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Gashed legs, acrobatic all-points-off leaps and the youngest U.S. athlete ever to make it to semis made the Ice Climbing World Cup in Denver, February 23-24, an eye-opening introduction to mixed ice competition for an estimated 22,000 spectators. A total of 38 men and 26 women from 14 countries competed in lead and speed.
The only World Cup held in the United States this year, the final stop on the UIAA tour was organized by the American Alpine Club. The event centerpiece was a spidery looking free- standing structure from Eldorado Climbing Walls of Louisville, Colorado. Hold-studded overhanging walls led to crate-sized wooden cubes that hung in midair like rearview mirror dice. Athletes had to contort, fight, reach and dance upward and horizontally as the tightly packed crowd oohed and ahhed in amazement, wondering, no doubt, what a sport where you ice climb with no ice was all about.
Finals were graded M15 for men and M13 for women (the world’s current most difficult mixed route is around M16). Women had eight-and-a- half minutes and men eight minutes to do battle with the routes. When one female finalist fell at just the third hold, it was obvious that the route was mean. Some climbers shook out on single holds for minutes at a time trying to beat back the kind of pump that threatens to split forearms like overdone brats, before trying to swing and hook the next hold with the precision of a cataract surgeon.
WoonSeon Shin (KOR) timed out on the second-to-last clip, looked back at the roaring crowd and decided to go for the top anyway. She squared up, eyeballed the far-off finish hold, and jumped. She stuck the dyno; the crowd went wild. Maria Tolokonina (RUS), first overall in the standings, went last. She climbed like lightning, reaching the dyno far ahead of WoonSeon’s pace. Tolokonina jumped and stuck the hold but skipped off into space as the rope pulled taut with a boing.
WoonSeon and Tolokonina tied for first (since WoonSeon topped out after her time finished), but Tolokonina packed up the gold because of her better performance in semis. Tolokonina now has 65 World Cup medals to her name. Eimir McSwiggan of Ireland took bronze.
In the men’s lead finals, Yannick Glatthard of Switzerland—who won the lead competition in Saas-Fee a month earlier—was the second athlete to compete, but topped the route! With two dynos and some serious acrobatics, Glatthard muscled to the top, stood on the hanging octagon, pulled out four armlengths of slack in his rope, and took the mother of all victory whips, much to the pleasure of downtown Denver.
Nikolai Kuzovlev (RUS), who had won four of the season’s five World Cups and already clinched the overall title, was the second and only other YX chromosome to top the route. Glatthard and Kuzovlev placed first and second, respectively, and Valentyn Sypavin (UKR) took third.
For the speed competition—held on real ice—workers had labored for four days to create the ice wall. They watered a horizontal panel on the ground, and the day before the World Cup, erected it using heavy machinery. The resultant wonder was a vertical 40-foot wall six inches thick with an internal refrigeration system.
Climbers quickly chkchkchk’ed their way up the wall, blazing up the ice on specialized tools that are closer to meathooks than ice tools.
For the women, Tolokonina took home yet another gold, followed by Coralie Jary (FRA) in second, and Marion Thomas (FRA) in third.
The men’s comp had theatrics of a different sort. Unlike speed climbing on rock, speed ice climbing carries a few particular dangers: namely the axe in each hand as an athlete flies up the wall. Two climbers—Marcus Garcia of the United States, and David Bouffard of Canada—paid a price. Garcia punctured his thigh in semifinals.
Still, he went on to compete in finals, where he stabbed himself again, this time in the arm. Bouffard put a hole in his thigh—about an inch above his knee pad—so deep that he had to go to the hospital. “I actually have nine other holes in my legs from last year’s competitions,” he said, “so the doctor looked funny at me. But it’s not too bad, I’m used to it.” Bouffard went on to take second place, behind Kuzovlev in first. Dmitriy Grebennikov, also of Russia, came in third for men’s speed.
The Americans overall left a solid mark on the comp, with Kevin Lindlau placing 12th in lead, behind Nathan Kutcher (CAN) in 11th; Catalina Shirley, Mikayla Tougas, Kendra Stritch and Amity Warme all making semis in lead to finish 12th, 15th, 15th and 18th; Garcia and Thomas Gehrlein both advancing past semifinals in speed to the finals, reaching the first (quarterfinal) of the three head-to- head rounds there to finish sixth and seventh; and Angela Limbach
and Angela Tomczik reaching the quarterfinal stage in women’s speed finals for seventh and eighth.
With rock climbing finally breaking through into the Olympics, an obvious question is: Is ice climbing far behind? The siblings Carter Stritch and Kendra Stritch are founders of the U.S.A. Ice Climbing Team and have hopes of inclusion in future Winter Games. Well- organized and attended events such as this one help strengthen the case. “We’re getting a little more uniform,” says Carter, “so that’s good.”
1. Yannick Glatthard (SUI)
2. Nikolai Kuzovlev (RUS)
3. Valentyn Sypavin (UKR)
1. Nikolai Kuzovlev (RUS)
2. David Bouffard (CAN)
3. Dmitriy Grebennikov (RUS)
1. Maria Tolokonina (RUS)
2. WoonSeon Shin (KOR)
3. Eimir McSwiggan (IRL)
1. Maria Tolokonina (RUS)
2. Coralie Jary (FRA)
3. Marion Thomas (FRA)