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Highs and Lows: 2019 Climbing World Championships

The 2019 World Championships in Hachioji, Japan, concluded this morning with the last round of the combined discipline, and with it, the sport of climbing has its first batch of Olympians. Let’s not bury the lede. For all the drama and pomp and circumstance, the biggest story coming out of the 10-day event was those Olympic berths being awarded to the top competitors. Here’s the list of athletes that have provisionally qualified for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics:

Women

  1. Janja Garnbret (SLO)
  2. Akiyo Noguchi (JPN)
  3. Shauna Coxsey (GBR)
  4. Aleksandra Miroslaw (POL)
  5. Miho Nonaka (JPN)
  6. Petra Klingler (SUI)
  7. Brooke Raboutou (USA)
  8. Austria’s Jessica Pilz (AUT)

Men

  1. Tomoa Narasaki (JPN)
  2. Jakob Schubert (AUT)
  3. Rishat Khaibullin (KAZ)
  4. Kai Harada (JPN)
  5. Mickael Mawem (FRA)
  6. Alex Megos (GER)
  7. Ludovico Fossali (ITA)
  8. Sean McColl (CAN)

The Olympic berths won’t be official until those respective countries accept invites from the IFSC within a two week window, and it gets a little murky with Japan’s abundance of competitors and status as the Olympic host—but more on that below.

Gallery: 18 Photos From the 2019 Combined World Championships

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© IFSC/Eddie Fowke

Japan’s Miho Nonaka now finds herself in an interesting place at the end of the World Championships, in which she placed fifth in the combined portion. Her home federation might choose to award her an Olympic spot, or they might decline and opt to award the spot later down the chain of qualification events. Time will tell. 

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© IFSC/Eddie Fowke

Great Britain’s Shauna Coxsey had a phenomenal start to the combined discipline, taking second place in the speed portion. She then went on to top the first boulder in the bouldering portion and reach the 20th hold of the 42-hold lead route. She eventually finished the combined discipline in third place. 

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© IFSC/Eddie Fowke

For American fans, the big story coming out of the World Championships was the performance of Brooke Raboutou. She was not the only member of Team USA to take part in the combined portion, but she was the only American to come away from it with a provisional Olympic berth. 

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© IFSC/Eddie Fowke

South Korea’s Chaehyun Seo did not earn an Olympic spot—yet. She has lit the lead World Cup circuit on fire this year, but she finished in 13th place at the combined portion of the World Championships. Still, she gave a solid performance and will presumably have another chance to go for an Olympic invite further on the calendar.

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© IFSC/Eddie Fowke

Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi took part in her first World Championships 14 years ago. She is a legend on the competition circuit and was in top form for the duration of this year’s World Championships. Thus, it seems appropriate that she earned a provisional invitation to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. 

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© IFSC/Daniel Gajda

Austria’s Jessica Pilz was not able to duplicate the success that she had at last year’s World Championships—at which she won the separate lead discipline. But with many Japanese competitors finishing ahead of her in the combined discipline this year—and an Olympic cap of two competitors at most per gender from each country—Pilz earned a provisional Olympic spot. 

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© IFSC/Daniel Gajda

Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret’s double victory in the earlier lead and bouldering disciplines was one of the big stories of the first half of the World Championships, and her victory in the combined portion was a big story of the second half. She earned a provisional Olympic invitation, and she becomes the Tokyo 2020 Olympic gold medalist in most early predictions. 

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© IFSC/Eddie Fowke

Garnbret did not have the best speed portion, and struggled on a slab boulder. But by topping the lead route, she stamped her dominance on the rest of the women’s combined field, as many other finalists could only reach the lead wall’s midway point.

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© IFSC/Eddie Fowke

The women’s podium for the combined portion was Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi (left) earning the silver medal, Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret (center) earning the gold, and Great Britain’s Shauna Coxsey (right) earning the bronze. 

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© IFSC/Eddie Fowke

Canada’s Sean McColl did not reach the men’s combined finals, but his place in the combined qualifiers was high enough to earn an Olympic spot due to four Japanese competitors finishing ahead of him on the scores. 

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© IFSC/Eddie Fowke

American Nathaniel Coleman took part in the men’s combined qualifiers. He finished the event in 12th—not high enough to earn a provisional Olympic berth. He will have other opportunities to earn an Olympic spot at upcoming events.

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The next Olympic qualification event will take place in Toulouse, France, in November. If Coleman does not qualify for that event, his final chance (and the final chance for all Americans) for Olympic qualification will be at a Continental Championship event that will take place at the Sender One gym in Los Angeles in February. 

