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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.
Gallery: 20 Photos From the 2019 Bouldering World Championships
Great Britain’s Shauna Coxsey has been plagued by injuries for the past couple seasons. But her 8th place finish in her qualification group—and then her 6th place finish in the semi-finals—proved that she is back in top form.
South Korea’s Chaehyun Seo quickly made a name for herself by winning a couple lead World Cup events this summer. Naturally, many fans were anxious to see how she would do in a bouldering competition at the adult level. In the end, the 15-year-old phenom finished in 13th…not quite high enough to make the finals, but a strong showing nonetheless from the youngster.
Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret had a perfect bouldering World Cup season; she won every competition of the 2019 circuit. The capstone to that would be winning the World Championships of the same year. Everyone was wondering if she could do it as the bouldering portion of the World Championships began.
American Ashima Shiraishi was one of the 12 competitors representing Team USA who competed in the bouldering portion. She finished 15th in her qualification group. Although she did not advance to the bouldering semi-finals, Shiraishi remains one of America’s biggest hopes for Olympic inclusion—particularly as the combined portion of the World Championships loom.
American Kyra Condie was one of the standouts for Team USA. She advanced to the semi-finals of the women’s division and finished the competition in 14th.
Canada’s Alannah Yip crouches to sink into a crimpy undercling. Yip finished tied for 7th, narrowly missing out on a spot in the finals.
Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi entered her first World Championship 14 years ago. Her second place finish this year proves that she is as good as she has ever been.
Ukraine’s Ievgeniia Kazbekova had an incredible weekend. She rocketed to fourth place in the semi-finals and finished the competition in fourth place, barely missing out on a podium spot.
There were other women in the hunt for the gold medal, such as Kazbekova, Noguchi, and Coxsey, but by the time Janja Garnbret topped the second boulder in the finals, it seemed that she was on a different level. She finished with three tops in the finals. She can now put a World Championship gold medal alongside all her other trophies from the 2019 bouldering season.
Shauna Coxsey’s bronze medal marked a comeback, of sorts. She finished fourth at the World Championships in Munich five years ago, and she bettered that placement by a spot this year. She has been training a lot for the combined discipline as well, so she will be a competitor to watch as the Olympic qualification gets underway.
The women’s podium: Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi (left) with the silver medal, Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret (center) with the gold, and Great Britain’s Shauna Coxsey (right) with the bronze.
The Czech Republic’s Adam Ondra won the bouldering discipline at the World Championships in 2014. Since he has been training almost exclusively for competition this year in preparation for the Olympic qualification events, many fans were interested to see how he would do on the boulders. He climbed expertly in the qualification and semi-final rounds. Although he did not successfully reach any tops in the finals, he appears to be in peak form as the lead and combined portions of these World Championships get set to start in the coming days.
American Drew Ruana had the highest placement of anyone from Team USA. He finished in 8th place and later wrote on Instagram, “I’m really happy that everything lined up today. I gave the boulders everything I had and my skin/body is pretty wrecked, but I’m stoked for lead qualies tomorrow!”
Germany’s Jan Hojer (pictured) finished the competition in 11th—a strong showing from the bouldering legend. His compatriot in the men’s division, Yannick Flohé, also had a great start to the World Championships and finished with a spot on the podium.
Slovenia’s Jernej Kruder cuts his feet to latch the top of a boulder—on his way to placing 10th in the event.
Austria’s Jakob Schubert goes for a full extension above a zone hold to latch two scoops volumes. Schubert, a veteran on the circuit, won the lead discipline of the World Championships in 2012 and 2018. He finished the bouldering discipline this year in second place.
Although Australia’s Sam Lavender finished the bouldering discipline fairly low—in a tie for 81st—the global draw of the World Championships gives viewers a glimpse of who might shine at the various continental championships this coming year. Those events will also have Olympic implications. Lavender will likely take part in the Oceania Continental Championships on April 18-19, 2020.
American Nathaniel Coleman had a solid bouldering competition, tying for 8th place in his qualification group and then placing 17th in the men’s semi-final round.
The men’s final round was extremely tough, with every competitor getting shutdown by the boulders except for Japan’s Tomoa Narasaki. He topped two of the boulders to claim the victory.
The men’s podium: Austria’s Jakob Schubert (left) with the silver medal, Japan’s Tomoa Narasaki (center) with the gold, and Germany’s Yannick Flohé (right) with the bronze.
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.
- Janja Garnbret (SLO)
- Akiyo Noguchi (JPN)
- Shauna Coxsey (GBR)
- Ievgeniia Kazbekova (UKR)
- Miho Nonaka (JPN)
- Nanako Kura (JPN)
- Tomoa Narasaki (JPN)
- Jakob Schubert (AUT)
- Yannick Flohé (GER)
- Kokoro Fujii (JPN)
- Keita Dohi (JPN)
- Adam Ondra (CZE)
Missed an event? Catch up on the 2019 competition season here.