Innsbruck has a reputation for hosting amazing climbing events and for the 2014 IFSC Bouldering World Cup it surely lived up to that reputation. With its location central to the outdoor town of Innsbruck and a buzzing crowd for semis and finals it was never going to disappoint.
Continuing my theme of ranking World Cups it slots in close behind Switzerland as the second best event of the year so far, let down only by its own size and the implementation of a rule which is proving difficult to police and confusing for the crowds.
Held over a Friday and Saturday the competition started slowly with the two groups in male qualifications facing problems that were vastly different in terms of difficultly which impacted the spectacle and left many competitors in group A feeling let down and frustrated.
The Problems for group A were extremely difficult with Dmitrii saying they were the toughest he had encountered at that stage of a competition. The vast majority of the group were unable to progress past the start holds of 3 of the problems which means a deeply unsatisfying round for spectators and a frustrating round for the climbers who had travelled from all over the World to the event.
On the group B problems the setting seemed far more aligned to the level of the climbers with only one of the jump moves proving tricky and the round decided on attempts. For the climbers this at least means they are getting some actual climbing in even if they fail to progress.
I think with the growth of the sport leading to consistently bigger fields we are moving to the situation where there should be identical walls where the same problems can be set for both qualifying groups. This alignment will reduce pressure on the routesetters (setting 10 less problems per event) and create a level playing field for the athletes.
In the women’s qualification round the setting was far more consistent which led to a far more enjoyable round to watch. It was interesting in the men’s and women’s fields to see several consistently well ranked climbers qualifying for the next round lower or failing to qualify at all. Has the intense start to the season with 4 events back to back worn down some of the athletes that have been travelling with the circuit all season?
Which brings me to an aside. All year people have been baying for the qualifications to be shown. If there is a deal with Red Bull TV signed which gives them the rights to screen the finals surely the opportunity could have been taken to divert some of the 24/7 resources to screen the qualifications, even if it’s just a qualifications highlights package. With the big fields and tight results people are wanting to see the events unfold and the lack of qualifications coverage is constantly raised. Hopefully with increased media interest the IFSC can negotiate a more complete package for 2015.
Semi finals were greeted by a large crowd and they weren’t disappointed. Well set problems had the crowd watching the scores and counting attempts, who was through, who would miss? In the mens we had a false indicator of the difficulty at the beginning of the round with Adam Ondra and Michael Piccolruaz making quick work of the problems and booking tickets to the finals. After that though things got tough with Jan Hojer being knocked out of the comp along side such giants as Jernej Kruder and Sean McColl. As the round wound down it was clear to see that it would be a mixed up final with veterans Guillaume Glairon-Mondet and Rustam Gelmanov also slotting in alongside perennial favorites Dmitrii Sharafutdinov and Kilian Fischhuber.
In the womens field the upsets continued. Of the big 5 both Juliane Wurm and Alex Puccio had competitions to forget and missed the finals for the first time this season. Shauna Coxsey of the UK almost joined them after failing to solve the first, slabby boulder of the round. Coming into the final problem it was top or spectate… Thankfully for Shauna she nailed the problem and joined Anna Stöhr, Akiyo Noguchi, Melissa Le Neve and final newcomers Marine Thevenet who has looked strong all season and Japanese teen Miho Nonaka who has made the top 10 in both Bouldering World Cups she has entered, surely another to watch for the future!
Saturday evening brought the finals and with it a fantastic show. The packed in crowd showed that interest is at fever pitch for competition climbing in Innsbruck and creates an atmosphere unmatched on the IFSC Boulder World Cup calendar. As popular as the event is at its current venue I hope the organizers are considering other options as currently the crowd is so rammed that it’s almost impossible to move. I know of one climber watching from the athletes pen at the back of the crowd, hard against the VIP stands, who left to use the loo and couldn’t get back through the crowd to the see the show at all. A sure sign Innsbruck is ready for a bigger venue!
In the finals Shauna was the only climber to unlock the desperate opening crux on the womens first problem. This was followed by sends on the second and third problem but failure on the last. If Anna could unlock the last problem it would be an Austrian victory in Austria and she came so, so close!
But in the end Shauna’s effort on problem one proved the difference and for the second consecutive week she would stand on the top of a World Cup podium. Following Shauna and Anna onto the podium was the ever consistent Akiyo Noguchi who has just crept ahead of Germany’s Juliane Wurm in the overall as well, the podium mirroring the rankings currently.
In the mens Adam Ondra looked unstoppable over the first 2 problems, especially his seemingly effortly ascent of mens problem 2 which the climbers out before had made look epically hard. Rustam’s efforts on mens 2 prompted calls for an instant gold medal as he fought long and hard after his 4 minutes was up, never giving up and finally tasting success. The Rustam of old was back!
Come the 3rd problem and it all started to unravel for Adam on the slab. Where other crucially flashed Adam slipped, then again, then again. Crucial attempts in such a close final.
Austrian Veteran Kilian Fischhuber was climbing flawlessly and all the pressure came on Adam to flash the final problem to ensure victory. Then, at the interjection of a judge, Adam was down and his hopes of a dream comeback were slipping away. Adam had failed to establish all four points of contact as required in the rules at the start and had blown his chances, Kilian reigned supreme in Innsbruck!
Looking back Innsbruck put on a stellar competition as always (and an equally fantastic after party).
Moving forward though the IFSC needs to revisit the start rule as it’s clearly impacting the results and more importantly to many the spectacle for the viewers. There are plenty of options being mooted and I hope the IFSC takes the time to look into the options and find a way of improving the show and reducing frustrations for the athletes.
This weekend is Hamilton in Canada, lets see what the 2014 IFSC Bouldering World Cup circuit brings us next! (Sorry for the late report, I went climbing in the time off between comps as I’d been on the road and not climbing for a month solid!)