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© IFSC/Eddie Fowke

Germany’s Alex Megos looked solid in the combined qualification, but his hopes of winning in the men’s finals were dashed by a finger injury. He withdrew without completing a single boulder. He comes away from the World Championships with a provisional Olympic invitation, but also with questions about the state of that finger. 

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© IFSC/Eddie Fowke

Austria’s Jakob Schubert won the men’s combined discipline at the World Championships last year. Although he did not repeat that victory, he came away with a silver medal and with a dream of Olympic qualification realized. 

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© IFSC/Eddie Fowke

As incredible as the start of the World Championships was for the Czech Republic’s Adam Ondra (with a victory in the lead discipline and a sixth place finish in the bouldering discipline), the conclusion of the competition was surprising and unfortunate. He was given a low score on the combined’s lead portion. Coupled with a low score in the speed portion, it meant that Ondra did not earn a provisional Olympic invite. 

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© IFSC/Eddie Fowke

On the bright side for fans, the next Olympic qualification in Toulouse, France, will likely feature Ondra continuing to strive for his Olympic qualification goal. 

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© IFSC/Eddie Fowke

Japan’s Tomoa Narasaki won the bouldering discipline at the World Championships, and he also won the combined discipline. Although nothing is certain as the Japanese federation weighs its options with the IFSC’s Olympic invitations, it is probable that the federation will approve Narasaki’s Olympic berth. 

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© IFSC/Eddie Fowke

The men’s podium for the combined portion was Austria’s Jakob Schubert (left) earning the silver medal, Japan’s Tomoa Narasaki (center) earning the gold, and Kazakhstan’s Rishat Khaibullin (right) earning the bronze.

For all competitors, the combined portion capped off a massive spectacle that featured separate bouldering and lead disciplines earlier in the week. There was also a preceding, separate speed discipline in which Ludovico Fossali won gold in the men’s division, and Aleksandra Miroslaw won gold in the women’s speed division for the second year in a row. But as the name suggests, the combined portion included all of those disciplines (speed, bouldering, and lead) as well, with placements from each segment multiplied for the competitors’ final combined scores.

There is a lot to talk about, so let’s dive right into the good and the bad from the combined discipline.

Highs

Garnbret Digs Deep

It’s rare that we find Janja Garnbret, widely considered to be the greatest competition climber ever, in the hole. But she was in sixth place (out of a finals’ field of eight competitors) at the conclusion of the combined speed portion. She then, shockingly, struggled on the first problem in the ensuing bouldering round. But her flash of the second boulder rocketed her up the ranks, and the fact that no competitor topped the third boulder only helped her position. As one of the only two competitors to then top the route in the lead portion, Garnbret eventually earned the combined gold medal in a thrilling come-from-behind victory (she also won the combined discipline at last year’s World Championships).

In total, at the 2019 World Championships, Garnbret won the bouldering discipline, won the lead discipline, won the combined discipline, and earned an Olympic invitation. It is hard to imagine any competitor ever having a better cumulative outcome from a single event.

Narasaki Continues to Look Phenomenal

In contrast to Garnbret, the eventual winner in the men’s division, Tomoa Narasaki, seemed to have everything going his way from the get-go. He clocked a blazing 6.159 seconds in the combined speed portion and then topped every boulder in the ensuing bouldering portion. His ability to hold the top of the burly second men’s boulder was a true highlight of the round (2:21:55 in the livestream). He could not match Jakob Schubert’s top of the lead route, but Narasaki reached the headwall and got high enough to secure a combined victory. His prowess in multiple disciplines indicates that he is an early favorite to win the gold at the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Raboutou Shines

With all due respect to readers in other countries and to all the incredible competitors who earned those provisional Olympic berths, Climbing is an American publication, so I want to highlight the American who qualified for the Olympics. Brooke Raboutou placed sixth in the combined speed, tenth in combined bouldering, and seventh in combined lead. Her overall placement was ninth, so she did not take part in the finals—but you would not know that from the amount of press and praise she has been receiving.

Raboutou is the first American climber to qualify for an Olympic Games, ever; of all her medals and trophies, that place in American Olympic history is something that no other competitor can duplicate; there might be more Americans who qualify at ensuing competitions, but no one else will ever be the first.

In a statement following her performance, Raboutou said, “This achievement is just the icing on the cake for me. I could feel my hard work, determination, and drive all come together on the wall, which was a magnificent feeling. Earning a spot in the 2020 Olympics is just proof that focusing on myself and my climbing is what pushes me to the next level. I am beyond excited to embark on this new journey. It is such an honor to be able to represent the US at the Olympic level, especially as climbing makes its debut. I hope I can help the sport grow and introduce new people to the joys of climbing.”

