If the 2019 IFSC circuit was an addictive summer Netflix series, the Wujiang event would be an episode where a key character from previous seasons comes back into the story. In particular, Japan’s Miho Nonaka returned from nagging shoulder injuries that had kept her absent from the first three events this year.

And what a return it was. Nonaka parlayed what had been a humdrum women’s qualifying round (placing sixth in her group) into a stellar semi-finals. There, she flashed the first and second boulders (and topped the third), advancing into finals in second place. The only competitor ahead of Nonaka at the conclusion of the semi-final round was Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret—the champion of the first three World Cup bouldering events of 2019.

Such proximity to Garnbret made Nonaka’s return ultra-compelling, like the narrative of a juicy TV drama. Garnbret has been unbeatable this season, a force unlike anything the competition world has ever seen. But if there is one competitor who is capable of dethroning her, it is Nonaka; she has beaten Garnbret at Bouldering World Cup competitions in past seasons, and the two women seem linked by more than just their mutual Red Bull endorsements. Garnbret and Nonaka are practically the same age (20 and 21, respectively) and are both favorites to be the Olympic representatives for their home countries. And when Nonaka and Garnbret are both healthy and trying to outgun each other in an IFSC round, it is the highest level of competition climbing the world has ever seen.

With this excitement in mind, the women’s finals at Wujiang began with both Nonaka and Garnbret topping the first boulder, a press-and-push collection of prism-shaped volumes. Other competitors—such as Japan’s newest phenom, 15-year-old Ai Mori, and legend Akiyo Noguchi—also topped, dashing any notions that a victory by anyone would be a given. Garnbret gained an edge as the only competitor to top the steep, physical second boulder (1:10.53 in the livestream), but Nonaka and her compatriots remained in hot pursuit of Garnbret in the scores.

Nonaka’s attempt on the third boulder proved to be crucial. A foot slip at the start, which commentator Charlie Boscoe attributed to rustiness, dashed Nonaka’s chance for a flash. Noguchi, on the other hand, flashed the boulder—as did Garnbret. Nonaka was exhausted and ran out of time trying to top the shouldery fourth boulder, which Noguchi and Mori topped (to earn second and third place, respectively). Garnbret flashed it for the win.

Although Nonaka’s thrilling return was punctuated by a fourth place finish instead of a victory, it was a remarkable occasion nonetheless. “All things considered, this has been a fantastic comeback for her,” noted Boscoe near the end of the broadcast. Nonaka’s presence on the World Cup roster adds a new layer to the remaining competitions of the season, and she still might dethrone Garnbret at some point now that the rust has been scrubbed off.

The men’s bouldering portion had some compelling drama too. For starters, the winner of the previous World Cup in Chongqing, France’s Manuel Cornu, placed 33rd and did not advance out of the qualifying round. Also, the Czech Republic’s Adam Ondra, who won the World Cup event in Meiringen and placed second in Moscow, returned to competition after being sidelined by a respiratory infection—but struggled in the semi-finals and finished the competition in 14th place.

The men’s finals ended up being a showcase for the Japanese team; four of the finalists hailed from Japan, along with Jakob Schubert from Austria and Jan Hojer from Germany. Tomoa Narasaki was the best of Japan’s squad from the onset—performing a dynamic stand-up press into a volume that drew praise from the commentary team on the first boulder (2:16.37 in the livestream). Narasaki also topped the second and third boulders, but his compatriot Kai Harada stayed in the hunt (and topped the dynamic fourth boulder) on the way to earning second place. Schubert, with one top, placed third.

The speed portion of the weekend was marked by some surprising early exits. China’s YiLing Song, who set a new women’s world record at the recent Chongqing World Cup event, slipped in an early heat against Poland’s Aleksandra Kalucka and finished the competition in a disappointing 16th place. Russia’s Iuliia Kaplina, who has podiumed twice this season, was also bested in an early heat and finished in 13th. In the women’s final run, Kalucka’s compatriot, Aleksandra Rudzinska, beat Indonesia’s Aries Susanti Rahayu in a tight race separated by only 0.29 seconds. Russia’s Dmitrii Timofeev beat France’s Bassa Mawem in the men’s final with a blazing time of 5.59—just 0.12 off the world record.

The United States team struggled more in Wujiang than the previous weekend in Chongqing. Nathaniel Coleman was the only competitor who advanced to the semi-final round, and he finished the competition in 12th place. Beneath him in the men’s scores were Drew Ruana who tied for 33rd, Sean Bailey who tied for 41st, Zach Galla who tied for 53rd, and John Brosler who tied for 81st. Ashima Shiraishi placed highest for the women, tied for 21st. Alex Johnson tied for 29th, Kyra Condie tied for 31st, Sienna Kopf tied for 35th, and Margo Hayes tied for 39th.

The competitors will get a weekend to rest and recharge before heading to Europe for the Munich World Cup competition (bouldering only) on May 18-19. Stay tuned to Climbing.com for the livestreams and coverage.

Results

Women’s Bouldering

  1. Janja Garnbret (SLO)

  2. Akiyo Noguchi (JPN)
  3. Ai Mori (JPN)
  4. Miho Nonaka (JPN)
  5. Jessica Pilz (AUT)
  6. Julia Chanourdie (FRA)

Men’s Bouldering

  1. Tomoa Narasaki (JPN)
  2. Kai Harada (JPN)
  3. Jakob Schubert (AUT)
  4. Keita Dohi (JPN)
  5. Kokoro Fujii (JPN)
  6. Jan Hojer (GER)

Women’s Speed

  1. Aleksandra Rudzinska (POL) 
  2. Aries Susanti Rahayu (INA)
  3. Anouck Jaubert (FRA)
  4. Anna Tsyganova (RUS)

Men’s Speed

  1. Dmitrii Timofeev (RUS)
  2. Bassa Mawem (FRA)
  3. Ludovico Fossali (ITA)
  4. Reza Alipourshenazandifar (IRI)

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