In a valley surrounded by mountains and alternately exposed to baking sun and torrential rain, the Innsbruck IFSC World Cup gathered climbers from across the globe in a week-long showcase of our sport. The event kicked off with the European Speed Cup before we moved on to the Paraclimbing, Boulder and Lead World Cups, capping a long Boulder season and signalling the start os the summer Lead events.
The weather is always an…interesting part of the Innsbruck competitions and this year was no different. Most of the time the sun beat down relentlessly onto the arena and the huge crowds brought umbrellas to protect themselves from the heat. Those same umbrellas became useful when sudden thunderstorms rolled in, bringing with them rain-soaked routes and mats. A nightmare for the organisers.
The Paraclimbing World Cup is a true highlight of the week. The finals were brilliant and we had 14 different categories competing, more than ever before. The livestream is free to watch on YouTube, so please check it out. Great Britain's AbigaiI Robinson and Leanora Volpe both won gold in their respective categories, while Richard Slocock finished 4th in his final. I was joined by the always hilarious and deeply knowledgable Sebastian Depke (GER) in the commentary box, who offers great insights into the sport.
Abigail commented on her win: "It was great to be competing in Innsbruck again after a few years of missing out. It's one of my favourite venues - the atmosphere is incredible and the psyche is always high! Coming into the competition, I was a little nervy as I've currently got a finger injury. However, all of that doubt melted away the moment I stepped on the main wall and found my flow again."
Lea added: "It's taken me a while to find my flow in training this year after injuries and illness interrupted my plans, so I wasn't sure how the first competition of the season was going to go. A move from RP2 to the less impaired (and more stacked!) RP3 sport class meant the lead up to qualifiers was tense and emotional. But on the day I was able to find my focus and confidence and climb as well as I know I can, and it was just incredibly satisfying to get the results I was looking for."
As the days progressed, the record number of registered athletes were slowly whittled down. The GB Climbing Team demonstrated some strong performances, notably by Hamish McArthur who finished 11th in Boulder and 25th in Lead, Max Milne who placed 14th and 35th, Emily Phillips who was one place out of Boulder semis in 21st and Molly Thompson-Smith who narrowly missed out on Lead finals in 10th place.
Men's Boulder Final
A familiar electric tension signalled the start of finals. The men's Boulder final was up first and I've never seen a set of such aesthetically pleasing boulders. Due to the men and women's finals being split over two evenings, the route setters had the entire 35m wall to play with. They created long, striking climbs which snaked across the wall.
Yannick Flohe (GER), who won his first gold in Brixen a few weeks ago, was back in the finals. He couldn't recreate the magic we witnessed in Italy, but I'll never forget his ridiculous show of strength on Boulder 2. He misread the beta and crossed through to a pocket…with the wrong hand. Every muscle seemed to explode as he locked off, hung sideways and somehow reached through to the next hold. He finished 6th, but the moment will forever be on a highlight reel!
The main fight was between Colin Duffy (USA) and Yoshiyuki Ogata (JPN). On paper it should have been straightforward as Yoshiyuki was already the overall Boulder champion for 2022, while Colin had yet to get on the podium this year.
However, there was something special about Colin as he walked around the arena, I can't put my finger on exactly what it was, but he seemed to ooze quality.
The podium places were decided on the final climb, the standout boulder on the wall. Enormous blue and yellow volumes dotted with finger pockets. At first it was Dohyun Lee (KOR) who looked like he might take the win. Sadly he could only manage the zone, but it was still impressive as the 19-year-old took his first senior bronze medal.
Colin Duffy (USA) gradually pieced together the moves; a huge dry fire off the last finger pocket and a foot slip in the last moves was a blow. In a display of determination he climbed again, chalking-up mid-swing and finally put it all together to top.
All eyes were now on Yoshiyuki Ogata (JPN), and he re-entered the arena to the sight of hundreds of phone torches lighting up the darkness. Only a flash would do. There was potentially two ways to start the climb. Facing towards the wall, which was easier, or facing out towards the audience, the harder method. Yoshiyuki faced outwards.
