It’s been a busy time of late for the world’s Professional Climbers. All and sundry were at the World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria, from the 10th-16th of September and last weekend saw the return of one of the great events in the Rock Climbing Calendar. The Adidas Rock Stars competition, in Stuttgart.
So what is it all about and what’s all the fuss about climbing competitions?
From April to October each year the The IFSC (International Federation of Sport Climbing) run a series of World Cup events each year. The events are live streamed on YouTube and Facebook, in Lead, Speed and Bouldering. With the biggest names and best Professional Climbers competing.
The three disciplines don’t all take place at one time, for the most part the Bouldering starts off the season and the Lead/Speed finish it.
The world’s best pros compete and there are nine World Cup events, that happen all over the world, This year they run in this order: Meiringer (Sui), then Moscow (Rus), Chongqing (Chn), Ta-ian (Chn), Hachioji (Jpn), Vail (USA), Villiars (Sui), Chamonix (Fra), Briançon (Fra), Arco (Ita), Munich (Ger), Wujiang (Chn), Xiamen (Chn).
And these aren’t the only events that the IFSC run, throughout the whole year there are Para-climbing, Youth, Asian World Cups, American Worlds, European, Worlds and promo events. All of which are open to the public.
Each event starts with qualifiers for both the men and women and then semi’s and finals all in the space of just a few days and events in places like Munich, Chamonix and Innsbruck – venues with big climbing communities, can be held in front of 2-5,000 people.
But the highlight of this year has to be the World Championships, that took place last weekend (10-16th Sept). A bi-annual event (next year it will run again in order to shift to odd years rather than even so as not to clash with the Olympics), where the top 100+ professionals compete to be crowned the best (competition) climber in the world. A week of intense and gruelling events and to be overall World Champions in each event is of course the greatest achievement any athlete could want.
Except in climbing it isn’t.
That is to say some of the greatest climbers aren’t even known as competition climbers, Sasha DeGuilan is not a regular comp climber (she is competing at a promo comp this weekend though!). Instead she has spent the last few weeks climbing big walls, scrambling 1,500m routes and being an outdoors climber as she usually is.
But this last weekend, where was she? She was in Stuttgart with the likes of Shauna Coxsey and Miho Nanaka, commenting on the Rockstars event.
Professional climbers are sponsored, that’s how they live to climb, or is that ‘climb to live’?! But competitions aren’t all sponsoring companies want out of their climbers, some never even climb on resin holds, some are fell runners and others only climb Big Walls or Alpine routes. But unless they go and make glorious films like Honnold’s Free Solo about their event the only time we see or here from them is through Instagram feeds and Climbing Daily news.
But the World Cups/Championships are where we usually see those incredible climbers and see them climbing near impossible routes.
And last weekend’s World Cup brought out so many of the greats.
I was glued to the screen for most of the six days and watched most of the women’s comps and some of the mens. If I’d watched it all I wouldn’t have moved for six days!
The Women’s Lead had so many incredible competitors and among the so many of my favourites among them I have to point them out (and their finishing place) from New Zealand’s Lucy Whitehead, who finished in 99th place to Germany’s Alma Bestvater (72), Canada’s Alannah Yip (51), Alex Puccio (49), Mina Marçovic (43), Stasha Gejo (38), Oceania Mackenzie (35), what a great name! America’s Cyra Condie (31), Campus Board Monster! The ever smiling Katja Kadic (27) And Margo Hayes (21) The first woman to climb a 9a+(5.15).
That last one shows the scope of this sport and the strangeness of it. The first woman to climb 9a+ finished in 21st place, she didn’t even make the semi-finals and yet so many of the other climbers competing with her wanted to meet her, to be seen, take selfies with her, because of her achievement, that she was as popular as the winners.
The semis were filled to the brim this list of the top 20 is a true who’s who of international names and amazing climbers.
But the finals had me practically screaming at the screen as I begged one of absolute favourites – Austria’s, Jessie Pilz – to stay on the overhanging wall and make it to the top to become the 2018 World Lead Champion, beating the incredible – and often annoyingly good – Janja Ganbrett by a few seconds.
