The IFSC capped off its 2019 World Cup season this past weekend with a rousing finale in Inzai, Japan. And as much as this season has blazed new trails with the Olympic stakes and the rise of a new youth contingent, the last stop on the multi-discipline circuit came down to a battle between Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret and South Korea’s Jain Kim on the lead wall that felt like a throwback to previous years.

That’s not to say that this season’s youthful breakout stars did not have their moments at Inzai; 15-year-old rookie Chaehyun Seo of South Korea, the lead season’s overall champion, stayed in the mix of the women’s division all the way to the final round, despite not topping any of the routes in the qualification or semi-final portion—and finished in third place. Italy’s Laura Rogora, the youth world champion, advanced to the finals at Inzai and seemed primed for a spot on the podium before falling unexpectedly as she readjusted her hands fairly low on the route. Natsuki Tanii, a young standout on Team Japan, set an initial highpoint at 34+ in the final round for the women, ultimately good enough for a sixth place finish.

But Garnbret and Kim seemed to be on another level throughout the entire weekend; they each topped both qualification routes, took first and second place in the women’s semi-finals, and were the last two climbers to attempt the wall in the finals. Kim, climbing first, stayed composed despite a series of big throws as the route ambled to a steeply overhanging upper section. As Kim neared the finish, she maintained her grip on tenuous blue sloper volumes to clip the top carabiner in an edge-of-your-seat moment (1:03.26 in the livestream). Garnbret climbed next, but never looked quite as smooth as Kim through the lower section. Garnbret gritted her way all the way to hold 39 before her feet cut loose and she fell—earning a second-place finish and solidifying Kim as the event’s winner.

Kim’s victory carried some significance. Not only did it mark the 30th World Cup victory of her legendary career, but it also affirmed that she is fully back in top form after battling a finger injury that kept her out of action for a portion of the season. The greater context of the win was evident in the tears that streamed down Kim’s face at the conclusion of the day. “I just cannot believe because it’s been a long time since my last win in Kranj [of last year],” an emotional Kim said in a post-show interview. “And after I got a finger injury, there was nothing—nothing—easy for me. But now I was able to overcome that and I’m really happy that I got the top of the final route.”

With Ondra Absent, Shimizu Shines

One of the biggest stories heading into the men’s portion at Inzai was the absence of several big names, the Czech Republic’s Adam Ondra among them. Since Ondra is yet to clinch an Olympic berth—and since he already secured this lead season’s overall championship—he chose to bypass Inzai and turn his focus entirely on November’s Olympic qualification event in Toulouse, France.

The absences gave the finals of the men’s potion a greater degree of unpredictability and opened the door for some new names to shine. Belgium’s Loïc Timmermans was one such name; he managed to fall shortly after landing the lower crux of the finals route, a dynamic launch off a big sloper to a distant sidepull. His eventual finish of seventh place was his best of the lead season. American Jesse Grupper also advanced to the finals (for the second consecutive time of his World Cup career), broke the beta for the dynamic launch by reaching statically through the low crux (1:42.54 in the livestream), and eventually finished the competition in fifth place.

But the standout of the field was Japan’s Hiroto Shimizu, who managed to climb ten moves higher on the finals route than any competitor before him. In fact, Shimizu and Spain’s Alberto Ginés López were the only two men to reach the upper headwall’s section of dual-tex half-spheres. Shimizu and López placed first and second, respectively.

Canada’s Sean McColl finished in sixth place and did not end up on the podium. But his fight throughout the weekend proved to be another big talking point; his woes started with a flub close to the ground on one of the qualification routes, which earned him a score of just 2+. However, a strong performance and a high score (38+) on the other qualification route was good enough to earn him a place in the semi-finals. There, he easily placed in the top nine to coast into the finals. It was a remarkable comeback from the early qualification tribulation, and a fitting way to finish the season for the Canadian Olympian.

Team USA Finishes Strong

Grupper’s fifth place finish was the highest of any American, but his compatriot Sean Bailey also had a strong showing in the men’s division. Like Grupper, Bailey advanced through the early rounds. In fact, Bailey was second in the standings at the conclusion of the semi-finals, behind only Ginés López.

In the finals, Bailey muscled to the technical lower section before falling as he attempted to stick the dynamic crux; he finished with a score of 19+ and in eighth place.

In the women’s division, Team USA continued its season-long depth. Margo Hayes and Kyra Condie both made it to the semi-finals, where they finished in 13th and 14th, respectively.

Other American finishes included Alex Johnson in 37th place and Estelle Park in 48th place of the women’s division. In the men’s division, Drew Ruana and Nathaniel Coleman both advanced to the semi-finals and finished in 21st place and 23rd place, respectively. John Brosler also competed and finished in 52nd place.

Check back to Climbing.com soon for a look back on the entire 2019 World Cup season (bouldering, lead, and speed disciplines) with some end-of-the-season awards. And, mark your calendars for the aforementioned Olympic qualification event at Toulouse, which will kick off on November 28.

Results

Women

  1. Jain Kim (KOR)
  2. Janja Garnbret (SLO)
  3. Chaehyun Seo (KOR)
  4. Akiyo Noguchi (JPN)
  5. Miho Nonaka (JPN)
  6. Natsuki Tanii (JPN)
  7. Laura Rogora (ITA)
  8. Aika Tajima (JPN)

Men

  1. Hiroto Shimizu (JPN)
  2. Alberto Ginés López (ESP)
  3. Stefano Ghisolfi (ITA)
  4. Yuki Hada (JPN)
  5. Jesse Grupper (USA)
  6. Sean McColl (CAN)
  7. Loïc Timmermans (BEL)
  8. Sean Bailey (USA)
  9. Meichi Narasaki (JPN)

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