This weekend saw the IFSC Lead and Speed competitions return to the iconic Chamonix valley, where Jain Kim rolled back the years to win gold after her surprise return to the world cup scene, and Toby Roberts won gold after a dominant performance throughout each and every round of the competition, in just his fifth senior lead competition.
The semi-finals saw yet another strong performance from Molly Thompson-Smith, who - having finished just a single spot outside of finals in both Innsbruck and Villars - finished in 12th place this time around, just three moves from finals.
Qualification and semi-final rounds saw dominant performances from Chaehyun Seo (KOR). Having been one of four women to top both qualifying routes, Seo set herself apart from the other three by climbing two moves higher than any other competitor on the women's semi-final route, a route that - like the men's - nobody was able to complete.
The start of the women's final was a confusing affair, with the observation period leading to the realisation that the routesetters had forgotten to put one of the holds up, making the route likely impossible beyond the 20th move. Fortunately this error was identified before any climbers had started climbing, and - after a thirteen minute delay whilst a routesetter corrected the mistake - the climbers came out for a second observation period, and the final was underway.
First out was former Bronze medallist Vita Lukan (SLO), who showed just how crucial the previously missing hold was, as it allowed her a good rest before she campused through the section that followed. Just a few moves later, Lukan showed us what would be the 'heart in mouth' moment of the route, an overhanging dyno from two undercuts to a jug high above on some stacked volumes. Lukan was able to reach the hold, but her momentum took her too far from the hold and she was unable to hold on, falling at move 29+.
Next up was Lukan's compatriot Mia Krampl (SLO), 5th place finisher in Villars. After making light work of the dyno, Krampl struggled with the subsequent move, spending almost two minutes attempting to work it out before eventually succumbing to her fatigue and dropping off.
Third climber out was home crowd favourite Hélène Janicot (FRA), who was able to improve once more on the current high-point. Showing impressive flexibility and shoulder strength to come through the move immediately after the dyno, Janicot gave us our first real look at the headwall of the women's route, before eventually falling whilst attempting a dynamic gaston.
Miho Nonaka (JPN) - still seeking her first lead podium - cruised through the bouldery dyno and the section that followed, eventually falling just a single move below Janicot's 38+ to move into second place.
Next out was Jain Kim (KOR), who entered the competition with a record of 158 participations, with 29 Gold medals, 16 Silver medals, 14 Bronze medals. Presumed to be retired from competition climbing, Kim made a surprise return to the world cup circuit earlier this year after a four year absence, during which she gave birth to her first child.
Kim climbed confidently and precisely, reaching the headwall with just over a minute on the clock. Moving up to hold 38, Kim was able to slow down and control the gaston that Janicot fell on, opting to skip the penultimate quickdraw in order to attempt to add another move to her score. She fell with just thirteen second left on the clock, having reached the 43rd move of the route, five moves further than any climber so far.
With the experienced Jain Kim leading the final, the sixth climber out Nonoha Kume represented the other end of the experience-spectrum, fifteen years younger than Kim, with this her second participation, compared to Kim's 158.
Despite this gulf in experience, Kume managed to climb her way into second place, falling on the same gaston move as Hélène Janicot, and being awarded second place - in her second senior comp - due to finishing semi-finals in a higher position.
Having qualified in second place, Jessie Pilz entered the final on excellent form, with a silver in Villars and a bronze in Innsbruck. However, it seemed for a moment that she might suffer the same fate as Mia Krampl. After easily climbing through the dyno with more than three minutes still on the clock, there were just 39 seconds remaining by the time Pilz was able to mantle up onto the dyno-jug and establish a stable position.
Just a hold beneath the fourth-place Miho Nonaka, Pilz appeared to momentarily mistake a quickdraw cover for a hold, pausing for a fraction of a second with her hand next to it, before moving past it, but being unable to control the subsequent move. She finished in fourth place on countback.
The final female athlete out was Chaehyun Seo, who had topped both qualifying routes and been a step above all other athletes in the semi-final. Seo's qualification for the final continued an impressive record of having qualified for finals in every single lead competition she has entered - 37 of them so far, with 5 golds, 5 silvers, and 3 bronzes to show for it, all at the age of just 19.
Climbing smoothly and securely, Seo reached the temporarily 'forgotten' hold quickly, and clipped an extended draw. Gasps from the crowd at such a seemingly uneventful moment may have alerted Seo that something was wrong. Looking around, she realised that she had missed a quickdraw. She unclipped the extended draw, clipped the correct one, reclipped the extended draw, and continued.
Just a few moves later, however, Seo was called down. She dropped off the route, clearly devastated to have been unable to give the route her all, and was quickly surrounded and consoled by the other athletes.
In her post-final interview, Jain Kim said:
'So happy, but now just more sorry for Chaehyun, because it's amazing that I won the Chamonix world cup but, I think, not like this.. It's bitter and sweet. I don't know, what can I say'.
Speaking later on, Kim said:
'I really didn't expect to get gold as there are so many good young climbers, I'm just happy to stand between them. It's pretty amazing. Unbelievable. I wanted to make my daughter proud, and I think she will be. I'm sure she is in bed right now but when I get back to Korea I am going to give her my medal'.
In winning, Kim celebrates her 30th world cup gold medal in lead, the highest number of world cup wins in a single discipline across all genders and disciplines. The win bumps her up into 3rd place in the overall world cup standings, after Janja Garnbret in 2nd place, and Jessie Pilz in 1st.
