrees of success. Cracks have become so anticipated in Meiringen that some had trained specifically for them.
In the men's qualifier we saw a bizarre, and scary incident where Gregor Vezonik (SLO) got his hand stuck in the crack…he couldn't escape and started shouting for help. Despite being in the middle of competing, Mickael Mawem (FRA) rushed over to help, lifting his friend upwards so he could un-jam his hand. It could have been nasty, but Mickael's quick actions helped prevent an injury and Gregor sent the boulder next go. Mickael was rewarded with a bonus attempt for his sportsmanship.
Last year's men's winner in Meiringen, Adam Ondra (CZE), decided not to compete in this season opener. The difficult qualification round saw a few big names failing to make semis, including Olympic medallists Miho Nonaka (JPN), Jakob Schubert (AUT) and Alberto Gines Lopez (ESP). We saw some up-and-coming athletes do well, with recent CWIF winner Ayala Kerem (ISR) topping her qualification group alongside Janja Garnbret (SLO), and Zan Lovenjak Sudar (SLO) winning the men's round level with Tomoa Narasaki (JPN).
British talent Max Milne qualified in 7th for semis, while Molly Thompson-Smith was the highest-ranked British woman, finishing 31st — her best Boulder World Cup placing to date.
The semis brutally cuts down the field, whittling athletes down to just six finalists. Janja Garnbret (SLO) was on a mission, and topped all four of the boulders in just six attempts with Natalia Grossman (USA) close on her heels in second. Hannah Meul (GER) came tantalisingly close to her first boulder finals, just missing out in 7th.
Reigning boulder World Champ Kokoro Fujii (JPN) led the way with four tops only, separated from his teammate Tomoa Narasaki, by attempts to top. Team GB's Max Milne put on a great performance, nearly making finals before being pushed out and finishing 8th. He's surely one to watch for the next comp.
Rounds were split this year, with women's semi finals and finals on the Saturday and men on Sunday. It was a format change I liked, especially during the semi finals. It was easier to focus on the climbing, as the number of athletes on the mats at any one time was reduced. There are often complaints about camera crews missing the action and to be fair, trying to film eight athletes simultaneously is incredibly difficult. I think the new system alleviated some of the viewers' frustrations and less action was missed.
It was great to see the crowds back in the arena after COVID restrictions prevented it in 2021. The atmosphere generated from an audience watching live sport is intoxicating and helps to inspire and hype the athletes.
The lights dimmed and the audience roared as the finalists were announced and called onto the stage. Janja Garnbret was going for her third World Cup win in a row and was simply on a different level. She only needed five attempts to top all four boulders, her one failed attempt coming from an incorrect starting position rather than a fall. I think I only really saw her try hard once, when she over rotated on the dyno on Boulder 3. She engaged beast-mode, caught the swing and flashed the problem. She is relentlessly consistent in her performances. During her winning interview with my co-commentator Danaan Markey, she revealed that this might be her last Boulder World Cup of the year. Perhaps she's looking to focus on Lead and have a less intense schedule in 2022.
She was uncharacteristically emotional as she topped out the final boulder, wiping away a tear as she waved to the crowd. She truly cares about this sport and is affected by pressure and expectation as much as anyone — she just deals with it better, but this win clearly meant a lot to her.
Natalia Grossman is perhaps Janja's biggest rival and she pushed her all the way, flashing the last two boulders and showing off her ability to read tricky sequences. With a silver in hand and without Janja competing in Boulder for the rest of the season, it's hard to look past her as the favourite for the overall title.
We saw some magic from Swiss athlete Andrea Kümin competing in her first Boulder World Cup finals, although those in the know have been talking about her form for a while. Her teammate Sofia Yokoyama was commentating with me, I asked her to be as biased as possible, and her pride for her teammate was clear.
Andrea performed the most outrageous human flag I've ever seen, hanging in the air, her shoulders fully twisted as she clung on to finish the climb and receive her first senior medal. What a moment for her, and hopefully the first of many podiums.
17-year-old Oriane Bertone (FRA) is always fun to watch as she discovers strange and different solutions to the boulders. She seems to have matured from last year, although there are still flashes of the impetuousness that might have held her back last year. Honestly, she's a breath of fresh air and I hope we see her in many more finals. 4th place for Oriane, so near to the podium.
