IFSC commentator Matt Groom reports on the Briançon round of the Lead World Cup circuit...
As Europe bakes in an unprecedented heatwave, the IFSC circuit continued its journey onwards and we returned to the French mountain town of Briançon. It's a venue that doesn't initially stand out. The surroundings are beautiful but the field and wall seem desolate and empty when you first arrive. As the crowds arrive everything changes. The entire field becomes filled with the hum of noise — a carnival atmosphere as picnics are eaten and beer drunk. Welcome to the Glastonbury of IFSC competitions.
Qualifying and semi-finals both took place on the Friday, which led to a busy day for everyone. The athletes and coaches gather in front of the wall, hugging the shade on the edges, to watch and support, phones out, constantly refreshing scores as wave after wave of climbers head upwards.
The usual suspects made it through to the top twenty-six, with Chaehyun Seo (KOR) just out-qualifying Janja Garnbret (SLO), who came second. There was another impressive performance from Helene Janicot (FRA) who was an IFSC route setter last year before deciding to return to life as a competition climber in 2022.
It was a shame to see last year's winner Eliska Adamovska (CZE) knocked out of qualifying early. Her team mate Adam Ondra (CZE) was not taking part this year due to illness and wanting to rest before the European Championships.
Toby Roberts (GBR) was climbing in his first senior World Cup. I've known Toby since he was 11 having interviewed him for EpicTV when he climbed his first 8b. He's an extremely impressive outdoor and junior competition climber and did well in Briançon making it through to semi-finals in 21st place. That success continued to other members of the GB team, as Molly Thompson-Smith and Hamish McArthur also safely qualified.
As darkness fell we prepared for the semi-finals. The wall simply dominates the field. A massive structure, somewhere between 55 and 53 degrees overhanging in the centre, followed by a headwall that is more overhanging than most walls. It's an intimidating thing to climb on and although Chamonix perhaps has the edge in terms of dramatic scenery, Briançon offers a unique atmosphere. The organisers keep on making the competition even more of a show with live music and other entertainment.
Campbell Harrison (AUS) joined me in the commentary box for semi-finals and it's always great to have him. He's been working hard to represent Australia on the World Cup stage, being on the road for most of the season and doing them proud.
The difficulty seemed to have been stepped up for the women this week and we didn't see the multiple tops that we witnessed in Chamonix. No athlete managed to clip the chains, with Natsuki Tanii (JPN) getting closest on 43+, just beating Janja on 43, after she fired off a small sidepull near the top. The powerful middle of the route, on big half-moon red holds, suited Vita Lukan (SLO), who drew with Brooke Raboutou on 38+, both making it through.
The women's route had a strange rest in the middle on a hold that was worse than it looked. Some athletes seemed to misread it, turning a good position into a complicated one, expending more energy than they gained from it, and being the catalyst for falls. The ones who used it well actually took two rests there, one high and one low, showing once again how important route reading is to success.
The men's route had a low crux on pockets which required accuracy from a dynamic cross-through move; a sapping sequence that left some over-pumped for the rest of the climb. Jesse Grupper (USA) has proved to be an endurance machine and dug deep, just pushing Luka Potocar (SLO) into second place due to count back. Alex Megos (GER), Yannick Flohé (GER), Colin Duffy (USA), Filip Schenk (ITA), Hamish McArthur (GBR) and Yoshiyuki Ogata (JPN) all scored 41+ and were separated by countback.
Sascha Lehmann (SUI) climbed brilliantly at the World Games in the USA last week and won gold. He was unlucky this week and ended up outside of a finals place by just a + score. Ao Yurikusa (JPN) had a nightmare moment on the second move of the route. He slapped to the first sloper, but misjudged the distance and seemed to hover for a second, his left hand almost holding on, left foot in the air. Gravity eventually won and he fell before clipping the first bolt. Note should be taken of Colin Duffy's (USA) innovative stacked knee bar beta, extending the reach of a knee bar and giving him a few seconds of vital rest as he made it through.
