Heading into this weekend’s competition at Tai’an, China, the IFSC was midway through its 2018 bouldering World Cup circuit—and frankly, it has been a weird half-season. The first event, in Meiringen, Switzerland, saw Slovenia’s Jernej Kruder surprise everyone by clinching his first-ever win after a decade of competing. The second event, in Moscow, was highlighted by the younger generation of climbers outshining the veterans. But last week’s event in Chongqing was a throwback to the podiums of five years ago, with many old-school names returning to top-form.
2018 might still go to the new guard, or it could prove to be a declaration by the older stars that they are still here, thank you. To complicate matters, Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret, Switzerland’s Petra Klingler, and Great Britain’s Shauna Coxsey recused themselves from competing in the China events altogether for various reasons—a blow to the IFSC considering that each woman could make a case for being the best competition boulderer in the world.
And with all that as table dressing, the qualifying round in Tai’an kicked off on Saturday, May 12, with even more subplots emerging—such as Japan’s team looking nearly unstoppable; eight women and nine men from the team advanced to the Semi-Finals round. An interesting footnote was Tomoa Narasaki, usually among that team’s best, barely eking through the qualifying round. This fanned speculation that he might be battling an injury.
Another surprise was France’s struggles in the men’s division, as many of its well-known competitors (like Manuel Cornu and Alban Levier) failed to advance beyond Qualifiers. The counterpoint to this, however, was France’s Fanny Gibert’s dominance in the women’s division. She flashed all boulders in a continuing effort to clinch her elusive first World Cup gold medal.
The Semi-Final round kicked off the following day with ice packs being handed out to the competitors to counter Tai’an’s brutal heat and humidity. The physicality of the boulders added to the morning’s grind, with many of the sequences also requiring some foot trickery—like a heel-hook catch in the first men’s boulder, and a wide side-step in the third women’s boulder.
Kyra Condie, the only American in Semi-Finals, made her presence known by topping the first women’s boulder, and then by decoding the spherical volumes to top the second women’s boulder too. Her success in this round was enough to earn a bid into Finals, a first for her. But more subtly, her advancement among strong competition from Europe and Asia provided some reassurance (mostly to the American fan base) that the USA too has athletes who are peaking as the Olympics draw nearer.
The men’s Semi-Finals had surprises as well, with Israel’s Alex Khazanov advancing to Finals and Germany’s Jan Hojer barely missing out. (To illustrate how varied the World Cup can be from week to week, consider that Khazanov was 21st in Chongqing, while Hojer was fifth.)
The Semi-Final round was not without its technical hiccups. As was the case in Chongqing, the livestream was being filmed by a Chinese television company. Its camera work featured nonsensical close-ups of climbers’ bodies and, worse, key movements left out of the frame. The strangeness became a running joke by the start of the Finals, with commentator Charlie Boscoe uttering cinematography requests into his live microphone as a last resort: “Zoom out a little bit more Mr. Cameraman…a wee-bit more, if you wouldn’t mind.”
Nonetheless, the Finals started late Sunday, May 13, with a men’s problem that featured an exciting finishing deadpoint. The sequencw was intriguing, but the boulder was ultimately undercooked and topped by all competitors. The second men’s boulder was more modern in style, requiring awkward wrist angles to ascend a volume-heavy overhang. It proved to be too difficult for everyone, however, and the humidity was also hindering skin friction by this point.
The men’s field finally began to separate at the third boulder, with a flash by Kruder serving as the catalyst. The highlight, however, came on the fourth boulder—a technical swing into upward progression on an arête. Khazanov’s top (1:26:38 in the livestream, above) got the crowd and the commentators roaring and secured his surprising victory for the event. Kruder took second place and Slovenia’s Gregor Vezonik finished in third. Kruder currently stands in the top spot for the overall bouldering season.
The women’s Finals followed on the heels of Khazanov’s win, with most women topping a first boulder that was scattered with paired prism-shaped volumes. The second boulder was flashed by Japan’s Miho Nonaka and Akiyo Noguchi, propelling them ahead of the other competitors and providing an illustrative microcosm of the season thus far.
One of the most stirring moments of the evening came when Fanny Gibert cracked the code in the upper section of the third women’s boulder, rotating her body with a deep crouch (2:39:31 in the livestream)—it was very technical, and the commentators gave her due praise.
In the end, though, the third boulder was just a continuation of the status quo—tops by both Noguchi and Nonaka. The fourth women’s problem featured a visually interesting collection of “ice cream scoop” volumes, but it was hardly surprising when Noguchi and Nonaka topped while others struggled.
Ultimately, Noguchi and Nonaka earned first and second place, respectively, with Gibert securing third place (her first podium since 2015). Condie placed sixth. Of the other Americans that competed, Sierra Blair-Coyle placed 23 in the women’s division, and Sean Bailey, Kai Lightner, and John Brosler placed 27, 33, and 71 respectively in the men’s division.
A razor-close speed Finals followed the bouldering event, with only .07 separating first and second place in the men’s division, and.12 separating the women’s. France’s Bassa Mawem was victorious for the men, and his compatriot, Anouck Jaubert, won the women’s division.
The next IFSC World Cup event will take place in Hachioji, Japan, on June 2. See our 2018 Climbing Competition Calendar for the full schedule.
- Akiyo Noguchi (JPN)
- Miho Nonaka (JPN)
- Fanny Gibert (FRA)
- Stasa Gejo (SRB)
- Johanna Färber (AUT)
- Kyra Condie (USA)
- Alex Khazanov (ISR)
- Jernej Kruder (SLO)
- Gregor Vezonik (SLO)
- Rei Sugimoto (JPN)
- Kokoro Fujii (JPN)
- Jongwon Chon (KOR)
- Anouck Jaubert (FRA)
- Sari Agustina (INA)
- Aries Susanti Rahayu (INA)
- Anna Brozek (POL)
- Bassa Mawem (FRA)
- Sabri Sabri (INA)
- Dmitrii Timofeev (RUS)
- Aspar Jaelolo (INA)