Although there have been other storylines sprinkled throughout the 2019 IFSC lead season—the collective dominance of Team Japan and an interlude of Olympic invitations at the World Championships—the big narrative has always been the ongoing rivalry between the legendary Janja Garnbret of Slovenia and the rookie Chaehyun Seo of South Korea. As dominant as Garnbret was in sweeping the 2019 bouldering season, she has been chasing Seo in the lead discipline ever since Seo won the World Cup event in Chamonix, France, back in July.
Gallery: 17 Photos From the 2019 Xiamen World Cup
South Korea’s Jain Kim has had a rough 2019 lead season. She was sidelined by a finger injury early on the circuit. Once back, she showed only flashes of her usual greatness. But her performance at Xiamen could have been viewed as a statement of a full recovery. She was one of only three women to top the route in the lead finals, and she finished the event with a spot on the podium—in third place.
One of the biggest talking points on the livestream of the Xiamen World Cup event was the venue itself—a palatial five-star hotel on the coast. In addition to the climbing wall, the elaborate Chinese hotel features an expansive interior with a Parisian theme. The hotel’s vast complex is still under construction, but even in its partially completed stage, the venue sets a new aesthetic standard for World Cup hosts in future seasons.
Team USA’s Ashima Shiraishi takes a moment to pause and scope out the upper section of the very volumey route in an early round of competition. The poise paid off, as Shiraishi advanced to the semi-finals and finished the competition in 25th place.
Great Britain’s Molly Thompson-Smith has been steadily improving in the latter part of the season. After placing 19th at the World Championships, she placed 12th at the European World Championships earlier this month and finished the competition at Xiamen tied for 10th place.
Like Thompson-Smith, American Margo Hayes earned a score of 33+ in the semi-final round at Xiamen. In fact, 13 other competitors earned the same score, all stymied by a cruxy reach to a small jib on a sloper volume.
Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi takes a fall in this photo, but she reached the top during other parts of the weekend—most importantly during the women’s finals. She finished in second place, getting narrowly beaten by South Korea’s Chaehyun Seo.
Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret was in the hunt for the victory in the women’s division right to the very end of the competition. She launched for the top of the route in the finals but could not hold onto the last volume. As a result, she finished in fourth place behind the three competitors who did reach the top.
South Korea’s Chaehyun Seo topped the route in the finals and thus won the women’s lead portion. The victory capped off a remarkable rookie year for Seo—now officially the lead season’s overall champion. However, since Seo failed to qualify for the Olympics at the World Championships in August and cannot take part in the upcoming Olympic qualification event in Toulouse (because she did not participate in the bouldering season at all), the big question surrounding her now is whether she can win the Asia Continental Championships in May, 2020, to earn an Olympic berth.
Canada’s Sean McColl—who has already qualified for the Olympics—had a solid start to the weekend at Xiamen. He placed in the top 25 of one of his qualification heats, and tied for first place in another. The coupling was good enough for him to advance to the semi-finals, but he withdrew from the competition citing a tweaked arm. Luckily, all indications are that the injury is nothing major and his recusal was more of a precautionary measure.
American Nathaniel Coleman did not advance out of the qualification rounds, but he had a good showing by nearly topping one of the routes. He finished the competition in 38th place.
Although only 16 years old, Spain’s Alberto Ginés López has been one of the breakout stars of this season. At the previous World Cup competition in Kranj, Slovenia, he finished in third place. At Xiamen, he finished in fifth place. His consistency of making finals this season makes him a big name to watch—not only at the final World Cup competition of the year, but in seasons to come.
American Drew Ruana made the long flight to China with other members of Team USA and finished the competition tied for 27th place.
ean Bailey was another member of Team USA taking part in the Xiamen competition. He battled his way through the early rounds and finished with an 8th place position in the finals.
Several competitors in the men’s division came close to beating the Czech Republic’s Adam Ondra; he was not the only competitor to top the finals route. But based on countback to earlier rounds, Ondra secured the win—his third of the lead World Cup season.
Ondra also participated in the speed discipline at Xiamen, meaning that he will be among the big names taking part at next month’s Olympic qualification event in Toulouse. There, he will hope to earn a coveted invitation to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Indonesia’s Aries Susanti Rahayu (center) set a blazing new world record of 6.995 seconds in the women’s speed division. (The previous world record was 7.101 seconds). Joining her on the speed podium were China’s YiLing Song (left, in second place) and Russia’s Mariia Krasavina (right, in third place).
In the men’s speed division, China’s QiXin Zhong (center) won the gold medal. Russia’s Lev Rudatskiy (left) took second place and earned the silver medal. His compatriot, Vladislav Deulin (right) took third place and earned the bronze medal.
The rivalry reached its climax at this past weekend’s competition in Xiamen, China. There, Garnbret and Seo cruised through the early rounds by topping both qualification routes and the route in the semi-finals. This left the two competitors neck-and-neck heading into the finals, which featured 38 moves up a winding assortment of green volumes. Other competitors got stymied by the route at various points—Japan’s Ai Mori could not stick a big launch to the 11th hold; Slovenia’s Lucka Rakovec and Japan’s Natsuki Tani dynoed for the final volume but neither could grasp it. South Korea’s Jain Kim and Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi both topped the route methodically, but were then left waiting to see if Seo or Garnbret could reach the top at faster times.