We held our breath as he jumped forwards, twisting back at the blind pocket…and missed. Colin was told on stage that victory was his and a mix of joy and disbelief spread across his face. He continued to support Yoshiyuki, who eventually only managed a Zone. It was his first Boulder Gold, and Silver for Yoshiyuki who took consolation in claiming the overall title ahead of his teammates Tomoa Narasaki and Kokoro Fujii — an all-Japanese podium.
Women's Boulder Final
Rain was forecasted for the women's finals, and as the doors opened it started to fall. I want to highlight how hard the organisers and staff worked to minimise the impact of the storm on the athletes competing. We saw all four boulders climbed with minimal delays.
Team Japan has real depth of talent in their team and so often we watch a climber compete who had previously been fairly unknown. Saki Kikuchi (JPN) was climbing in her first senior finals and although she didn't top a boulder she's one to watch out for in the future.
I had spent the previous week commentating on the FISU University Championships, and while climbing in the gym had seen Miho Nonaka (JPN) getting treatment on a leg injury. She could barely walk, so it was even more impressive that she pushed through the pain and took the bronze medal. She was sitting in last place coming into the final climb, but she topped the scary dyno problem for bronze.
Natalia Grossman (USA) has been dominant all year and was going for her fifth gold of the season. Hannah Meul (GER), who broke through with her first silver in Brixen, was full of confidence. It quickly became apparent that the gold medal would go to one of them. They pulled ahead of the rest with impressive tops.
It only took Hannah two attempts to send the final dyno, using a slightly different method than Futaba Ito (JPN) who took a nasty face-first fall when she attempted the move. Natalia needed a quick top, and as the rain continued to cascade down, she flashed the boulder. She maintained her winning streak - five gold medals in a row - leaving Hannah with her second silver of the year.
Natalia had already claimed the overall title in Brixen and she was joined on the podium by Miho Nonaka in 2nd and teammate Brooke Raboutou (USA) in 3rd.
There were nine male athletes in the Lead final due to ties in semi-finals and no count-back. This was due to there being two groups in qualis and therefore different routes. Also, because of the same situation, there were 5 women tied and if all topped, the winner would be decided on time. Time would also be used to decide the positions if athletes reached the same hold (score). This would also apply to two of the men.
Women's Lead Final
The women's route had been tweaked to be a bit harder and had been sitting in the baking sun. It was fully in the sun when finals started, only dropping behind a thin cloud later on. This stepped up the difficulty of an already savage route. Athlete after athlete fell early, the crowd going deathly silent as Jessy Pilz (AUS) fell lowest of all on move 8+.
All of this shows how impressive it was when Janja Garnbret strode out onto the stage and simply dominated the field.
She looked a little nervous as she walked out and set off slowly and cautiously, without the usual dynamic flair we see from her. She changed her tactics, because she knew how insecure that first part had been for the other women. She instinctively spotted the first low crux and rested for a long time before committing and campusing through the moves. The crowd reacted and Janja smiled, visibly relaxing and starting to flow between the moves. She fell far higher than everyone else and took her first gold of the lead season. I know it's been said a thousand times, but it's true: The Queen is back.
Chaehyun Seo (KOR) was in her element on the Lead wall and came second, while Brooke Raboutou (USA) beat Laura Rogora (ITA) by 4 seconds to get to the same hold faster and take bronze.
Men's Lead Final
Jesse Grupper (USA) was very impressive in the men's competition. He hasn't competed for a while and has recently moved to the USA's training hub of Salt Lake City. He worked his way through the bottom campus section of the route, and then gritted his teeth as he ground his way through the headwall. He took bronze, being pushed out of silver by Ao Yurikusa (JPN) by time.
As I said before…there was something special about Colin Duffy (USA) this week. He seemed to love the shouldery, aggressive sequences and reached the highpoint of the route to win gold. He became the first male athlete to win double golds at a World Cup.
