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Despite intermittent rain and some audio technical difficulties, the first Lead World Cup of the 2021 season successfully concluded on Friday in Innsbruck, Austria—and featured big falls, early exits, and surprising performances up to the very end.
In the women’s division, much of the competition’s figurative spotlight was on American Brooke Raboutou, particularly after she finished the qualification round firmly in third place. Raboutou stayed consistent in the semifinal round as well—again earning third place—and had an incredible climb in the finals too—she ascended to the headwall and fell while trying to stabilize her position amid a shouldery right-hand reach to a sloper volume (34:53 in the livestream).
One of the event’s commentators—Matt Groom—labeled Raboutou’s climb in the finals a “masterclass,” and another commentator—Alex Khazanov—called it an “amazing performance.” It certainly was, and it would have earned Raboutou a gold medal, except Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret stuck that same shouldery right-hand reach more securely moments later. Garnbret then surpassed Raboutou’s high point and topped the women’s route to win the gold as the clock ticked down (47:42 in the livestream). Raboutou ultimately earned silver. Rounding out the podium and earning the bronze was Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi.
In the men’s division, Italy’s Stefano Ghisolfi made a strong statement to kick off the finals, setting a high point score of 47 that would stand for nearly the rest of the round. Several other competitors—Germany’s Alex Megos among them—failed to ascend very far beyond the route’s compression midsection. And others, such as Spain’s Alberto Gines Lopez, fell surprisingly low on the route. (I have more to say about the event’s myriad slippages, below.)
Austria’s hometown favorite, Jakob Schubert, nearly fell as well when his heel-hook wiggled slightly on a jib (1:43:52 in the livestream). This caused Matt Groom to exclaim, “Almost lost it—just managed to catch it!” Schubert recovered to advance higher on the wall and soon lunged for the top Bluepill volume. He wasn’t able to snag it, but the effort was enough to earn Schubert a partial point more than Ghisolfi—and with that, narrowly, a gold medal. Ghisolfi took silver, and Switzerland’s Sascha Lehmann earned the bronze.
There’s a lot of other action to discuss, so here are the highs and lows (with full results viewable here).
More to say about Raboutou: Earning that silver medal was impressive, but panning out more, one realizes that Raboutou is having the season of a lifetime. This event in Innsbruck also marked her first time ever making a Lead World Cup final. And, let’s remember she also made the podium at both Salt Lake City Bouldering World Cups too. And, of course, she’s a qualified Olympian. In the past year or so, Raboutou has become a veritable sports celebrity, but most importantly, she’s backing up such elevated status with consistently magnificent performances.
Parkour meets lead climbing: The influence of parkour-style movement on modern competition bouldering has been discussed at length, but less so in regards to modern lead climbing. While the women’s finals at Innsbruck was not the first instance of such acrobatic and coordination-style being applied to a lead route, it was probably the most overt: The top of the route was intended to be a triple dyno. Janja Garnbret ended up breaking the beta and doing the moves more statically (47:06 in the livestream for the whole sequence); but as routesetting on lead walls continues to progress into a style that is as heavily influenced by parkour as the boulders, consider this Innstruck route an important flashpoint in the evolution.
Welcome to the big-time: I was impressed with Bulgaria’s 16-year-old rookie Alessandra Totkova. She placed eighth in the women’s qualification round, and then 18th in the semifinals. Even though she didn’t end up advancing to the finals, it was exciting to see a representative from Bulgaria do so well, and it will be fun to follow her season. Frankly, she deserves a mention.
Less bolt infractions: This event featured smooth, plastic covers for the bolts on the wall. Matt Groom pointed these out on commentary at 1:06:56 in the semifinals livestream. The thinking is that these covers will eliminate the possibility of competitors accidentally stepping on the bolts in the future—which has led to unfortunate technical disqualifications in the past. Let’s hope so.
Ondra’s slippery finals: Ondra was in the unfortunate position of having stellar first-place performances in the qualification and semifinal rounds offset by a fairly disastrous finals. His right toe slipped out of a slopey pocket fairly low on the finals route. Impressively, he was able to hang onto the wall and recover (1:55:47 in the livestream). However, shortly thereafter he slipped again—a heel this time—and was unable to keep from falling. Such a low exit in the finals from Ondra was the surprising moment of the whole event, and caused Alex Khazanov on commentary to exclaim, “I’m speechless.” Since it had started to rain hard shortly before Ondra’s attempt, it’s entirely possible that wetness or humidity were culprits for the slips. Regardless, it was a shock to witness everything suddenly go so wrong for Ondra, and one can’t help but feel sorry for him.
Much egress: There were a number of other low falls throughout the finals too—many of which cannot be blamed on rain. For example, in the women’s division, Japan’s Miho Nonaka fell on a deadpoint attempt to the 23rd hold, despite looking fresh and untroubled up to that point. Slovenia’s Lucka Rakovec fell on an even lower section of the wall—while dynoing for the 14th hold.
Scary upside down: There was a frightening moment in the women’s final when Russia’s qualified Olympian, Viktoriia Meshkova, misread a big single-hand reach as a double dyno and took a big fall—getting inverted in the process and slamming against the wall (19:01 in the livestream). Luckily, Meshkova was unscathed, and in fact, she had a solid competition on the whole—placing fourth, her best finish in a World Cup. But what people will remember, at least in the short-term, is that scary fall…and that’s unfortunate.
A little too close: Did you notice the instance in the men’s semifinals when Adam Ondra, getting ready to start the climb, seemed annoyed about the proximity of the cameraperson (1:54:44 in the semifinals livestream)? It was awkward, but nothing compared to the camera actually bumping Janja Garnbret as she was walking to the wall to begin her attempt (2:20:40 in the semifinals livestream). Sure, it’s important to get close to the athletes to help tell a story, but there’s a fine line…beyond which coverage becomes intrusive. In the words of photographer Eddie Fowke via Instagram, “[Garnbret] is an athlete looking to do her job. Entirely focused. Media should not interrupt that focus.”
Raboutou’s good friend and American compatriot, Natalia Grossman, had a fantastic start to the competition by topping one of the qualification routes. She struggled to find a secure right-foot toe-hook midway up the semifinals route…her left foot popped off in the process and she fell. But her resulting 25th place position overall was still solid, especially considering she is thought of primarily as a bouldering specialist. Kyra Condie also had a strong showing, finishing in 21st—barely missing out on advancement to the semifinals. Other members of Team USA placed as follows: In the women’s division, Maya Madere placed 27th and Julia Duffy placed 41st. In the men’s division, Colin Duffy placed 21st, Ross Fulkerson placed 27th, Timothy Kang placed 39th, Ellis Ernsberger placed 40th, and Nathaniel Coleman placed 45th.
Check back frequently for more World Cup recaps and analysis as the 2021 season continues.