19-year-old Futaba Ito (JPN) didn't manage any tops, but looked in impressive form. She thought she had topped out Boulder 3 in the final seconds of the round, but had actually run out of time. Her celebrations quickly turned to disappointment.
Staša Gejo (SRB) as always put on a show, managing 6th but showing her quality, earning some bloody scrapes for her work. She joined me in the commentary box for the men's semi-finals and is a true class act with her in-depth analysis and intelligent insights.
There was a rule change this season where photos of the boulders were available to the athletes in the isolation zone for the qualifying and semi-finals. However, after some disagreement a discussion between officials and coaches took place, the rule was reversed. There were no pictures shown for the men's semi-final.
The mens' finals featured four boulders with dynamic and physical sequences. It made for an interesting round as we saw multiple falls before an athlete would unlock the required movement.
Colin Duffy (USA) was desperately unlucky, coming close on all of the boulders but dropping a few last moves. He also had to deal with some controversy on Boulder 3. The problem had been designed for athletes to climb the first few moves facing outwards, but it wasn't obvious and other solutions were found.
Colin found a method and topped the climb, but it was later decided that he hadn't been in the correct starting position. He was allowed back on the mats to climb again, topped out again…but another late call by the judges meant that attempt was also deemed null and void. He was, rightfully, angry at this, as he should have immediately been asked to stop climbing. Heroically, he completed the boulder for a third time and got a huge reaction from the crowd, who were firmly behind him. He made 19 attempts to Top, showing the Olympian's determination and grit.
Training is clearly paying off for the French team, as both Paul Jenft and Mejdi Schalck made finals. Both are transitioning full time into the senior circuit and I predict they will become regulars in both Lead and Boulder finals. Paul was 4th with two tops, while Mejdi nearly won the whole thing on the final climb. Mejdi was the only athlete to hold the final match on the slab, and yes, crack, of Boulder 2. He is part of this new wave of climbers that have grown up with the more dynamic style of modern boulder problems. The new school vs old school style debate will rage on...
Team Japan took the top two places, with Yoshiyuki Ogata flashing Boulder 1 and swinging through Boulder 4 for silver, while Tomoa Narasaki went from last place to gold by finding a heel hook method on the last climb, which helped reduce some of the power needed. He's an experienced veteran of the sport, but at only 25 years old has a lot of time left at the top.
It was one of those finals where anything could, and did happen. Reigning World Champion Kokoro Fujii could have have climbed his way onto the podium on the final problem, but was clearly fatigued as he tried again and again. He missed out on the Top and Zone and had to be content with last place. I'm sure he will look back and consider what might have been.
In a few weeks we head to South Korea to continue the season. There is a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes to try and raise the standards of the broadcasts. The athletes deserve your attention and I hope you join us. The sport is growing and evolving; things aren't perfect yet. There are certainly lessons to be learned, but some exciting developments are on the way. See you all soon!