The IFSC now turns its attention towards Villars in Switzerland for the next Lead and Speed World Cup. Thanks to Danaan Markey, Hannah Schubert, Stasa Gejo and Molly Thompson Smith for joining me in the commentary box this week. I am always blown away by your skills on the mic.
|1||Colin Duffy||USA||3T4z 5 4||3T4z 12 9|
|2||Dohyun Lee||KOR||3T4z 9 9||2T4z 10 12|
|3||Yoshiyuki Ogata||JPN||3T4z 4 4||2T4z 10 14|
|4||Jongwon Chon||KOR||2T4z 3 5||2T3z 2 3|
|5||Kokoro Fujii||JPN||3T4z 5 6||2T3z 3 4|
|6||Yannick Flohé||GER||3T4z 6 11||2T3z 7 7|
|7||Tomoa Narasaki||JPN||2T4z 5 8|
|8||Sean Bailey||USA||2T4z 6 8|
|9||Sam Avezou||FRA||2T4z 10 9|
|10||Tomoaki Takata||JPN||2T4z 10 11|
|11||Hamish McArthur||GBR||2T3z 4 4|
|12||Jakob Schubert||AUT||1T4z 1 7|
|13||Alex Megos||GER||1T4z 2 7|
|14||Maximillian Milne||GBR||1T4z 3 12|
|15||Rei Kawamata||JPN||1T3z 1 4|
|16||Zan Sudar||SLO||1T3z 1 6|
|17||Kento YAMAGUCHI||JPN||1T3z 5 8|
|18||Mathieu Ternant||FRA||1T3z 6 17|
|19||Alex Khazanov||ISR||0T3z 0 7|
|20||Nikolay Rusev||BUL||0T3z 0 10|
|57||Nathan Phillips||GBR||Qual: 1T4z 1 8|
|59||Billy Ridal||GBR||Qual: 1T4z 1 9|
|89||Alex Waterhouse||GBR||Qual: 1T2z 2 3|
|1||Natalia Grossman||USA||4T4z 8 5||4T4z 5 5|
|2||Hannah Meul||GER||2T4z 3 5||4T4z 7 6|
|3||Miho Nonaka||JPN||3T3z 8 4||2T2z 3 2|
|4||Futaba Ito||JPN||2T4z 3 7||1T2z 1 2|
|5||Chaehyun Seo||KOR||3T4z 13 13||1T2z 1 3|
|6||Saki Kikuchi||JPN||3T4z 9 14||0T2z 0 2|
|7||Brooke Raboutou||USA||2T4z 3 10|
|8||Jessica Pilz||AUT||2T4z 5 7|
|9||Fanny Gibert||FRA||2T4z 8 15|
|10||ZHILU LUO||CHN||2T3z 4 4|
|11||Sol Sa||KOR||1T4z 2 13|
|12||Ayala Kerem||ISR||1T4z 3 14|
|13||Camilla Moroni||ITA||1T4z 4 12|
|14||Cloe Coscoy||USA||1T3z 4 8|
|15||Katja Kadic||SLO||1T3z 4 9|
|16||Stasa Gejo||SRB||1T2z 2 3|
|17||Giorgia Tesio||ITA||1T2z 7 7|
|18||Franziska Sterrer||AUT||0T4z 0 10|
|19||Petra Klingler||SUI||0T4z 0 11|
|20||Mia AOYAGI||JPN||0T2z 0 4|
|21||Emily Phillips||GBR||Qual: 3T4z 4 5|
|35||Holly Toothill||GBR||Qual: 1T4z 2 14|
|47||Tara Hayes||GBR||Qual: 1T2z 6 9|
|69||Hannah Slaney||GBR||Qual: 1T3z 5 9|
|71||Jennifer Wood||GBR||Qual: 0T1z 0 1|
|2||Ao YURIKUSA||JPN||45+||37+ (3:14)|
|3||Jesse Grupper||USA||45+||37+ (4:28)|
|35||Maximillian Milne||GBR||Qual: 19.37|
|45||Billy Ridal||GBR||Qual: 22.99|
|51||Jim Pope||GBR||Qual: 25.65|
|91||Alex Waterhouse||GBR||Qual: 44.6|
|2||Chaehyun Seo||KOR||TOP||27+ (2:41)|
|3||Brooke Raboutou||USA||TOP||27+ (2:52)|
|4||Laura Rogora||ITA||TOP||27+ (2:57)|
|69||Joanna Neame||GBR||Qual: 35.0|
|71||Emily Phillips||GBR||Qual: 35.5|
|73||Jennifer Wood||GBR||Qual: 36.23|
|79||Thea Cameron||GBR||Qual: 39.24|