The IFSC’s 2019 World Championships kicked off this week with the bouldering discipline in Hachioji, Japan. The event had plenty of trimmings, giving it the feel of a truly special occasion.

The Olympic implications of these championships make it the most significant competition in the history of climbing. And with a marching brass band providing a lively soundtrack at the top of the bouldering broadcast, atmospheric lighting shrouding the climbers in moody hues, and 3-D graphics explaining the beta (for example, see 21:33 in the livestream), the bouldering competition felt like a really big deal.

Yet, as much as the accouterments sweetened the presentation and gave the broadcast an Olympic sheen, the competitors who proved to be the best in the fierce international field were mostly old names—the mainstays who have been finding success on the IFSC’s bouldering circuit for years.

Garnbret Caps Off Her Legendary Season

In the women’s division, Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret concluded her storybook season with an exclamation mark. Having already swept the bouldering World Cup circuit months ago, she entered the bouldering portion of the World Championship as irrefutably the best competitor in the discipline. But, rather than rest on her laurels, Garnbret climbed masterfully through every round: She won her qualification group by topping every boulder, she led at the end of the semi-final round, and then she topped three out of the four boulders in the final round to clinch the gold medal. In fact, all Garnbret needed to do to secure the win on the fourth boulder was latch the zone hold, but she ascended to the top—on her flash attempt—as if to stamp her signature on the entire season.

Garnbret thus became the first woman in history to win back-to-back World Championships in the bouldering discipline. Her entire 2019 bouldering season should be studied and analyzed, as going undefeated in an IFSC discipline is a feat that might never be duplicated. But if one had to whittle down the incredible accomplishment to a single sequence, there is no better example than the second boulder of these World Championship finals. The five women who attempted the boulder before Garnbret hardly made any progress on it; they struggled to hold the body rotation of the dynamic start. Then Garnbret took a few attempts on it, internalized the movement and made mental tweaks, and stuck the crux move as the crowd went wild. (1:17.52 in the livestream). The top was the highlight of the day and will likely be a highlight of the whole World Championships.

That’s not to say that other women did not put on a show as well. Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi was on Garnbret’s heels the whole time in the scores, and Noguchi’s clever use of a knee on the first boulder in the finals (48:37 in the livestream) was another highlight. Noguchi ultimately claimed the silver medal. Great Britain’s Shauna Coxsey topped two boulders in the finals and earned her first World Championship medal (a bronze). But it was unquestionably Garnbret’s day, and given her dominance of the year’s bouldering World Cup events, it’s hard to argue that any other outcome would have seemed as fitting.

Narasaki Fights for Rare Tops

The men’s division saw far less ascents than the women’s. In fact, the only male competitor to find any tops at all was Japan’s Tomoa Narasaki. He set the standard by successfully completing the first boulder in the finals, an awkward toe-catch start into a series of dynamic catches. None of the men topped the steeply overhanging second boulder. Narasaki secured his victory by topping the third boulder, with the fourth boulder also proving to be too overcooked for anyone.

The lack of tops in the men’s finals gave the round a subdued feeling that even commentators Charlie Boscoe and Mike Langley noted. Nonetheless, the low energy should take nothing away from Narasaki’s two ascents. (One can’t help but wonder how much more deflated the finals would have felt without Narasaki’s sends.) Narasaki won the World Championships in 2016 as well, so this victory in 2019 moves him easily into any barroom discussion of the greatest male competition boulderers of all time.

Team USA Resets for Upcoming Disciplines

Although American viewers did not get to revel in watching any American competitors in the finals, Drew Ruana, Nathaniel Coleman, and Kyra Condie all advanced through their qualification rounds and into the semi-finals. They finished in 8, 17, and 14, respectively. Other Americans included: Zach Galla tied for 31, Sean Bailey tied for 33, Joe Goodacre tied for 51, and John Brosler tied for 79 in the men’s division; Natalia Grossman tied for 23, Ashima Shiraishi tied for 29, Alex Johnson tied for 33, Brooke Raboutou tied for 41, and Sienna Kopf tied for 49 in the women’s division.

The World Championships continue this week with the semi-final round for the lead discipline happening on August 14, with the finals not long after. Stay tuned to Climbing.com for the livestreams and coverage of the various competitions.

Results

Women

  1. Janja Garnbret (SLO)
  2. Akiyo Noguchi (JPN)
  3. Shauna Coxsey (GBR)
  4. Ievgeniia Kazbekova (UKR)
  5. Miho Nonaka (JPN)
  6. Nanako Kura (JPN)

Men

  1. Tomoa Narasaki (JPN)
  2. Jakob Schubert (AUT)
  3. Yannick Flohé (GER)
  4. Kokoro Fujii (JPN)
  5. Keita Dohi (JPN)
  6. Adam Ondra (CZE)

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