|1||Tomoa Narasaki||JPN||4T4z 14 11||2T3z 3 6|
|2||Yoshiyuki Ogata||JPN||2T4z 5 6||2T3z 5 19|
|3||Mejdi Schalck||FRA||3T4z 8 5||2T3z 7 9|
|4||Paul Jenft||FRA||2T4z 5 7||2T3z 15 18|
|5||Colin Duffy||USA||3T4z 10 12||1T4z 19 27|
|6||Kokoro Fujii||JPN||4T4z 12 8||1T3z 4 27|
|7||Yuji Fujiwaki||JPN||2T4z 8 9|
|8||Maximillian Milne||GBR||2T4z 9 20|
|9||Keita Dohi||JPN||2T3z 4 3|
|10||Manuel Cornu||FRA||2T3z 7 10|
|11||Nicolai Uznik||AUT||1T4z 2 14|
|12||Mickael Mawem||FRA||1T4z 2 16|
|13||Gregor Vezonik||SLO||1T4z 3 12|
|14||Tomoaki Takata||JPN||1T4z 5 11|
|15||Benjamin Hanna||USA||1T4z 6 13|
|16||Alex Megos||GER||1T4z 7 10|
|17||Anze Peharc||SLO||1T3z 2 7|
|18||Jernej Kruder||SLO||0T4z 0 17|
|19||Gholamali Baratzadeh||IRI||0T3z 0 7|
|20||Zan Sudar||SLO||0T3z 0 8|
|33||Nathan Phillips||GBR||Qual: 2T5z 6 9|
|41||Hamish McArthur||GBR||Qual: 2T4z 11 16|
|43||Alex Waterhouse||GBR||Qual: 2T3z 2 7|
|51||Billy Ridal||GBR||Qual: 1T5z 1 21|
|1||Janja Garnbret||SLO||4T4z 6 6||4T4z 5 5|
|2||Natalia Grossman||USA||3T4z 6 7||3T4z 8 16|
|3||Andrea Kümin||SUI||2T3z 3 6||1T2z 1 3|
|4||Oriane Bertone||FRA||2T4z 3 5||1T2z 1 5|
|5||Futaba Ito||JPN||2T3z 4 8||0T2z 0 8|
|6||Staša Gejo||SRB||2T4z 8 10||0T1z 0 3|
|7||Hannah Meul||GER||2T3z 5 5|
|8||Fanny Gibert||FRA||2T3z 7 8|
|9||Madison Fischer||CAN||2T3z 11 13|
|10||Cloe Coscoy||USA||2T2z 5 3|
|11||Chaehyun Seo||KOR||2T2z 6 6|
|12||Brooke Raboutou||USA||1T4z 1 6|
|13||Camilla Moroni||ITA||1T4z 1 13|
|14||Chloe Caulier||BEL||1T3z 2 4|
|15||Kylie Cullen||USA||1T3z 2 7|
|16||Ayala Kerem||ISR||1T3z 2 13|
|17||Franziska Sterrer||AUT||1T3z 4 20|
|18||Jessica Pilz||AUT||1T3z 5 8|
|19||Lucia Dörffel||GER||1T2z 1 4|
|20||Sol Sa||KOR||1T1z 3 3|
|31||Molly Thompson-Smith||GBR||Qual: 2T4z 7 6|
|45||Hannah Slaney||GBR||Qual: 1T4z 4 5|
|57||Emily Phillips||GBR||Qual: 0T4z 0 11|
|64||Holly Toothill||GBR||Qual: 0T3z 0 7|
|69||Jennifer Wood||GBR||Qual: 0T3z 0 11|
Watch the full replays on the Olympic Channel website. Highlights on the IFSC YouTube channel below:
Great write-up Matt, many thanks!
We tried to watch the Eurosport coverage here in Germany, and it was nothing short of appalling. The supposedly live coverage of the men's semis started 30 min late, some competitors were simply left out, and the (Austrian?) commentator was terrible (Tomoa drops down to a good hold to rest and chalk up; excited shout: "Ooh, he's got to be careful now!").
We then tried to watch the men's final on the Olympia channel; it got taken down just as Round 4 was about to start. There's a lot to be improved upon here.
But thanks again, both for the article and the commentating. Keep up the good work!
Fantastic view on it! I thought the format of splitting over the two days for more camera time worked well, although some action was still missed when the camera crew focussed on getting fancy shots through the crowds phones which was funny at first but got irritating after the 4th time.
The monetisation of viewing has me in two minds. I fully agree for the sport it could be a great thing, but are we really a big enough sport currently to be putting up a pay wall of £6.99 a month? I know this wasn’t the focus of the article so I’ll leave it at that.
Overall the weekend was fantastic and such a great effort from the GB team, especially max who was so close to making the finals plus the Buzzer beater finish to add to the drama!
Final thoughts, your commentary was missed greatly on Eurosport and I’ve heard many complaints over them using other commentators instead of your own commentary that was being broadcast anyway. #bringbackmattgroom should have been a hashtag for the weekend.
"There was a rule change this season where photos of the boulders were available to the athletes in the isolation zone for the qualifying and semi-finals. However, after some disagreement a discussion between officials and coaches took place, the rule was reversed. There were no pictures shown for the men's semi-final."
Is that right? The IFSC changed the rules mid-competition!?!?
Yeah, but it was decided upon before the men's round, so the men and the women had equal competition conditions respectively. Still a bit rubbish for the women, though!