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Innsbruck 2014 IFSC Bouldering World Cup review

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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!)

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Grindelwald 2014 IFSC Bouldering World Cup review

Without a shadow of a doubt Grindelwald hosted the best IFSC World Cup of the year so far.

China put on a great event but the great firewall of China really hindered the viewing pleasure of the broader audience and saw it slip into second this year. So what did Grindelwald have that made it so much better? For me, it had 3 things.

Grindelwald had a great field with every (currently uninjured) big name in bouldering present including those who sat out the first 2 flyaway rounds. We welcomed back Tito and Melissa Le Neve from France, Sean McColl from Canada and a whole swag of Europeans making their 2014 debut including super strong Italian, German and of course Swiss teams.

Grindelwald had amazing setting. With great angles and a plethora of holds and volumes the setting team created a diverse range of problems including dynos, the now seemingly standard on wall run and jumps and compression masterpieces. Although some did question the jumpy nature of the problems they did a great job of separating the field with every round having 3 star problems that really allowed the climbers to put on a show.

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Lastly Grindelwald had drama! For an athlete to have such a stellar run through semi-finals as Jernej Kruder did, only to miss isolation and not be able to compete in the finals was huge. Jernej looked devastated and understandably so. Fighting his way through the pain of a shoulder injury he was lucky even to be competing in Grindelwald, to see him sat disconsolate at the back of the stadium before finals was heart wrenching.

So what did Grindelwald give us as a competition? From the qualifications onwards it was a gripping event. Straight away there were upsets with a fit and psyched Sean McColl left outside the 20 and looking in. Indeed it was said, and rightly so, that you could have made a worthy finals field of the athletes failed to make Semi’s. On the women’s side it was much the same with several strong competitors like Britain’s Mina Leslie Wujastyk and France’s Fanny Gibert watching helplessly as some great performances lower down the starting list saw them slide from contention. Unfortunately women’s qualification also saw an injury to strong young Italian Annalisa DeMarco which could sideline her till Munich.

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In the semifinals we saw some athletes who had put on amazing shows in qualification fade from contention. Struggling after looking superb in qualifications Swiss star Petra Klingler dropped down the order leaving local hopes pinned on young Rebekka Stotz who squeezed into the finals field alongside the big 5 of Anna, Akiyo, Alex, Jule and top qualifier for the finals Shauna Coxsey of Britain.

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In the men’s Dmitrii reasserted himself after a relatively poor qualifying by his standards. His co-leader in the overall Jan Hojer who had looked great in qualifications just snuck in as time ran out with success on the last problem moving him to 5th and pushing resurgent veteran Gabriele Moroni out of the finals into 7th. It was also a strong round for the Japanese with Rei Sugimoto and Tsukuru Hori joining Austrian legend Kilian Fischhuber in making the cut. This left only Jernej Kruder who had looked strong in qualification but made the semifinals his own. And so the two fields of 6 were set.

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As previously mentioned drama in Grindelwald was spelt with a J. On arrival to the hall to check the problems I was shocked to see a disconsolate Jernej walk in and sit at the back of the hall. What had happened? Had his shoulder finally given up on him? After a chat with the Slovenian manager it became apparent the Jernej had missed the closing time for Isolation by 6 minutes. This meant Jernej would not be able to take any part in the final round. This put a dampener on the finals as word spread around the crowd that unbelievably the star of semifinals was out. Of course in climbing competition everyone knows you must make Isolation, what was done was done.

About the finals? Well to begin with all I can say is WOW! The problems were visually spectacular putting the climbers into scary positions well off the deck. Seeing judges quietly slip into positions they can spot a falling climber if required brings home how on edge these problems were. Of course the climbers were over big, high quality mats but committing moves equals big falls as Germany’s Juliane Wurm showed slipping from the finish hold of the women’s last problem.

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For me there were two stars of the final round and one of them didn’t even make the podium!

Rei Sugimoto set the crowd alight with his entertaining climbing being the only climber to top men’s problem one then putting on an incredible show working out how to top men’s 3. Indeed, it was probably one of the slowest single problems to complete in World Cup History with 3 of the 5 climbers going significantly over 4 minutes. All this however only brought Rei to 4th place, one ahead of his countryman Tsukuru.

