This weekend’s competition in Arco, Italy marked the halfway point of the IFSC’s World Cup lead season—hard to believe, since it has only been a month since this year’s circuit began. But with the World Championships queued up for September and the 2020 Olympics looming larger with each passing day, every competitor’s performance has larger implications and lays the groundwork for an exciting second half of the season.

The town of Arco has been host to an annual international climbing competition for more than three decades, and a festival atmosphere has grown around the World Cup with  vendor tents, non-sanctioned bouldering competitions, and music performances. The Qualifying round was part of those festivities on Friday, during which the substantial field of competitors was narrowed; the Czech Republic’s Adam Ondra, fresh from climbing some of Canada's hardest sport routes, was participating in his first IFSC lead competition of the season and made a strong statement by topping both of his qualifying routes. Austria’s Jakob Shubert coasted into the ensuing round with double tops in the men’s field. Canada’s Sean McColl, however, was not as fluid and missed advancing for only the second time in his career.

The U.S. women had strong early performances in Qualifiers; Ashima Shiraishi, Claire Buhrfeind, and Brooke Raboutou all advanced into the Semi-Finals and illustrated some team depth that will be interesting to track as the season progresses. France’s team also performed well, with Manon Hily and Hélène Janicot both moving on. But it was clear that the women to beat at Arco would be the same standouts from previous events this season: Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret, who topped two routes, as well as Belgium’s Anak Verhoeven and Austria’s Jessica Pilz.

By Saturday, the focus narrowed to the lead Semi-Finals, which began with the Netherland’s Jorg Verhoeven and Sweden’s Hannes Puman reaching the steep midpoint of the men’s 51-move endurance route. Japan was well-represented in the round, even though many of the country’s biggest names were absent from Arco due to the upcoming Asian Continental Games; at one point early in the round, Aya Onoe held the highpoint for the women, and her compatriot, Hiroto Shimizu, held the highpoint for the men.

The crowd became animated when Italy’s Marcello Bombardi and Laura Rogora climbed the respective men’s and women’s route at the same time. However, neither competitor could match their field’s highpoint. Shiraishi soon followed and also struggled on the women’s route; she muscled over the midway roof section and into a quartet of pyramid volumes, but then had to downclimb to a better clipping position and was not able to move back up past the burly section. It marked the first time that Shiraishi failed to make a lead World Cup final. Buhrfeind fared better. She couldn’t match a highpoint that resided beyond a mini-roof, but she did progress far enough to earn her first finals birth of 2018. Raboutou finished the event in 25th place.

The commentators noted that Germany’s Alex Megos had been struggling with Arco’s heat, and this was evident when he failed to slip into his usual smooth rhythm on the wall. He finished the Semi-Finals in 12th and did not advance to Finals. Sean Bailey, who is the highest-ranked U.S. competitor this season, looked smoother but fell while trying to latch a tricky thumb catch that troubled a number of other competitors. He finished the competition in 10th place, and stands in 10th for the overall lead season.

As the Semi-Finals wrapped up, the standouts were Garnbret, who was the only competitor to top the women’s route, and Ondra. While Ondra did not top the men’s route, his advancement into Finals added a degree of celebrity to the event. Commentator Charlie Boscoe contextualized Ondra’s presence, saying, “There’s no point in pretending that when Adam Ondra comes to a World Cup, that he doesn’t change things. The whole vibe changes. He is the name on everyone’s lips.”

With the crowd buzzing from stellar climbing by Garnbret, the question at the start of the Finals was how she would fare on the women’s 53-move route. Before she could have an attempt, France’s Janicot and Ukraine’s Ievgeniia Kazbekova took their turns, cruising through a series of low slopers and falling in the wall’s midsection. Anak Verhoeven roused the spectators with an exciting catch of an early dyno, one of the route’s flashier moves. Buhrfeind stuck the dyno as well (39:02 in the livestream) and also discovered a kneebar that other competitors had missed. The momentary rest seemed to break Buhrfeind’s rhythm, however. She fell moving out of the wedged position, but still finished the competition in fourth.