The men’s lead were just as splattered with incredible names, from Iran’s Gholamali Baratzadeh, who finished in 86th, to Nimrod Marcus of Israel – Climber’s have the best names! Roman Desgranges – Defending World Champion finished in 49th. Canada’s Ninja Warrior, Sean McColl finished in 37th, Jernej Kruder (35), Jongwon Chon (33), Stefano Ghisolfi (22), GBR’s Will Bosi finished a very impressive 13th, tied with Bob’s favourite, Japan’s Tomoa Narasaki.
The top three finishing not at the top of their incredibly difficult route but a few moves short. But Jacob Shubert was clearly the best of the best on the day, beating the ‘Tea Man’ as Bob calls him, Alex Megos and the ‘so called’ Greatest climber Adam Ondra.
The Bouldering was just as compelling, the women’s comp, run through Qualifying with pro climbers of the highest quality, some of which don’t grace the mats of the World Cups, but for a World Championships, they were there.
Jain Kim, Brooke Rabatou, Anne Spohie Koller, Ashima Shiraishi, and so many more competing. Climbers from all over the world competed in two halves dues to the share number of competitors and then a semi-final of just 20 climbers, fought on incredibly hard routes and made them look sometimes easy and sometimes desperate. Then the final six were left and what a group, truly I was in heaven, probably to closest I’d get to my true Fantasy Climbers League, Miho Nanaka, Akiho Naguchi, Janja Ganbrett, Stasha Gejo, Petra Klingler and of course the delightful Jessie Pilz. But if I had to choose it wouldn’t have been Janja that won, but she is i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-e, out climbing all the others to win with ease and great style. I’m just a little biased and have my favourites as you may gather.
Who? You ask. Well Jessie Pilz is delicate and graceful, Anna Liina Littennan is too beautiful and truly a beast of a climber outside. Shauna Coxsey and Hanna Slayney are the Brits I cheer on. Alannah Yip is almost as great in the commentary booth with Charlie Boscoe as she is on the wall. Stasha Gejo is fun and real fighter nad Katja Kadic is the smiler always having fun, pulling faces and just so happy all the time
But for all these incredible women I have make a note of the warrior of the entire event one Fanny Gilbert, she looked like she’s been cage fighting after the qualifiers, she came away with a black eye and a grazed bum/thigh from fighting the wall and seemingly winning. She ended up 9th overall, but boy was it a good fight!
This is what it takes and what makes these climbers so special. They throw themselves at the climbs, not one climber in the finals and most of those in the semi’s, were without KT tape holding their arms, legs and body parts in place, due to pulled ligaments, torn muscles, torn tendons and yet they didn’t give up, they don’t roll around crying like football players on a Saturday afternoon, no they crash to the floor and get up, dust off and get more chalk and try again.
There is something about climbing and climbers, we spend too much of our time injured, a general conversation between two climbers tends very quickly to ‘How’s the shoulder?’ ‘Is your finger any better?’ and so forth. We get hurt, but we don’t stop and this lot did just that last weekend.
Stasha Gejo had holes in her finger tips, where she ripped all the skin off and was tapping her tips in order to try to stay in the final. Miho Nanaka had an ice-pack strapped and taped to her shoulder immediately she finished the last problem, for fear of a ligament rupture and yet two days later they were back out on the mats for the most gruelling and new part of the competition. The Olympic Combined.
More on that in a moment. But first before that I have to mention that other part of the WC’s – Speed climbing – the lesser cousin of the sport! And you’ll tell my least favourite part.
The Speed was won by Aleksandra Rudzinska in the women’s and Reza Alipourshenazandifar won the men’s.
Now I admit I have no clue about these people, I’m actually surprised to see a Mawem brother got third, but I didn’t watch the speeds, I never watch the speed comps, because well let’s face it, that’s not real climbing in anyone’s minds. It’s big holds, climbed by jumping from hold to hold, on an auto-belay belay and run up to touch the top first. There isn’t any style, skill or real ability in the event. It’s like comparing Figure Skating to running the 100m. Sure Usain Bolt runs it fast, but it’s not hard to get from AtoB in a straight line, but try skating on wet ice, of 3mm of steel blade, then jumping, doing a triple toe axel twist and landing on those blade, while in time with the music and tell a story with your movement. That is what climbing is! Get outside and climb Margo Hayes’ La Rambia, you’re not going to get up that in 5.95seconds. Most of the world’s top climbers objected to the format of the Olympic Combined when it was announced, but are now having to try it in order to be eligible for the Olympics in two years time.