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The men’s podium reflected the overall standings with Kilian climbing to 3rd overall after his second consecutive final, behind Dmitrii whole is on nearly twice as many points and also slightly further behind Jan who after squeaking into finals has edged slightly ahead of his main competition with 3 tops in 7 attempts.

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The biggest standout of the weekend was young British climber Shauna Coxsey won her first IFSC World Cup. After being cruelly denied by a dab last week in Baku there was all the pressure coming onto Shauna as she came out to do the last problem. Throughout the final she had once again been up against the legendary Anna Stöhr and she had to top in 5 attempts to win! Everybody waited with baited breath, Shauna is very popular on the circuit and everyone has known a win was coming for a long time, would today finally be the day? Even her two biggest competitors Anna and Jule sat on the mats and cheered her on, showing the close bonds that tie so many in this sport.

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As I’m sure you’ve heard by now Shauna did take the victory sealing it on her 3rd attempt and finally getting to stand on the top step of the podium. It was a fantastic final where the boulders were hard, they split the field and only Anna who has been dominant for so long was able join Shauna in topping every problem.

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Grindelwald stood as a fantastic IFSC Bouldering World Cup. Full credit needs to be given to the organizers who managed such a big field with very few hiccups and to the routesetters who gave us the World Cup we’ve been waiting to see.

This weekend, Innsbruck. Tune in to see how the climbers manage such a short turn around and if the famous Austrian energy can match last weekends Swiss precision.

 

Baku 2014, The Circuit review.

 

For My Baku review I am going to look at the event first and then discuss the athlete’s performances second.

Yesterday I read that Baku was hoping to hold a Formula 1 Grand Prix in 2016. This both surprised me and amused me in turn. Anyone that knows Formula 1 knows of Bernie Ecclestone the legendary boss of the sport.

The simple truth is Bernie would not tolerate a fraction of what the IFSC tolerated in Baku this previous weekend. Here is a man that grew Formula 1 from niche sport to where it is today by expecting a high level of professionalism wiIth every event organizer contracted, one not afraid to walk away if the event didn’t meet the standard expected as a top echelon professional sport. The onus is on the IFSC to exact the same high standards of organizers of World Cup climbing events to ensure the growth and development of competition climbing.

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I didn’t say this at all to readers, Facebook followers etc. while I was in Baku (because http://www.cnbc.com/id/46471155/page/3) but it needs to be said. The event organizers in Baku failed to provide the basics at an acceptable level. There was intermittent bursts of enthusiasm but no consistency of effort and very little cohesive direction from above and the result was an IFSC World Cup that didn’t present the sport to the wider viewing audience in a favorable light.

The majority of the athletes, coaches and family members that travel to World Cup events have only partial funding or none at all, when they invest in traveling to a World Cup they expect to be representing their countries at a professional run event. The climbers train for years to get to a standard where they are good enough to compete in front of a global audience and the expectation is the events will have an equivalent level of professionalism. They want the best routes on the best walls in front of the best crowds and with clean, professional coverage. Sure mess ups can happen like the rainstorm interfering with qualification at Innsbruck last year but that needs to be the exception, not the rule!

Baku gave us an amazing venue but then things went south fast. When the setters arrived to start setting the problems the only holds they were given would be suitable for a kids wall, thus began an urgent race to bring holds in from Europe in time. The mats weren’t finished for them and within days the large roof designed to protect the athletes from the blazing desert sun had buckled under the relentless wind (Baku means Windy City in Azeri) and had to be removed on safety grounds, exposing the athletes to the elements.

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The Speed wall was also beset by difficulties and at one stage I watched open mouthed as a local soloed up the outside of the scaffolding to hang one of the topropes. Completely unprotected 15 meters up… What a look it would have been for the sport if he had fallen…

In short the IFSC needs to give the organizers a Bernie Ecclestone level shellacking and let them know that to have a World Cup again they have to seriously improve at their end and put in safeguards to ensure it happens.

So, how was the actual climbing at the event? What did we learn and how has the season evolved from a week earlier in Chongqing?