Pilz found the same kneebar and progressed up to the route’s last ten moves with only 30 seconds remaining on the clock—a thrilling sequence, even though it did not end with a top (51:51 in the livestream). As the final competitor, Garnbret made the route’s lower roof section look easy and reached a highpoint of 50+ for the victory. It marked Garnbret’s third victory out of four World Cup lead events in 2018, and confirmed that she is the runaway favorite for the rest of the season's events.

The men’s finals round was equally as exciting, with Spain’s 16-year-old phenom Alberto Ginés López reaching an early highpoint of 32+ on the extensive 63-move route. It was not high enough to earn Ginés López a place on the podium, but as the winner of the most recent European Youth Cup in both bouldering and lead disciplines—and now, officially, a World Cup finalist—he is a competitor to keep an eye on in future events. 

Ginés López’s highpoint was eventually bettered by Arco’s hometown favorite, Stefano Ghisolfi, who fell while working through the route’s pair of bulbous black volumes midway up the wall. With a score of 41+, it was enough to secure a second place finish for Ghisolfi. Even Ondra, who moved with his characteristic “naturally quick climbing cadence,” couldn’t progress beyond the volumes and finished in fourth (Ondra’s attempt starts at 1:36.00 in the livestream).

Schubert proved to be the only competitor who could negotiate the crux section. His highpoint of 44+, while far below the route’s top, led to a victory. Although no American men made it into the Finals, Drew Ruana finished in 27th below Bailey's, and Kai Lightner finished at 39th..

The weekend’s speed eveny was marked by a victory in the men’s field by Ukraine’ Danyil Boldyrev with a time of 5.58 seconds. Boldyrev had previously won in Chamonix and placed third at Villars.  John Brosler finished at 13, the best performance of the U.S. men, with other strong showings from Michael Finn-Henry, Max Hammer, and Joe Goodacre (23, 24, and 26, respectively). Russia’s Iuliia Kaplina won the women’s field with a time of 7.41 seconds, but American spectators should take note of Piper Kelly, who finished at 11th (24:00 in the livestream). Kelly was part of an exciting three-way rivalry at the 2018 Sport and Speed Nationals with Buhrfeind and Amanda Wooten. She is now moving into the upper echelons of international rosters too.

Buhrfeind finished 25th in the speed standings at Arco, with Raboutou at 28th, and other U.S. competitors Isabel Gifford, Maggie Hammer, and Lisa Hammer at 34, 38, and 46, respectively.

The next World Cup event—the last bouldering competition of the season—will take place in Munich, Germany on August 17-18.  See our 2018 Climbing Competition Calendar for the full schedule.

Results

Men’s Lead

  1. Jakob Schubert (AUT) 
  2. Stefano Ghisolfi (ITA)
  3. Domen Skofic (SLO)
  4. Adam Ondra (CZE)
  5. Shuta Tanaka (JPN)
  6. Sascha Lehmann (SUI)
  7. Alberto Ginés López (ESP)
  8. Hyunbin Min (KOR)

Women’s Lead

  1. Janja Garnbret (SLO)
  2. Jessica Pilz (AUT)
  3. Anak Verhoeven (BEL)
  4. Claire Buhrfeind (USA)
  5. Hélène Janicot (FRA)
  6. Manon Hily (FRA)
  7. Ievgeniia Kazbekova (UKR)
  8. Christine Schranz (AUT)

Men’s Speed

  1. Danyil Boldyrev (UKR)
  2. Aleksandr Shilov (RUS)
  3. Reza Alipourshena (IRI)
  4. Dmitrii Timofeev (RUS)

Women’s Speed

  1. Iuliia Kaplina (RUS)
  2. Mariia Krasavina (RUS)
  3. Anouck Jaubert (FRA)
  4. Aleksandra Kalucka (POL)

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