Meiringen, Switzerland. Perhaps best known as the death place of Sherlock Holmes, this Swiss village sits nestled between steep hills and towering cliffs. One weekend every year, Meiringen is transformed into a competition climbing destination, where the world’s best competition boulderers gather to test themselves at the opening event of the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) Bouldering World Cup series.
The day before the competition, the tension was palpable. Many of the climbers were reuniting for the first time in six months. They were excited to see their friends and for the season to begin, but wondered if they had trained enough in the off season. Had their preparation done the job?
Friday's Qualifiers were a brutal affair, with 99 women and 109 men competing for a coveted Semi-Finals position. The field was so large that each gender was split into two groups. Only the top ten from each group would move on.
It was a good but tough round for the U.S. Bouldering Team, with only two of their ten athletes moving on: young star Maya Madere from Texas, and the three time national bouldering champion Nathaniel Coleman out of Utah. Just missing Semi-Finals were Sean Bailey, Claire Buhrfeind, and Brooke Raboutou. All placed in the top 30 overall, so they will come away with vital ranking points. After Qualifiers, many athletes complained about the European polyurethane holds “going off” during the round and becoming increasingly difficult to hold due to caking with chalk and polishing out. I expect to see the IFSC take a stand on this soon, possibly bringing back polyethlene holds that, while heavier, stay cool to the touch even under stage lighting and don’t polish under repeated brushing.
The arena filled with spectators early Saturday. With the top climbers coming out in reverse order for Semi-Finals, it’s normal for the crowd to arrive late in the round, but several top climbers—including reigning World Cup overall champion Shauna Coxsey—had qualified lower than expected. This gave the spectators a treat; they were rewarded with some superb climbing. There were heartbreaks in both the men’s and women’s fields with climbers dropping the finish hold on the last problem, seeing their hopes of competing in Finals dashed. This proved the undoing for top female qualifiers Jessica Pilz of Austria and Stasa Gejo of Serbia, as well as the Latvian Rolands Rugens and French star Mickael Mawem who had led Qualifiers in the men's division.
Then came the Finals. In 2018, Finals are split. Instead of seeing two climbers on the wall at once, men and women compete at different times. It was the ladies out first in Meiringen and, in all honesty, the round was a real letdown. The top three climbers finished all four problems; it was clear the Finals were seriously underset. The first problem saw four flashes from the six climbers and the second problem had five flashes. It effectively became a two problem round.
Shauna Coxsey, the defending series champion, was out of contention early, being the only climber to miss topping the first problem. Her performance might have surprised many, but Coxsey suffered a finger injury in January and had only been able to train for a few weeks. It was a testament to her incredible ability that she made Finals at all.
Fanny Gibert of France started the Finals superbly but came undone on the last problem, unable to complete the gaston jump to palm press. Austrian junior, and the surprise of Meiringen, Sandra Lettner finished an admirable fourth place, showing great composure on the world’s biggest stage. She will be a firm favorite for the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires later this year.
The women's podium was decided on the final boulder, with young Japanese star Miho Nonaka prevailing on the day. Dropping only a single attempt in Finals, on the last problem, Nonaka had an incredible start to the season. Coming in second was Slovenian phenom Janja Garnbret, who flashed the first, second, and fourth problems, but burned too many attempts (4) on the third boulder. Akiyo Noguchi was looking strong going into the last boulder, having only dropped one attempt on the third problem, but she struggled on W4, needing five attempts and dropping to third place.
On the flipside, men’s Finals were amazing. Due to a three-way tie for fifth place in the previous round, it was a crowded field with seven men still competing. All problems saw tops, but no climber succeeded on more than three. The podium came down to the penultimate climber on the last problem of the night.
M1 was a technical, fingery problem that looked like it was going to go easily after the first three climbers all sent quickly, but then the next four climbers failed on it, a surprise as the finalists come out in reverse order with the top qualifiers out last.
The second problem was an incredible five tap dyno, the first time such a complex dyno had been set at this level of competition. An impressive performance by Jernej Kruder set the stage with the strong Slovenian nailing the sequence on his second attempt. Aleksei Rubtsov, from Russia, then broke the beta, managing powerful static moves through the sequence to put him on two tops as well. Korea’s Jongwon Chon was the first to fail on the problem, unable to unlock the sequence. In the end, France’s Manuel Cornu was the only other to fail on the problem, falling with one hand on the finish hold in devastating fashion. Japan’s Tomoaki Takata and Tomoa Narasaki as well as Austrian star Jakob Schubert all managed to top the problem, keeping the Finals well and truly alive.
The third problem became the controversy of the night. In World Cup climbing, downwards dyno’s are banned due to the injury risk, however an obvious beta break gave competitors the option of dynoing down onto the zone hold to the frustration of officials and climbers alike. Jernej Kruder and Tomoa Narasaki were the only two to complete the boulder, leaving Kruder in the box seat and with every opportunity for victory.
The crowd was on the edge of their seats coming into the last problem. Kruder has been competing in World Cup’s for 10 years and had never taken a victory. Was tonight his night? In the end, to the joy of the popular Slovenian, it was. Three tops in his 75th World Cup meant victory was his.
Second was Japanese star Tomoa Narasaki who took the position with two tops, getting them done in two attempts less the third placed Alexey Rubtsov.
So the season is underway. Next stop Moscow, Russia, on April 21-22. Check Climbing.com for the livestream and a recap of the second World Cup event.
- Jernej Kruder (SLO)
- Tomoa Narasaki (JPN)
- Aleksei Rubtsov (RUS)
- Jakob Schubert (AUT)
- Tomoaki Takata (JPN)
- Jongwon Chon (KOR)
- Manuel Cornu (FRA)
- Miho Nonaka (JPN)
- Janja Garnbret (SLO)
- Akiyo Noguchi (JPN)
- Sandra Lettner (AUT)
- Fanny Gibert (FRA)
- Shauna Coxsey (GBR)