Lows

Japan Remains Undecided

With Olympic invitations being so coveted (with a maximum of just 20 spots per gender for the Tokyo 2020 Games), fans and the press admittedly never stopped to consider whether a country would be allowed to decline invitations to their athletes. On the surface, it sounds ludicrous, like giving back a winning lottery ticket. But upon further consideration, there is some logic: Why should a national federation accept an invitation now, nearly a year out from the Tokyo 2020 Games, when later Olympic qualifications might offer better indicators of who is peaking? It’s a big deal with a competitor like, say, Miho Nonaka, who has been battling a shoulder injury for the better part of a year—and still appears to be hindered by it. If the Japanese federation accepts her Olympic berth now, what’s to say she won’t badly re-injure that shoulder prior to the Olympics (God forbid…that’s just a hypothetical).

Performatively, Nonaka, along with Akiyo Noguchi, Tomoa Narasaki, and Kai Harada qualified for the Olympics at the conclusion of the World Championships’ combined discipline, but there are rumblings that Noguchi and Narasaki might be the only ones to receive berths from their federation. More than anything, this deserves to be a low point considering how heartbreaking it would be for Nonaka and Harada or anyone else to not get those Olympic invitations after doing more than enough to earn them. At the time of this writing, everyone—including the competitors—is waiting to see what Japan decides to do.

Ondra Gets Clipped

Although he won the men’s lead discipline of the World Championships last week, the Czech Republic’s Adam Ondra struggled in the men’s combined discipline: He was low in the scores at the end of the speed portion. He did better in the bouldering portion and earned three tops, but then disaster struck in the lead round when the judges declared that he stepped on a bolt low on the wall. Thus, his place in the rankings plummeted and he did not make it out of the combined qualifying round. Ondra did not earn an Olympic invitation.

Ondra will have to continue his Olympic push at the next qualifying event, in Toulouse, France, at the end of November. In order to be eligible for that competition, he’ll need to compete in one more lead event and one more speed event first. Ondra is unquestionably one of the best competitors on the circuit and he is also one of the biggest names in the sport. For those reasons, it benefits fans, spectators, and sponsors if he ultimately earns an Olympic berth. Conversely, if he is not able to earn an Olympic spot, let’s hope it happens as a result of thrilling competition rather than a technical foul like a foot touching a clip. 

Megos Battles Injury

The men’s combined finals did not last long for Germany’s Alex Megos. Following the speed portion, he took to the wall for his first boulder in the bouldering portion and hopped off with nearly two minutes of his allotted time remaining. He winced, shook his hand, and opted not to give the boulder another attempt. Within a matter of minutes, he withdrew from the finals, citing a finger injury. If there is any positive that can be gathered from the unfortunate situation, it is that Megos has already provisionally qualified for the Olympics. It was a huge disappointment to see such a stellar athlete make an unceremonious exit from the World Championships. One hopes the injury is not significant and will not impact his Olympic training in the coming year.

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Veterans Show Their Experience

The list of competitors who received provisional Olympic invitations includes a lot of veterans: Akiyo Noguchi, Sean McColl, Shauna Coxsey, Petra Klingler, Jakob Schubert. These people were carrying the competition torch prior to any whispers of the Olympics. Now climbing is getting a lot of press in mainstream sport—and entertainment—outlets with Tokyo 2020 looming. But competitors like Noguchi and McColl were on the grind of the IFSC World Cup circuit back when those outlets would never have considered covering them.

It just feels right to see those mainstays relishing in Olympic glory now. It is wrong to talk about any competitor “deserving” anything in sport, but it is fine to enjoy watching years or hard work paying off.

The World Championships are over, but the IFSC’s lead World Cup circuit continues next month with a competition in Kranj, Slovenia, on September 28-29. Stay tuned to Climbing.com for the livestreams and coverage.

Combined Results

Men

  1. Tomoa Narasaki (JPN)
  2. Jakob Schubert (AUT)
  3. Rishat Khaibullin (KAZ)
  4. Kai Harada (JPN)
  5. Meichi Narasaki (JPN)
  6. Kokoro Fujii (JPN)
  7. Mickael Mawem (FRA)
  8. Alex Megos (GER)

Women

  1. Janja Garnbret (SLO)
  2. Akiyo Noguchi (JPN)
  3. Shauna Coxsey (GBR)
  4. Aleksandra Miroslaw (POL)
  5. Miho Nonaka (JPN)
  6. Ai Mori (JPN)
  7. Futaba Ito (JPN)
  8. Petra Klingler (SUI)

Missed an event? Catch up on the 2019 competition season here.