After finishing the Villars World Cup in fourth place behind the (relatively accomplished) trio of Schubert, Ondra, and Megos, Toby Roberts (GBR) entered the Chamonix World Cup - just his fifth senior competition - surrounded by high expectations. He quickly met those expectations, being one of four men to top both qualification routes, and also finishing the semi-final in joint first position alongside the sixteen-year-old Sorato Anraku (JPN), where they both reached hold 50+.
This meant that, going into the final, both Toby and Sorato Anraku were ranked 1st, with identical scores on countback.
The men's final got underway much more smoothly than the women's, and out first was the third Slovenian athlete of the evening, four time medallist Luka Potocar. Potocar made it all the way to the headwall before being claimed by the pump, setting the mark at 39+.
Next out was Sam Avezou (FRA), back at the site of his previous best lead result (6th, in 2022), in front of a buoyant home crowd.
Having come 3rd in the bouldering at Innsbruck just a few weeks ago, it was clear that Avezou was in good form, and he flowed through the low section, climbing quickly and confidently either side of a creative kneebar rest about halfway up the route, showcasing accurate dynamic movement whenever the route gave the option.
He surpassed Potocar's highpoint with more than three minutes left on the clock, climbing well above it before finding himself unable to place a crucial right foot after having reached the 50th of the 52 holds on the route.
Dohyun Lee (KOR) followed, but was unable to replicate the recent success he has found in bouldering world cups, finishing just below Luka Potocar's 39+.
Alex Megos (GER) was out fourth and was in fantastic form, coming off the back of a bronze medal in Villars, and a silver in Innsbruck. Alex made it all the way to the headwall before the pump set in and the elbows came up, achieving a final score of 46+, enough to put him into second place.
Out 5th and 6th were Stefan Scherz (AUT) and Colin Duffy (USA), neither of whom were able to challenge for a podium spot, with Duffy falling in the same place as Potocar, and Scherz falling just two moves higher, at hold 41. With neither of these climbers matching Avezou's highpoint, he was guaranteed his first lead medal.
Finally, it was down to joint 1st place qualifiers, 16 year old Sorato Anraku and 18 year old Toby Roberts.
Anraku was out first, continuing his record of qualifying for finals every time he has participated (8 times so far). Reaching the headwall with relative ease, as Anraku moved past Alex Megos and into second place his left foot slipped. Holding on tight to the tiny crimps he was able to delay the fall, but only for a further two moves, eventually falling on hold 48, two above Megos, and two below Avezou. In doing so, he secured his first lead medal, and guaranteed Avezou a silver medal at the very least
Last out was Toby Roberts. As if to showcase how comfortable he was, Toby decided to use an alternative beta straight off the ground, completely ignoring the starting hold and starting instead by using a high foothold as a handhold, thereby avoiding the balancey no-hands start move that everyone else began with.
Climbing slowly and confidently, he reached the second dyno of the route with ease. After a moments hesitation, he went for it, reaching the pocket with his right hand, cutting loose in full control, and swinging out over the Chamonix crowd. A few seconds later and he had progressed smoothly from 8th place up into 4th.
A strenuous left hand lock-off on a crimp allowed him to cross-through and gain hold 46 in full control. Chalking up on hold 47 took him up into third place. One further move brought him level with Sorato Anraku, albeit in a slower time, meaning that if he had fallen he would have still finished in third place.
Readjusting his feet and rocking over a high left foot brought Toby to hold 49 and silver, before he reached further up to hold 50 and a guaranteed gold medal. Toby took a moment to turn to the crowd and encourage them to scream a little louder.
Holds 51 and 52 were never in doubt - a one-handed jump to the final jug and Toby clipped the chains, becoming the only climber of the evening to top a route, winning his first gold medal, and becoming the first British climber to win both boulder and lead world cups.
Speaking soon after, Toby said:
'It's absolutely incredible, I'm a bit lost for words right now. I'm still incredibly pumped and my heart is going. There are no words. The crowd was incredible and it felt so surreal up there'.
'For me Lead has always been extra special. I really enjoy the aspect of fighting and giving your absolute maximum and hearing the crowd get behind you when you give everything'.
Toby's successes throughout the first three events of the world cup season have earned him second place on the overall lead table, with Alex Megos leading the pack, and overall boulder winner Sorato Anraku rounding out the top three.
In the men's speed finals Adi Mulyono Rahmad (INA) earned his first ever world cup gold medal, with a time of 5.01, whilst Rishat Khaibullin (KAZ) climbed a PB of 5.05 to claim silver, Kazakhstan's best medal ever.
The bronze medal race saw Nursamsa Raharjati (INA) beat Japan's Jun Yasukawa in the tightest of races, winning 5.323 to 5.324. Both Adi Mulyono Rahmad and Nursamsa Raharjati broke the 5 second barrier in their semi-final.
Rahmad said of his victory:
'I'm very happy and excited because this is my first gold in a World Cup competition. We are all training so hard together as a team, more like a family, and that pushes us on and prepares us for every competition. And now I am looking forward to the World Championships'.
The women's final saw yet another Indonesian gold with Sallsabillah Rajiah claiming the top spot with a time of 6.97, beating Victoire Andrier of France's time of 9.59, which earned her a personal-best-matching silver medal.
The women's bronze medal race was another close one, with Iqamah Nurul (INA) beating China's Zhang Shaoqin 7.16 to 7.17.
Speaking after winning the gold, Rajiah said:
'It's my first podium, and my first gold. I'm so happy. I'm so excited. I'm so proud to be here and I've got so much support from my whole team. I really hope I can carry on and get a medal at the World Championships. I want to thank my family, my coach, the Indonesian team and all the Indonesian people'.