IFSC commentator Matt Groom reports from the Boulder World Cup in Prague, Czechia.
Prague hosted the IFSC World Cup for the first time, which is ironic considering it marked the return of two of our sport's biggest stars. Janja Garnbret (SLO) was climbing again after missing the first few competitions due to injury, and Adam Ondra decided to pick his home country, and crowd, for his first IFSC event of 2023.
The organisers had pulled out all the stops to provide a great setting for the event. The venue was…well…a car park, but a very fancy one, with lots of tents providing food, drink and lots of space for the various journalists and media groups to work in. The crowd were well provided for with lots of miniature climbing walls, masterclasses taking place and of course the legendary Czech beer was flowing.
Once again the semi-finals and finals were split between sexes, with the men taking Saturday and women climbing on Sunday. Team GB had two men in the semis with Toby Roberts (GBR) keen to repeat his medal success from Salt Lake and Max Milne (GBR) trying to make his first final of the year. Unfortunately neither of them could quite pull it off, with Max finishing in 19th and Toby 15th. Time to dust themselves off and return next week in Italy.
We had a big reaction to having Cody Grodzki, a route setter at the event, in the commentary box. I have tried for years to persuade one of them to do a broadcast with me. Route setters are generally a little bit shy and reluctant to get behind the mic, but Cody was up for it. I see a lot of misdirected anger towards setters, and I think it's because people don't fully understand the difficulties of their job. Having him there to explain the thoughts of the team and some of the choices they made was hugely beneficial.
The men's final was probably a little undercooked. We saw plenty of Tops and many flashes and although it drove the competition forward at an intense pace, it was probably a bit too easy. As Cody explained to me later, though, they had tested the boulders in boiling hot conditions, and the night of the men's finals was much colder than expected, perhaps explaining some of the setting decisions.
We have seen lots of new faces in finals this year and Jan-Luca Posch (AUT) was the latest athlete to make a final debut. He was a couple of seconds outside the time limit going to the last hold on the first climb, but continued to push hard and was rewarded with his first top on Boulder 4. Although he came 6th, we haven't seen the last of this athlete.
For a while it looked like the final would be another Mejdi Schalck (FRA) masterclass. He was the only climber to flash the first two boulders, both of them being technical and requiring complicated toe hooks and foot movements, making his Tops even more impressive. He was in total control coming into Boulder 3, ahead of both Adam Ondra (CZE) and Dohyun Lee (KOR).
Boulder 3 was a tricky slab with an awkward start and big, but slopey and tenuous feet. A climb that feels 100% secure…until the moment you fall off. The first time, Mejdi hesitated. He could only manage the Zone, and you could see his disappointment. In such a high-scoring round, he knew in that moment that gold was out of reach.
There was a strange moment on Boulder 3. Yannick Flohe (GER) was back in the final and on certain boulders was looking ridiculously strong. He has a try-hard physicality that is exciting to watch. However, he just couldn't figure out the press-style first move on Boulder 1. With around a minute to go he sat resting, framed in the golden light of the sinking sun. With about 45 seconds to go he started brushing all of the holds, presumably for Adam who was coming next. It's unusual to see an athlete stop climbing that early, especially when he hadn't yet got the Zone. Maybe it was a sign of respect to Adam to prepare the boulder in the way he did. Perhaps he was angry at himself, or the setters. I honestly don't know what was going through his head.
After Mejdi failed to top Boulder 3, all attention turned to Adam and Dohyun. Adam had seemed a little nervous in both qualifying and semi-finals. He had chosen to compete for the first time this year in his home country, and all the focus and attention was on him. In the final he seemed to relax; he clearly feels at home there and it was time for him to simply enjoy the moment. Attempts became all important and it just took Adam more tries to finish boulders than Dohyun. Boulder 1 took Adam 6 goes, while Dohyun did it in 2. Adam had two foot slips on the final move on Boulder 2, while Dohyun flashed it.
Those attempts added up and coming into the last climb it came down to whether either athlete would make a big mistake. The boulder was meant to start with a physical upwards shoulder throw and palm-down, but unfortunately there was a hidden heel hook that the setters had blocked, but not well enough. Yannick was the only climber who didn't use it, and his HUGE move method showed how good the climb could have been.
With the heel, the boulder became a bit of a flash fest. Adam did what he needed to do, and sat and waited on the side to see if it would be silver or gold. Enter Dohyun Lee (KOR).
Jongwon Chon (KOR) describes him as his son—the best way to understand the relationship between the two. Jongwon has been mentoring him for a while now and clearly the training is paying off. Dohyun had an almost perfect round, needing just five attempts to climb all the boulders compared to Adam's 13. Coming into the last climb he would have known that he had lots of attempts in the bag, and that it was a very climbable boulder. He just had to hold his nerve.
He started swinging for a Yannick-style massive move, then at the last minute spotted the heel, re-adjusted and flashed the climb with ease. He delayed his celebration until he was at the front of the mats…then roared his delight. He becomes only the second Korean man to win a World Cup, following in the footsteps of Jongwon Chon. And so it was gold for Dohyun, silver for Adam and bronze for Mejdi.
On Sunday night, it was time for the women to show off their skills and as the setting sun bathed the stage in yellow and a new gold medalist was crowned.
Unfortunately Team GB couldn't get any women further than qualification. Erin McNeice (GBR) came close though in 27th, while Holly Toothill (GBR) was 35th.
I bumped into Oriane Bertone (FRA) as I was grabbing a sandwich before the finals and she told me she was jet-lagged and hadn't been sleeping well since Salt Lake. She shrugged her shoulders and just accepted the finals would be difficult. Sometimes that attitude helps to take the pressure off, and certainly she climbed brilliantly.
