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.

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.

Neither

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.