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History is Made in Vail: A Dark Horse and a Season Sweep

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The Vail World Cup was truly one for the books. Janja Garnbret made history with the first ever season sweep and Yoshiyuki Ogata flipped the script on the favorites in an unforgettable finish.

A total of eight Americans made it past qualifiers into semis. Natalia Grossman and Nathaniel Coleman were the highest-finishing Americans. Grossman placed seventh, just one spot out of finals, after recording two tops and four zones in semis. She would have needed to achieve her tops in two fewer tries to make it through. Coleman was two spots out of finals, with four too many attempts to tops. Margo Hayes placed 11th, Alex Johnson 13th and Kyra Condie 14th. Sam McQeen placed 14th, Sean Bailey 18th and Matt Fultz 20th.

Natalia Grossman stuggles to unwind. Photo Eddie Fowke/IFSC

“I don’t have too much World Cup experience but this comp had my favorite setting by far!” said Grossman in an interview with Rock and Ice and Gym Climber. “I loved how there were some hard slabs in both rounds I competed in and [that all] the climbs were possible and allowed for good progression throughout attempts.”

Akyio Noguchi, who placed second, (JPN) agreed. “Of the 2019 World Cups, Vail was the best,” she said. “The setting was consistent and everything was possible.” She added that the crowd was fantastic as well.

Sean McColl relishes his 150th World Cup appearance. Photo Eddie Fowke/IFSC

Following semis, Jongwon Chon (KOR) qualified for finals in first place. Behind him were Tomoa Narasaki and Adam Ondra (CZE) in fourth and fifth place, respectively. Both Narasaki and Ondra were vying for the Overall 2019 World Cup Bouldering Champion award, which is based on results from the entirety of the season. Taking the last spot into finals was Sean McColl, who was celebrating his 150th World Cup appearance.

The greenest of the male finalists, Ogata took many more attempts to finish the first boulder in finals than the other competitors. Still, he kept his head in the game and topped the second boulder, his confidence growing visibly. He became one of two competitors to top the third boulder, putting him in second behind Narasaki. The fourth boulder proved to be the real test. The three athletes that climbed before Ogata—McColl, Ondra and Narasaki—were unable to top. On Ogata’s first attempt, he reached higher on the penultimate hold than the other competitors and was able to advance past their high point. Upon reaching the finishing jug, he celebrated with teary eyes and a fist in the air. The other competitors all ran to give him hugs once he reached the ground. Ogata was the only competitor to top all four boulders.

Yoshiyuki Ogata celebrates after winning his first World Cup. Photo Jonathan Vickers

Narasaki took second for the competition and first in the Overall. Ondra finished the Overall in second, Ogata in third.

Female finalists ranged in age 15 all the way up to 30. Noguchi, the oldest and most experienced competitor, qualified in third behind Fanny Gibert (FRA) and Janja Garnbret (SLO). Garnbret had already secured the Overall 2019 title after winning five gold medals in the past five World Cups. It was up to Noguchi and Gibert to take second or third in the Overall. Luce Douady, at 15 the youngest competitor to take the stage, claimed the fifth spot into finals.

The first women’s boulder was topped by all finalists. Gibert and Noguchi both flashed in their fight to secure second place in the Overall. The second and third boulders proved more challenging. Garnbret struggled on both, but managed to find the top. Gibert failed to top the second but topped the third, while Noguchi topped only the second. The fourth boulder finally separated the competitors—Garnbret flashed and Noguchi was the only other athlete to top. The podium finish was ultimately the same as the Overall placements: Garnbret in first, Noguchi in second and Fanny in third.

Garnbret is the first woman to ever have a clean season sweep— six gold medals from all six World Cups. Going back to the 2018 season, she has now won eight straight World Cups.

Janja Garnbret is overcome by emotion after topping the fourth boulder. Photo Eddie Fowke/IFSC

“Feels like I’m going to wake up any moment from a dream and realize it’s not real…but it is,” stated Garnbret on Insta. “If at the beginning of the season you would say that I could win every single Boulder World Cup I would just laugh and say that’s impossible but here I was standing in front of the last final boulder with possibility to win every World Cup. I knew exactly what I had to do. *Deep breath. You got this*. Without thinking I went into the boulder. I stuck the dyno and found myself on the top.”

Following finals, the Japenese team could be found doing their shopping at Safeway. Ogata picked Golden flavored Oreos to add to a stack of salty treats.

“I don’t diet,” said Ogata to Gym Climber and Rock and Ice. “I just enjoy. I like mint chocolate chip ice cream.”

His Japanese teammates, including Tomoa Narasaki and Akiyo Noguchi, tossed more snacks into the cart and headed to checkout.

The next World Cup is in just three weeks in Villars, Switzerland and will kick off the lead climbing season. As competitors get ready for the Combined Olympic format, many familiar faces from bouldering will be in the mix in the new season.

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