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IFSC Paraclimbing World Cup Innsbruck - Report

© Dimitris Tosidis/IFSC

GB Paraclimbing team member Leanora Volpe reports from the IFSC Paraclimbing World Cup in Innsbruck.


The GB paraclimbing team returned to competition last week in Innsbruck at the IFSC Paraclimbing World Cup, where nine athletes competed across the two days. After a long break from competition, the team was psyched to climb at an iconic venue despite the heatwave conditions.

The spectacular venue of the Kletterzentrum Innsbruck.  © Dimitris Tosidis/IFSC
The spectacular venue of the Kletterzentrum Innsbruck.
© Dimitris Tosidis/IFSC

Every paraclimbing competition begins with a day of classifications, where medics assess the climbers' disabilities to ensure they are still in the correct category. This competition was no different with the RP (physical and neurologically impaired) athletes being scheduled for reclassification on Monday.

Most of our appointments went without a hitch, but Laurence and I were unexpectedly moved into less impaired sport classes – a hazard of the sport and an issue which affects many athletes, particularly as the IFSC embeds new classification rules and continues to learn what is required for a successful Paralympic bid in 2028. Meanwhile, Jo Newton (AL2) was able to take her rightful spot in AL2 (lower limb amputee), having been reclassified into RP3 in 2021.

Qualifications

Qualifications got underway on Tuesday morning in hot, sunny weather. Abbie Robinson (B2 – visual impairments) and Richard Slocock (B2) kicked off the day in their category with tops on their first qualifiers, before going on to qualify for finals in 1st and 3rd place respectively after both climbers reached the headwall on their challenging second routes.

In RP3, three GB athletes – myself, along with Anita Aggarwal and Martha Evans – competed in an unusually large field. All three of us topped the first qualification route, a sustained and technical route with an unexpectedly off-balance sequence at the top. A steep, pumpy second route transitioned into a crimpy sequence near the top, with Martha and Anita securing a 5th place finish, narrowly missing out on finals. I was one of two RP3 athletes to top both qualifiers and secured a finals spot in joint 1st place alongside German athlete Rosalie Schaupert.

Laurence Morgan (RP2) put in a bold and tenacious performance on powerful qualifying routes, having been moved from his original category, RP1, the previous day. Despite the challenges, he fought hard on both routes and showed mental resilience on a tough day, finishing in 14th place in his group.

Next, Jo and Stu Sneddon battled it out for a spot in finals in the womens' and mens' AL2 categories respectively, both putting in strong performances and qualifying just out of finals, but describing a sense of achievement at their results in a category renowned for being tough – both in terms of the competition and the routes!

James Rudge (AU2 – upper limb amputee and limb differences) was next to show a good fight, qualifying in 4th place in his category after climbing high on both routes and making his first IFSC final. Unfortunately, the excitement was short lived after an administrative error meant judges realised an hour before the finals that only three athletes could progress through according to the rules. Despite the bad news and the late delivery, James showed exemplary sportsmanship, taking the setback in his stride and supporting his teammates on the night of finals.

The IFSC Paraclimbing World Cup finals in Innsbruck drew a large crowd.  © Dimitris Tosidis/IFSC
The IFSC Paraclimbing World Cup finals in Innsbruck drew a large crowd.
© Dimitris Tosidis/IFSC

Finals

With three athletes from three categories in finals – Abbie, Rich, and myself – we headed to isolation to prepare. James joined us for the first hour but was sadly sent away after the officials realised what had happened with the AU2 category. Despite the heightened emotions, it was time to get ready.

With multiple categories sharing routes for their final, the event was divided into groups with a break in between for cleaning and presentation. Abbie and Rich were out in the first group of climbers. Visually impaired athletes climb with silence from the announcer and the crowd, to ensure the climbers can hear their sight guides through their headsets. This creates a unique atmosphere as quiet falls across the arena in contrast to the usual loud music and cheering from the crowds.

First, athletes in the merged B1, B2 and B3 women's category climbed in turn on a technical route. Abbie was out last, following a close battle between the preceding three climbers on the tricky headwall section. In her usual form, she was the only athlete to top the route with a dynamic pop for the finish, celebrating another gold medal for the three-time world champion.

Abigail Robinson (GBR) tops out in the B3 final to take gold.  © Dimitris Tosidis/IFSC
Abigail Robinson (GBR) tops out in the B3 final to take gold.
© Dimitris Tosidis/IFSC

Next, Rich faced a burly route on a steeper section of wall. Out second after a strong performance from Japanese athlete Fumiya Hamanoue, Rich successfully navigated the steep kneebar section before advancing onto the headwall, then falling just shy of the bronze medal. Sho Aita of Japan made the top for the gold.

Clouds had been gathering throughout the first hour of climbing, and it was right before the RP athletes were due to be presented that the heavens opened. For over half an hour, a thunderstorm soaked the routes and delayed the final – the categories due to read their route next gathered in a small tent behind the stage, before being ushered back into the warm up zone to wait for more news. Thankfully the storm cleared and volunteers resorted to towel drying the holds so that the competition could continue.

Despite the brief interlude, we were able to warm up again and head out onto the stage to observe our routes. Having qualified in joint 1st, I was due to climb last in RP3 and knew it would be a close round of climbing. The majority of the route was steady, but there was a balancy, technical section on the headwall with thin crimps and small feet. Heading back into isolation, I waited as three athletes reached the last few moves in turn. I knew I would have to top the route to win, and with the loud support of the rest of the GB team and coaches, I stayed focused and got one of just a few tops of that route for the night. 

Lea Volpe (GBR) wins the RPS final in Innsbruck.  © Dimitris Tosidis/IFSC
Lea Volpe (GBR) wins the RPS final in Innsbruck.
© Dimitris Tosidis/IFSC

As my first ever IFSC gold medal, in a new category where there were many unknowns, it was undoubtedly exciting and satisfying to get the win. But overall, it was the support and camaraderie of the team that made the week memorable and fun. This week, we'll head out to Villars, Switzerland as a bigger team to mark the last competition of the international season.

Abigail Robinson (GBR) on top of the Paraclimbing World Cup podium in Innsbruck.  © Dimitris Tosidis/IFSC
Abigail Robinson (GBR) on top of the Paraclimbing World Cup podium in Innsbruck.
© Dimitris Tosidis/IFSC

Lea Volpe (GBR) won her category in the IFSC Paraclimbing World Cup, Innsbruck.  © Dimitris Tosidis/IFSC
Lea Volpe (GBR) won her category in the IFSC Paraclimbing World Cup, Innsbruck.
© Dimitris Tosidis/IFSC

Full results for each category here.

Watch the replays of the finals below:


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