It was the end of the competition for Molly Thompson Smith (GBR), who mentioned on her Instagram that she was feeling the fatigue recently. It wasn't her best finish at 17th, but a good performance considering. Toby Roberts (GBR) should be proud of his 18th finish and he will now head into the Dallas World Youth Championships feeling confident.
The party was in full swing by the time we started the finals at 8 p.m., the athletes being escorted through the crowd in a procession, led by flag-waving volunteers. The routes were uniform in colour, the men's a light turquoise dotted with white volumes. The women's a series of black and white dual-tex balls and large cone-shaped, light green volumes.
Olympian Alannah Yip (CAN) was with me commentating, and it was good to talk through some of the issues that had been discussed since Chamonix about bringing more female route setters into the rotation.
The men were up first. Jesse Grupper (USA) has been building in momentum all year; he's a calming, friendly presence, but with a steely determination hidden beneath. This weekend the competition belonged to him. During the finals climb he came back from multiple moments where it looked like he might fall. He misread the opening, awkward sequence, changing his mind mid-move and slapping hopefully at a white volume. He got through that scare, then did some magic and matched his own hand on the smallest of crimps during a traverse. It was unique beta, but tiring, and he had to push hard after that, latching a side-pull no one else could and getting the highpoint on the route. A lesson that giving up won't win gold medals.
The belayer slowly lowered him to the crowed, allowing him an extra moment to soak everything in. His first Lead gold medal.
That side pull that Jesse held and the move before shut down the rest of the top five athletes, with silver, bronze and 4th place going to countback. Alex Megos took his first medal of the year with a bronze, pushing Yannick Flohé (GER) into 4th place, while Taisei Homma (JPN) came closest to getting it, tickling it with his fingertips for silver.
Colin Duffy (USA) couldn't make a cross-through move to a jib on a hexagonal volume and was 5th, and Yoshiyuki Ogata fell in the same place for 6th. Filip Schenk (ITA) had a great first finals and came 7th, followed by Hamish McArthur (GBR) and Luka Potocar (SLO).
The men's competition is wide open at the moment, with no athlete winning more than once this year so far.
We wanted the women's route to be harder in Briançon, and it was…for all but one. We didn't see any tops, and a tricky first low crux was hard to read for Ryu Nakagawa (JPN) and Vita Lukan (SLO) who both fell on 18+. Laura Rogora (ITA) was 6th and Natsuki Tanii fell in the same place and was 5th due to count back. Tanii performed an amazing feet first sequence of moves on the low crux, matching a dual-tex ball with hands and feet as she did a 180 to get through it. Perhaps not the most efficient way, but it was a highlight of the event.
There was an appeal lodged that looked to upgrade Brooke Raboutou's (USA) score from 41 to 41+, but it wasn't successful and she was left in 4th. The move Brooke fell on, the last sequence before the end, also tripped up Natalia Grossman (USA) who got the same score as Brooke, countback giving the Bronze to Natalia. Chaehyun Seo (KOR) managed to squeeze a plus from the hold and took silver. She's on great form right now, pushing Janja all the way.
I don't think enough is said about Janja Garnbret's (SLO) ability to handle pressure. Competition after competition she's the favourite with people expecting her to deliver. Deliver she does, time after time, medal after medal. Success hasn't changed her; in fact, it seems to make her more welcoming and open. She's currently simply the best , and although she didn't top the route, she was clear of the rest on 42+, taking her 22nd Lead gold and moving another step closer to clean-sweeping the season.
I've heard mutterings that her consistency in winning is boring…I completely disagree. We're watching what could be the greatest climbing athlete of this era. A woman who has achieved everything, but still pushes for more. Watching her win at every event, it feels like we are experiencing a moment of sporting history that will be talked about for years. She just needs to keep dealing with that pressure…
|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||Stasa 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|