She qualified in last place and therefore was always climbing first. Sean McColl and I in the commentary box never knew if the boulder was easy…or if she was on another level—apparently a concern shared by the route setters! Her flash of Boulder 1, a tricky slab, was very impressive. She had supreme confidence as she committed to bad feet and was in cruise control as she latched the last hold, her closest rival on that boulder was her teammate Flavy Cohaut (FRA) who sent it in two tries more.
We gradually began to realise that Oriane could potentially win the competition. Janja Garnbret (SLO), her closest rival throughout, was impressive from the start and flashed the first boulder with ease. At that stage she was ahead of Oriane, but the slab proved too difficult on the night. Janja could only manage the Zone, which left the door open for Oriane to take advantage.
I didn't confirm this with Janja, but I wonder how much her injured big toe—the reason for her absence so far this season—played a part in missing Boulder 2. It was certainly foot, and toe intensive, and she didn't look particularly comfortable.
Boulder 3 was very physical with big coordination moves required. Although the top was more straightforward, half of the 6 athlete failed to get through the first move. Therefore it was even more impressive that Oriane flashed the problem. She has a brilliant instinct that allows her to make mid move decisions, when she's at her best she doesn't over-think things. Janja also climbed the boulder but it took her a few goes more, meaning that coming into the last climb Oriane jut had to flash the zone to win.
I watched her battle her emotion as she walked onto the stage. It was time to put all of the physical and mental training into practice, keep it all together under the immense pressure. It was a tricky fist move and Oriane trusted her instincts getting to that all-important zone on her first try. She knew she had won, and the emotion of the moment swept over her. The rest of the climb was immaterial. As Sean said on the broadcast: 'You never forget your first win.'
Janja came out disappointed, but with a point to prove. She simply crushed the last climb, flashing it, when no one else could climb it and reminded everyone that although she missed out this time, that she's still an Olympic champion.
Flavy Cohaut (FRA) was very impressive in her first ever finals. We have seen quite a few debuts this year and all of them have been great to watch. With two tops and a Zone, Flavy earned her first bronze medal and team France dominated the women's podium.
So time to move on again—no time to pause. We're off to Brixen in Italy for the last Boulder World Cup of the season this weekend.
Watch replays of the semis and finals on the Olympic Channel.
|1||Dohyun Lee||KOR||3T4z 3 15||4T4z 5 5|
|2||Adam Ondra||CZE||2T3z 5 14||4T4z 13 9|
|3||Mejdi Schalck||FRA||2T4z 5 11||3T4z 3 6|
|4||Yoshiyuki Ogata||JPN||3T3z 4 4||3T4z 5 5|
|5||Yannick Flohé||GER||2T3z 9 18||3T3z 9 7|
|6||Jan-Luca Posch||AUT||2T4z 7 12||1T3z 1 7|
|7||Sorato ANRAKU||JPN||2T2z 5 3|
|8||Colin Duffy||USA||1T4z 4 14|
|9||Mickael Mawem||FRA||1T4z 4 15|
|10||Tomoa Narasaki||JPN||1T4z 15 20|
|11||Ritsu KAYOTANI||JPN||1T3z 3 20|
|12||Simon Lorenzi||BEL||1T3z 6 14|
|13||Hannes Van Duysen||BEL||1T3z 10 8|
|14||YuFei Pan||CHN||1T2z 1 2|
|14||Taylor Clarkin||USA||1T2z 1 2|
|15||Toby Roberts||GBR||1T2z 1 6|
|16||Jongwon Chon||KOR||1T2z 2 2|
|17||Kokoro Fujii||JPN||1T1z 3 1|
|18||Jernej Kruder||SLO||0T2z 0 3|
|19||Maximillian Milne||GBR||0T2z 0 7|
|20||Nimrod Marcus||ISR||0T1z 0 2|
|33||Jack Macdougall||GBR||Qual: 2T5z 6 9|
|37||Jim Pope||GBR||Qual: 2T5z 8 20|
|53||Hamish McArthur||GBR||Qual: 0T5z 0 17|
|1||Oriane Bertone||FRA||2T3z 5 5||3T4z 4 5|
|2||Janja Garnbret||SLO||4T4z 6 4||3T4z 6 7|
|3||Flavy Cohaut||FRA||3T3z 7 4||2T3z 6 12|
|4||Miho Nonaka||JPN||3T3z 8 5||1T3z 1 3|
|5||Staša Gejo||SRB||3T3z 10 7||0T2z 0 8|
|6||Futaba Ito||JPN||3T4z 10 9||0T2z 0 9|
|7||Oceana Mackenzie||AUS||1T4z 1 8|
|8||Chaehyun Seo||KOR||1T4z 3 8|
|9||Jessica Pilz||AUT||1T3z 2 5|
|10||Julija Kruder||SLO||1T3z 3 8|
|11||Katja Kadic||SLO||1T3z 3 9|
|12||Giorgia Tesio||ITA||1T3z 5 13|
|13||Ayala Kerem||ISR||1T2z 3 9|
|14||Johanna Färber||AUT||1T2z 4 5|
|15||Selma ELHADJ MIMOUNE||FRA||0T3z 0 6|
|16||Mia AOYAGI||JPN||0T3z 0 8|
|17||Nanako Kura||JPN||0T3z 0 9|
|18||Sofya Yokoyama||SUI||0T3z 0 11|
|19||Adriene Clark||USA||0T2z 0 11|
|20||Hélène Janicot||FRA||0T1z 0 1|
|27||Erin Mcneice||GBR||Qual: 2T5z 4 9|
|35||Holly Toothill||GBR||Qual: 1T5z 2 16|
|47||Molly Thompson-Smith||GBR||Qual: 0T4z 0 16|