Seo was the penultimate competitor and never seemed troubled by any of the route’s long reaches or awkward crosses. She topped the route with 1:47 remaining (2:21:00 in the livestream). Garnbret climbed last and looked smooth on the lower portion of the route. She reached the headwall much quicker than Seo had, but Garnbret tried to snag the top with a dynamic lunge rather than the static method that had worked for Seo. The crowd gasped as Garnbret swooped down out of the spotlight—unsuccessful in securing the top.
Garnbret’s miss not only gave Seo the victory, but it also solidified Seo as the 2019 overall lead season champion. In total she won four out of the five lead World Cup competitions that she entered—the best rookie season for a competitor on the adult circuit in recent history.
Ondra Stays Perfect
As much as Chaeyhun Seo has been the superstar of the women’s lead division this year, the Czech Republic’s Adam Ondra has been the star of the men’s division. He has been undefeated at the lead discipline this season, which not only tracks through the World Cup circuit, but also into the lead disciplines at the World Championships and the European Championships. Wherever Ondra has competed at lead, he has been flawless. His only blunder was an unfortunate misstep on a bolt during the combined portion of the World Championships, which knocked him out of Olympic contention—for the time being. But Ondra’s performance in Xiamen was an extension of his lead dominance this season. He topped both routes in the qualification round, matched a bottleneck at 31+ in the semi-final round that positioned him in second place, and even paused on the wall to rouse the crowd before topping the route in the finals (49:21 in the livestream).
Ondra was not the only competitor in the men’s division to top that finals route. Japan’s breakout star Taisei Homma and stalwart Tomoa Narasaki also topped. But Ondra looked more relaxed than either of them and earned the victory—and the overall lead season championship. More remarkable was that Ondra was originally not planning to compete in the lead discipline at Xiamen at all; he was only there to participate in the speed discipline, which he needed to do in order to be eligible for the next Olympic qualification event, in Toulouse, France. The quirky anecdote only adds to Ondra’s storied 2019 season.
New Speed Record Set
While we’re on the subject of speed climbing, let’s sound the trumpets for Indonesia’s Aries Susanti Rahayu, as she became the new “Queen of Speed” in Xiamen. Rahayu not only set a new women’s world record of 6.995 at the competition, but she did so in a Big Final heat against then-record-holder YiLing Song (56:30 in the livestream for the record-breaking run). Rahayu also became the first woman in history to break the hallowed 7-second barrier. Song, it should be noted, still came away from the competition as the overall season winner of the women’s speed division.
The final heats in the men’s speed division weren’t quite as dramatic, with China’s QiXin Zhong beating Russia’s Lev Rudatskiy (with a time of 7.208 seconds) to claim the victory after Rudatskiy slipped. But the fact that the women’s world record has been broken three times in the past three years makes every speed event slated for next year’s season—in both the men’s and women’s divisions—a must-watch.
Team USA Shows Some Depth
Considering the jet lag of the 17-hour flight from the United States to China, the American competitors had a strong collective showing. In the women’s division, Ashima Shiraishi and Margo Hayes advanced to the semi-finals, where they earned scores of 17+ and 33+, respectively Shiraishi finished in 25th place, and Hayes finished in 20th.
In the men’s division, Sean Bailey and Jesse Grupper progressed to the finals and finished with scores of 23+ and 25+, respectively. Grupper finished in 7th place, and Bailey finished in 8th. In fact, the event at Xiamen marked the first time that Grupper, the 2019 American National Champion, advanced into a final round on the World Cup circuit.
Of the other members of Team USA who competed at Xiamen, in the men’s lead division Drew Ruana finished tied for 27th place, Nathaniel Coleman finished in 38, and John Brosler finished in 47. In the women’s division, Alex Johnson finished in 36, and Maggie Hammer finished in 47.
Fans of Team USA were also treated to American commentary on the livestream, alongside IFSC mainstay Charlie Boscoe. Hammer joined Boscoe during the semi-finals, and Hayes accompanied Boscoe in the booth during the finals.
The last event of the 2019 World Cup circuit is a lead competition, and it will take place on October 26-27 in Inzai, Japan. Stay tuned to Climbing.com for the livestreams and coverage.
- Chaehyun Seo (KOR)
- Akiyo Noguchi (JPN)
- Jain Kim (KOR)
- Janja Garnbret (SLO)
- Natsuki Tanii (JPN)
- Lucka Rakovec (SLO)
- YueTong Zhang (CHN)
- Ievgeniia Kazbekova (UKR)
- Ai Mori (JPN)
- Adam Ondra (CZE)
- Taisei Homma (JPN)
- Tomoa Narasaki (JPN)
- Kai Harada (JPN)
- Alberto Ginés López (ESP)
- Meichi Narasaki (JPN)
- Jesse Grupper (USA)
- Sean Bailey (USA)
- Aries Susanti Rahayu (INA)
- YiLing Song (CHN)
- Mariia Krasavina (RUS)
- Anouck Jaubert (FRA)
- LiJuan Deng (CHN)
- PeiYang Tian (CHN)
- Di Niu (CHN)
- Aurelia Sarisson (FRA)
- QiXin Zhong (CHN)
- Lev Rudatskiy (RUS)
- Vladislav Deulin (RUS)
- Sergey Rukin (RUS)
- Bassa Mawem (FRA)
- Reza Alipour Shenazandifard (IRI)
- Dmitrii Timofeev (RUS)
- Alfian Muhammad (INA)
Missed an event? Catch up on the 2019 competition season here.