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If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Sometimes all that trying will be in vain, but on rare, brilliant occasions it will pay off—you will succeed. This adage applies in climbing, it applies in competition, and more importantly, as the fifth round of the 2018 Bouldering World Cup showed us this weekend, it applies in life.
Hachioji 2018 won’t be remembered as a great World Cup. Good? Yes, for sure. But great? No.
Let down by inconsistent setting at times and a frustratingly reflective, unappealing gray wall, little things stood between Hachioji and the title of best event of the year. Women’s Qualifiers started the weekend in a promising fashion, except for a few well-founded complaints of morpho setting. It was a tough round on the battleship gray wall, but almost all the big names made it through. The only real star missing out being Belgium's Chloe Caulier, who was left just on the wrong side of the Semi-Finals bubble in 21st place. (Only 20 competitors advance to Semi-Finals.)
On the other hand, it was the best round to date for Japanese teen Futaba Ito, the 16-year-old, up-and-coming Japanese star. She qualified comfortably at 7th place in her group. It was a strong round for the U.S. ladies as well, with 3 of the 6 women present progressing to Semi-Finals. Kyra Condie lead the way amongst the team, ahead of Claire Buhrfeind and Sierra Blair-Coyle.
Men's Qualifers? Well, in one of the two groups the setting looked spot on. Brutally tough, but balanced. The other group was slightly overcooked, meaning that competitors only needed a single top to progress to Semi-Finals, and yet only the leading 11 climbers were able to top anything. This led to some big upsets. Climbers like Sean McColl finished way down the list, despite being very close to topping two of the problems. It was a tough round for the U.S. men with none progressing to Semi-Finals. Kai Lightner came the closest, but failed to top the M4, dropping him to 12th place within his Qualifiers group.
Semi-Finals had an early start, with the climbers heading into isolation at 7 a.m. Again the setting was close, but no cigar. The men’s round was just about on point, but was let down by an ugly third problem which lacked aesthetics and flow, relying on a nasty double thumbdercling with poor feet.
The female round, though, ended up being a two problem shootout, with it all coming down to the lower-angle climbs. The two steeper problems only saw three ascents between them. Katya Kipriianova booked her place in Finals with a flash of W4, and Akiyo Noguchi showed her class with an incredible round, flashing all four problems, including the only ascent of W2.
The big surprise was the exits of Fanny Gibert and Shauna Coxsey. They looked strong all weekend, but in the end, it was superb performances from Noguchi, Nonaka, Kipriianova, Gejo and Finals debutants Alma Bestvater of Germany and the incredible young Futaba Ito that sealed the Finals lineup It was a great competition for Sierra Blair Coyle, who took the honors as the top U.S. finisher with her first top-10 result, beating out Kyra Condie who placed 14th and Claire Buhrfeind in 18th.
In the men's division, it was heartbreak for France’s Mickael Mawem who performed well, only to be bumped by the later climbers. Jernej Kruder missed his first Finals of the year as well, opening an opportunity for Japanese star Tomoa Narasaki to close the points deficit in the overall ranking.
Joining Tomoa in Finals would be the young Japanese star Kai Harada in only his second Final, his veteran compatriot Rei Sugimoto, Italian legend Gabriele Moroni, Jongwon Chon, and Alexey Rubtsov.
Finals brought something unseen in the 2018 World Cup season. Until now, the events have favored simple problems and quick ascents, but in Japan that wasn’t to be. Hachioji brought the return of difficult, complex problems where route reading and a broad skill set would prove more important than physical prowess.
The women took the stage first in front of a big crowd. From the W1 it was clear that it would be a three-way shootout between Akiyo Noguchi, Miho Nonaka, and Russian star Katya Kipriianova. Serbia's Stasa Gejo had been battling back pain from a pre-event injury that almost forced her withdrawal from Finals altogether.
Sadly for the females, it became a three problem Finals round as the women’s third problem was brutally overset. In fact, only Noguchi even managed the first move, but the next move proved just as difficult and so the problem went zero tops, zero zones.
A flash of W4 by Nonaka put all the pressure on Noguchi for the win, but once again, Noguchi showed her experience, getting the job done and taking the win—her 21st World Cup victory.
The first men’s problem looked simple enough, but proved everything but. It wasn’t until the last climber, Italian veteran Gabri Moroni, that we would see an ascent. Moroni used all of his experience to unlock the bloc on his second attempt.
The second problem involved some compression and stemming before a committing finish. The second climber out, Jongwon Chon, flashed the bloc, making it look eminently doable. However, looks can be deceiving. After two problems we only had two tops. Would the third be easier?
The first climber out, Rei Sugimoto, unlocked the problem in the dying seconds, bringing the crowd to the ends of their seats. Yet, once again, it was to be the only ascent of the line. There had only been three tops going into M4, with each of the first three problems being solved only once, and by a different climber every time.
The last problem was the most powerful, explosive bloc of the competition. The first four finalists failed to make any real impression on the line, meaning Moroni was in the box seat with one top and three zones. To beat him, Tomoa Naraski would have to flash the problem and then Moroni would need to fail to secure the zone hold. Coming out, Naraski was met by a silent hall. The crowd waited with bated breath. Could the local hero get the job done? Naraski flashed the problem. It looked like the Japanese superstar had stolen the event at the last possible moment, salvaging the win with 100% commitment on the dynamic problem.
Coming out last, Moroni knew what he had to do. He'd made his first Finals in 2004 at 16. Now, 15 years later and after an incredible career, he had victory in his grasp. The 30-year-old knew that this could be his last chance. Stepping onto the boulder, he fired up with his left hand, adjusted, then surged out right to the zone hold. Done. Without even topping the bloc, Moroni had made his dream come true and the crowd erupted. Moroni smiled a huge grin, creasing his face as he battled on. To the rapturous applause of the crowd, he topped the problem.
Going into this event, the Italian veteran had competed in 60 World Cups in a career spanning 15 years. In his first year, as a 16-year-old, he had showed enormous promise. An incredible performance in the 2004 Munich World Cup brought him his first World Cup Finals appearance. The climbing world believed a win would follow soon. In Hachioji 2018, that win finally came. Moroni, already a legend in competition, had been looking like another great who’s career would be remembered without a victory. But no one told Moroni the script, and he knew, with his wealth of experience, that he only needed to be in the mix to have a real chance.
The next IFSC World Cup event will take place in Vail, Colorado, on June 8-9. See our 2018 Climbing Competition Calendar for the full schedule.
- Gabriele Moroni (ITA)
- Tomoa Narasaki (JPN)
- Rei Sugimoto (JPN)
- Jongwon Chon (KOR)
- Aleksei Rubtsov (RUS)
- Kai Harada (JPN)
- Akiyo Noguchi (JPN)
- Miho Nonaka (JPN)
- Ekaterina Kipriianova (RUS)
- Stasa Gejo (SRB)
- Alma Bestvater (GER)
- Futaba Ito (JPB)