This past weekend’s competition in Kranj, Slovenia, was the first event on the IFSC circuit following August’s World Championships (and the inaugural Olympic berths that came with them). Many competitors were fresh off trips to other countries for big competitions like the Bloc Shop Open in Canada and the Adidas Rockstars in Germany. As a result, it felt like it had been ages since the world’s top competitors convened for an IFSC lead World Cup event. In fact, it had only been two months, but the abundance of travel and Olympic buzz in the interim laid a foundation for some intriguing questions: Would those competitors who already qualified for the 2020 Olympics choose to continue on the World Cup circuit at Kranj? And, would competitors who were so consistently good in the first half of the lead season be able to pick up right where they left off?

Seo Pulls Away from the Pack

As it turned out, although some of the competitors who punched their Olympic tickets at the aforementioned World Championships (like Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi and Tomoa Narasaki) decided to forego the World Cup event at Kranj, most of the big names were present. Chief among them was Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret, whose near-flawless performance at those recent World Championships somewhat masked the fact that she has faced stiff competition this lead season. And those woes continued in Kranj. Garnbret climbed well in the qualification round, but never led the pack. Then, in the semi-finals, she struggled to negotiate around the volumes on the headwall and fell with a score of 27+. Situated in 13th place, Garnbret did not advance to the finals for the second time of the 2019 lead season.

Garnbret’s surprisingly low standing—in her home country—briefly deflated the crowd, but it left the door open for a thrilling and unpredictable final round. Leading the way as the round kicked off was Japan’s Ai Mori, continuing a breakout season. Slovenian fans were still treated with a hometown finalist, as 18-year-old Lucka Rakovec advanced right on Mori’s heels. Another Slovenian, Mia Krampl, also advanced to the finals in the women’s division.

The finals offered a narrative of two bottleneck cruxes. First, a far right-hand reach off the arête stumped four climbers (Mori and Krampl among them), all of whom finished with a score of 20+. Second, farther up the wall, a collection of Lapis volumes that began around hold number 32 forced a subtle dropdown move. The sequence perplexed or stymied the rest of the finalists. Scores were separated by whether those competitors used intermediary volumes and the degree to which they eventually moved toward the 35th hold. Belgium’s Anak Verhoeven and Slovenia’s Rakovec were awarded 34+, and Austria’s Jessica Pilz was awarded a 34.5. But eking out the best result was South Korea’s Chaehyun Seo, who was awarded 34.5+ for her highpoint. (Begin at 49:28 in the livestream to watch Seo negotiate the tricky volumes).

The razor-thin victory in the women’s division by Seo marked her third consecutive lead World Cup competition win. She now sits high at the top of the 2019 overall lead season rankings.

Ondra Doesn’t Miss a Beat

Ever since the conclusion of the World Championships, much of the chatter has been about how the Czech Republic’s Adam Ondra surprisingly did not qualify for the Olympics. And while that is certainly an apt talking point, it gives the impression that he is struggling this season. But that is not accurate at all. He won the lead discipline at the World Championships, and he won the lead World Cup event in Chamonix back in July. One could even chalk up his failure to qualify for the Olympics as a fluke, an unlucky foot dab on a bolt during the World Championships’ combined discipline.

However you choose to assess Ondra’s peculiar season so far, he looked better than ever in Kranj. He topped both of the routes in the qualification round and reached the high point in the men’s semi-finals.

Climbing last in the finals, Ondra cruised through the lower sections that befell the previous competitors—particularly Austria’s Jakob Schubert and Japan’s Kokoro Fujii. The finals’ crux came at an overhanging section of dual-tex spherical “egg” volumes. Hanging from the big volumes and traversing the wall proved to be too burly for Canada’s Sean McColl (finishing with a score of 30+), Spain’s Alberto Ginés López (finishing with a score of 31.5+), and Japan’s Kai Harada (with a score of 32+), but Ondra never looked troubled. He topped the route to a roar from the Slovenian crowd (start at 2:05.50 in the livestream for the exciting end). The performance prompted commentator Charlie Boscoe to declare, “[Ondra] was on a different planet tonight!”

Team USA Finds Some Silver Lining

If the competition at Kranj would have concluded at the end of the qualification round, the Americans would have had a great collective showing. In the men’s division of qualifiers, Sean Bailey and Jesse Grupper both looked strong. In the women’s division, Kyra Condie and Ashima Shiraishi put on electrifying qualification performances. (Shiraishi even topped one of the routes).

However, as the semi-finals chugged along, the members of Team USA struggled. In the men’s division, Grupper fell low on the wall and earned a score of 13 (in 24th place). Bailey climbed high before getting stymied at a cruxy section that also bested Germany’s Yannick Flohé, Slovenia’s Anze Peharc, and France’s legend Romain Desgranges. Bailey finished in 14th place. Still, it was Bailey’s second best placement of the 2019 lead season.

In the women’s division, Shiraishi also found herself in a crux section during semi-finals that impeded a number of other competitors. She finished with a score of 20+, in 16th place. But Condie’s higher score of 25+ earned her 14th place—the highest placement of her career in a lead World Cup event.

Other members of Team USA included John Brosler finishing in 70th place in the men’s division. In the women’s division, Alex Johnson finished in 40th, Maggie Hammer finished in 48th, and Estelle Park finished in 50th.

The next lead World Cup event will take place in Xiamen, China, on October 18-20. It will also include a speed climbing discipline. Stay tuned to Climbing.com for the livestreams and coverage of the event.

Results:

Women

  1. Chaehyun Seo (KOR)
  2. Jessica Pilz (AUT)
  3. Lucka Rakovec (SLO)
  4. Anak Verhoeven (BEL)
  5. Ai Mori (JPN)
  6. Natsumi Hirano (JPN)
  7. Mia Krampl (SLO)
  8. Mei Kotake (JPN)

Men

  1. Adam Ondra (CZE)
  2. Kai Harada (JPN)
  3. Alberto Ginés López (ESP)
  4. Sean McColl (CAN)
  5. Kokoro Fujii (JPN)
  6. Stefano Ghisolfi (ITA)
  7. Jakob Schubert (AUT)
  8. Martin Stranik (CZE)

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