So on Sunday, the last day of the Championships, out come the best six men and women of the week. The top climbers in all three events – Speed, Bouldering and Lead and oh look what a surprise Aleksandra Rudzinska and Raza Alipourshena aren’t among them. but they won their events with clear margins, if they were that good a climber then surely they should have been in the top of the combined. But no of course not because they can’t climb 8b+ Boulders or the 45+ move lead routes.
Instead we had, Korea’s Sol Sa, Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret, Japan’s Miho Nonaka and Akiyo Noguchi, Switzerland’s Petra Klingler and my favourite Jessie Pilz of Austria in the ladies and Kokoro Fuji, Tomoa Narasaki and Kai Harada of Japan, Jan Hojer of Germany, Adam Ondra (Czech) and home boy Jacob Shubert (Austria) out in front of the crowd for the combined.
It was a more sedate pace up the big red holds of the Speed wall, more like 11sec for a climb rather than the 5.9sec of the speedsters.
But in the end it was still a fairly predictable end. Janja beat Jessie and an unlucky and very deserving Sol Sa of Korea, to win the first Olympic Combined event. And Jacob made the Austrians happy by becoming the first male winner.
The format of the combined event was more gruelling on the climbers than it will be in the Olympics, they won’t have been climbing for 6 days before the event in Tokyo. They will just compete on one day and we will see if anyone can beat Janja then.
Well after all that you’d think that they would want a good long rest, time to heal skin, repair torn shoulder muscles and heal smashed knees, but no, this lot are a tougher breed and four days later most of them were off to Stuttgart to compete in the Adidas Rockstars competition.
Rockstars is a different kind of event, it’s a lot more relaxed, faster, the compare – Liam Lonsdale- tends to be on or near the mat during the finals, teasing and encouraging the ‘Rock Stars’. This year he is joined by American superpro Sasha DeGuillan in the commentary box and they are watching the great and the good boulder some mean problems.
The wall is noticeably shorter in Stuttgart then it was in Innsbruck event, the music piped out of speakers during the rounds is most definitely louder and more intense and is meant to make for a more party atmosphere and the final has a famous final problem and a knockout theme to it. The final top two race up two identical routes in the centre of the wall and the first to the top and hits the button wins. Confetti flies and they win €4,000.
So here they are out for the Super Final.
Well that was different, Jan Hojer and Jongwong Chon Stood on the mat, backs to the wall, the countdown got to down to zero and…
They started dancing.
Yep Dancing, on the crash mats, in front of 3,000 people, the two top climbers, danced to the music, butt bumped, then ran to the wall and started climbing. The route was over in 30 seconds. Jan Hojer dyno’d across the holes and up to the top to beat Jongwong to the button. but you wouldn’t believe the Korean had lost, he was screaming, laughing and thoroughly enjoying himself when he got to the top with his friend to celebrate his win.
But in events like Rockstars and La Sportiva’s Legends, even the CWIF in Sheffield and other smaller competitions that happen throughout the year in numerous countries, even the World Championships and World Cup event, all seem to be more about climbers doing what they love, climbing.
Having competed in a fair amount of comps myself a few years back I can attend to the fun and excitement they give to the competitors as well as the viewer and they are not fighting the others, trying to beat them and work out how to win, if they were would this happen.
This is the inspection before the finals of the bouldering. The competitors have a few minutes to inspect the routes, but not to climb them. Before going back into isolation and preparing to come back out and climb the route, with only 4 minutes to actually climb the route for the first time.
So you’d think it would be a solitary affair, each climber taking their turn, ignoring their main competition and going about their business alone.
But no, here they are all huddled together, working out the route together! So that they know the route, so that they don’t have an unfair advantage over the others.
This is what makes climbing so special and makes me proud to say ‘I’m a Climber’. This camaraderie, this knowing that person holding the other end of the rope has your back and literally your life in their hands at times! And that sense of friendship and community, even at the biggest event of the year, during the finals, every other climber that didn’t make it to the finals were in the audience screaming on their friends and rivals, being their to support them and the sport that is their entire lives.
This is what climbing means to them and us, we are climbers and why we named our blog Climbing Moss.
Are you a climber? Do you watch the IFSC competitions? Tell us what you think. Also check out our Pinterest Board ‘Ascension in the ranks’ (Bob’s joke).
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*Photos courtesy of Eddie Fowke at circuit climbing