The World Championships are chugging along, with this morning’s lead discipline marking the halfway point for the elaborate, multifaceted event in Hachioji, Japan. There were a number of subplots heading into the lead portion—most notably how the skin on the competitors’ fingers would hold up with the burly bouldering discipline having concluded just hours prior to the start of the lead qualification round.
There was a lot of intrigue carrying over from previous years’ lead World Championships too, such as the ongoing rivalry between Austria’s Jakob Schubert and the Czech Republic’s Adam Ondra. (Schubert won the lead discipline at the World Championships in 2012 and 2018, Ondra won in 2014 and 2016).
Gallery: 16 Photos From the 2019 Lead World Championships
Underpinning all of this was the continuing drama of the 2020 Olympics, as the top 20 competitors per gender, based on multiplying their result in each discipline (bouldering, lead, and speed) at this year’s World Championships will take part in an upcoming combined discipline. The combined discipline will award the first Olympic berths.
Ondra Comes Back Strong
While Ondra made the finals of the bouldering portion days ago, his result in that discipline was disastrous by any standard: no tops and no zones on any of the boulders. So, from the onset of the lead portion, it was clear that he was aiming to erase any lingering disappointment from that bouldering result. Adam Ondra wanted vengeance.
Ondra had a stellar lead qualification round, and then he made a big statement in the lead semi-finals by climbing eight moves higher than any of the competitors who climbed before him. It ultimately positioned Ondra in the middle of the pack going into lead finals, climbing after strong performances by other athletes like Italy’s Stefano Ghisolfi and Japan’s Kai Harada.
Ondra’s fast and robotic style was well suited for the finals’ route, a course devoid of weird movement and flashy dynos. In fact, his progress on the sustained crimpy moves—curving across geometric Simple volumes with a few tricky quickdraws—was only hindered once, when he awkwardly reached from hold number 28 to 30, and then back to hold 29 (watch his attempt at 2:13.38 in the livestream). Ondra climbed high but did not top the finals route, which left the door open for successive competitors such as Canada’s Sean McColl, Japan’s Tomoa Narasaki, and Germany’s Alex Megos to snag the victory. None of them could match Ondra’s high point on the headwall. Megos came closest and secured the silver medal. Ondra’s lead World Championship rival, Schubert, had to settle for the bronze.
Ondra’s gold medal in the lead discipline provided redemption from that surprisingly low placement in the bouldering discipline. It also put Ondra in an elite category: a competitor with three lead World Championship victories to his name. France’s François Legrand is the only other man with such a distinction, having won the event in 1991, 1993, and 1995.
Garnbret Does the Double
The women’s lead portion was equally as intriguing, as it also contained some undertones of redemption. Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret has been bested a couple times on the lead World Cup circuit this year by South Korea’s Chaehyun Seo. Undoubtedly, Seo’s rise—and repeated defeat of Garnbret at the World Cup level—has been one of the biggest pieces of news for the 2019 season. Naturally fans and analysts wondered whether Garnbret could rally at these World Championships, or if Seo would continue to upset the apple cart.
In the end, Garnbret proved that she is still unbeatable on the biggest lead stage. She was the only climber to top both of her qualification routes, and she finished highest of the pack in the semi-finals. Her attempt in the finals was preceded by powerful climbing from defending lead World Champion Jessica Pilz of Austria and Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi (fresh off a silver medal in the bouldering discipline). Garnbret cruised through a lower section of heel hooks and toe hooks and easily into an upper section of pumpy slopers. As she moved comfortably onto the headwall, she surpassed the high points of all previous competitors—including Seo. Like Ondra, Garnbret did not reach the top of the finals route, but she ascended high enough to secure the gold medal and reassert her dominance in the lead discipline this year.
With the win in the lead portion as well as the bouldering portion, Garnbret became the first woman to earn victories in two disciplines at the same World Championships. Commentator Charlie Boscoe put it best as a triumphant Garnbret was receiving hugs from the other competitors at the conclusion of the lead portion: “We are running out of records for Janja to break.”
Team USA Has a Mixed Bag
The Americans had a few bright spots in the lead discipline, particularly appearances in the semi-finals by Brooke Raboutou, Drew Ruana, and Sean Bailey. Ruana’s attempt unfortunately happened off-screen, but it was one of the standout American performances of the day. He finished the semi-finals round with a score of 26+ and landed in 16th place. Raboutou smartly avoided a flashy 360-degree move on the women’s semi-final route by using a cross-arm method (1:03.18 in the livestream). It got her through a low crux and landed her in 15th place. Bailey looked solid through the semi-finals’ traversing low section, ultimately scoring 26 as he readjusted in an attempt to work through an awkward reach sequence; he finished in 21st.
Other Americans included: Ashima Shiraishi in 28th, Kyra Condie in 40th, Natalia Grossman tied for 53rd, Alex Johnson in 55th, and Sienna Kopf tied for 70th in the women’s division. In the men’s division, Nathaniel Coleman placed 30th, John Brosler placed 47th, Zach Galla placed 55th, and Joe Goodacre placed 69th.
- Adam Ondra (CZE)
- Alex Megos (GER)
- Jakob Schubert (AUT)
- Tomoa Narasaki (JPN)
- Sean McColl (CAN)
- Stefano Ghisolfi (ITA)
- Kai Harada (JPN)
- Hannes Puman (SWE)
- Janja Garnbret (SLO)
- Mia Krampl (SLO)
- Ai Mori (JPN)
- Chaehyun Seo (KOR)
- Akiyo Noguchi (JPN)
- Jessica Pilz (AUT)
- Vita Lukan (SLO)
- Julia Chanourdie (FRA)
Missed an event? Catch up on the 2019 competition season here.