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.
Gallery: 18 Photos From the 2019 Inzai World Cup
South Korea’s Chaehyun Seo has had one of the most remarkable rookie seasons of any competitor in the history of the IFSC World Cup circuit. She finished off 2019 with four World Cup event gold medals and the overall lead season victory. Although she didn’t win at Inzai, she still managed to secure a spot on the podium, finishing in third place.
In many ways, Charlie Boscoe has been the unsung hero of the 2019 IFSC World Cup season, providing fans with commentary at nearly every stop on the circuit. As such, Charlie Boscoe has become the voice of international competition climbing in its historic Olympic age. It was only fitting then that the season concluded in Inzai with Boscoe calling the action.
Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi finished the competition at Inzai in fourth place. Her 2019 season has seen a remarkable evolution of her prowess in the lead discipline. As a result, she will be one of the big names to watch in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ten months from now.
American Kyra Condie works her way across a traverse section of black volumes in the women’s semi-final round. Condie finished the competition at Inzai in 14th place, and presumably now sets her sights on the Olympic qualification event in Toulouse, France; she will vie to be the second American to earn an Olympic berth (Brooke Raboutou being the first).
Japan’s Miho Nonaka had a strong showing at Inzai, advancing to the women’s final round and finishing in fifth place. More importantly, her shoulders were untaped—a rarity of this season, but a good indication that she has recovered from the shoulder injuries that plagued her for much of the 2019 circuit.
Italy’s Laura Rogora was a decorated competitor on the youth circuit, and she made a big statement at Inzai by finishing the competition in seventh place.
Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret has had her share of ups and downs this lead season (by her incredible standards), but she was impressive throughout all rounds of competition at Inzai and finished the event as the runner-up in the women’s division.
South Korea’s Jain Kim celebrates as she secures the top—ultimately earning the win at Inzai. It marked the figurative end of a finger injury that kept Kim out of several competitions this season.
This lead season initially seemed like it would be a passing of the torch from one Korean legend (Jain Kim, right) to the other (rookie Chaehyun Seo, left). More than anything, the competition at Inzai proved that 31-year-old Kim is still capable of winning at the highest level.
The women’s podium: Slovenia’s Garnbret (left) earned the silver medal, Jain Kim (center) earned the gold, and Chaehyun Seo (right) earned the bronze.
American Jesse Grupper hit his stride at the end of the 2019 season. In the penultimate lead competition at Xiamen, China, he advanced to the finals and finished in seventh place. And he made the finals again at Inzai, Japan, and finished in fifth place.
Japan’s Taisei Homma was one of nine men from Team Japan who advanced to the semi-final round. He finished the competition in 13th.
Canada’s Sean McColl (left) and Spain’s Alberto Ginés López (right) capped off their respective seasons with great results at Inzai. McColl rallied after a low fumble on a qualification route to finish with a score of 27+ in the finals and a sixth place in the standings. Ginés López fell while reaching for the 37th hold in the finals, good enough to earn a silver medal.
American Sean Bailey was stymied by the low crux of the men’s final route at Inzai, but he still managed to finish the season with an impressive record. Most notably, he finished in eighth place at Inzai and eighth place at Xiamen, China, sixth place at Briançon, France, and 14th at Kranj, Slovenia.
Bailey’s solid standing in the lead discipline of the IFSC circuit is coupled with a victory at this year’s bouldering open nationals. If he can find his rhythm at the Olympic qualification event in Toulouse, he could earn a berth to the Tokyo 2020 Games.
American Drew Ruana finished the competition at Inzai in 21st place, right behind a stack of Japanese crushers—Kokoro Fujii and Keiichiro Korenaga. It wasn’t quite high enough to earn a spot in the finals, but it added to Ruana’s current world ranking of 34.
The standout in the men’s field was Japan’s Hiroto Shimizu. He didn’t have the best performance of the field on either qualification route or the semi-finals route. But he was always near the top of the pack, and pulled two moves higher than anyone else on the finals route to secure the win.
The men’s podium: Spain’s Alberto Ginés López (left) earned the silver medal, Hiroto Shimizu (center) earned the gold, and Italy’s Stefano Ghisolfi (right) earned the bronze.
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.
- Jain Kim (KOR)
- Janja Garnbret (SLO)
- Chaehyun Seo (KOR)
- Akiyo Noguchi (JPN)
- Miho Nonaka (JPN)
- Natsuki Tanii (JPN)
- Laura Rogora (ITA)
- Aika Tajima (JPN)
- Hiroto Shimizu (JPN)
- Alberto Ginés López (ESP)
- Stefano Ghisolfi (ITA)
- Yuki Hada (JPN)
- Jesse Grupper (USA)
- Sean McColl (CAN)
- Loïc Timmermans (BEL)
- Sean Bailey (USA)
- Meichi Narasaki (JPN)
Missed an event? Catch up on the 2019 competition season here.