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Starting with the Women’s field the first thing we saw in qualifying is that France’s World Champion Melanie Sandoz is continuing to struggle, narrowly missing the semifinals cut. Is it that the French are arriving to late on the fly away rounds? Other performances in the team would indicate this isn’t the case so maybe Mel just struggles with travel?

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On the flip side one thing these fly away rounds have given us is the opportunity to see some of the up and coming athletes who are rapidly establishing themselves in the sport. From France both Marine Thevenet and Fanny Gibert have climbed extremely well with Marine making finals in her first attempt and finishing one place out in 7th at Baku. The established pros Melanie and Melissa Le Neve will have their work cut out staying ahead of this pair.

Also making a superb showing in the ladies have been the two I call the little Americans, Grace Mckeehan and Claire Bresnan. Both had competed at the highest level domestically and it’s fantastic to see them getting international exposure at such a formative period of their careers!

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The Women’s field is different from the men’s though as now, barring a huge upset, we have 5 ladies I’d expect to see in every final. The quintet of Anna Stöhr, Alex Puccio, Shauna Coxsey, Akiyo Noguhi and Jule Wurm have all come into the season looking fitter than ever and ready to win! Last year Anna dominated in finals but this year it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw 4 or even all 5 atop a podium at some point. It was devastating for Shauna to lose on a dab this weekend as she looked totally at ease on every boulder. In saying that so did Anna and the setters will have a tough job ahead ensuring the problems are really hard enough without resorting to party trick problems like the run and jump last week.

The men’s field has also thrown up its share of surprises with two of the legends of the sport Rustam Gelmanov and Kilian Fischhuber not making the first final in China. They quickly showed their professionalism and put themselves back in the leading pack for Baku though which is great to see. Keep an eye on Kilian this year, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the World Champs in Munich is his last event as a full time competitor on the circuit so savour those few comps we have left seeing the master at work!

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Dmitrii Sharafutdinov and Jan Hojer are looking like the absolute form pair this year with Dmitrii scything the problems in Baku and Jan fighting his way to victory a week earlier. It’s great to see as with very different body types they show how diverse body types can be matched at the highest level.

Of course there’s no room for complacency with Climbers like James Kassay and Jorg Verhoeven always threatening and the likes of Sean McColl and Adam Ondra coming out to play over the next few weeks! On top of that we have some superb young climbers in Alban Levier of France and Vadim Timonov of Russia working their way into serious contention!

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Tune in to the IFSC stream this weekend to see all the action from Grindelwald in whats looking to be the biggest IFSC Bouldering World Cup turnout ever!!!

The Art & Science of Bouldering reviewed

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The new tome on climbing by German legend Udo Neumann raises some interesting questions on training for climbing. Not so much in its content but in its delivery.

You see there are a large number of climbers out there looking for a proscriptive training book that steps them through the process of improvement in micro managed steps. In a way they are looking for somebody else to do the thinking for them, to structure their progression as a climber and possibly even to pass on the blame to if their training fails to raise them to the lofty heights of achievement they envisage.

Udo isn’t looking to give you this in a book. Instead through his new book The Art & Science Of Bouldering he is inviting you to understand the processes involved in a climbers personal evolution as an athlete. For surely having a comprehensive understanding of the principals of climbing advancement will be equip any climber to make educated choices about their own progression.

Please note this is not knocking the other style of training books, the simple truth is people learn in different fashions so as they progress in climbing and for a lot of climbers this free thinking, free flowing style of book will be a godsend!

From the first pages of this mammoth ebook Udo’s unique presentation style and personality shine through. Visually very strong the content drags you from page to page stimulating your mind though a choice selection of photos taken over the many years of Udo’s career. The photography is excellent and visually dynamic with great frame by frame breakdowns of movement and positioning taken from video stills mixed with standalone shots that reinforce the story. Indeed seeing many of today’s top climbers in their younger years gives an interesting insight into the physiological changes they have gone through on their journey to where they are today.

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For some Udo’s presentation style may come across as too “loud” with lots happening on many of the pages. The trick for me is not to try and read each page like you would a traditional book but instead to let your eyes flow over the content and allow the context to dictate the flow. Indeed in some ways, and definitely supported by its interactive format, this book is more like a super PowerPoint presentation than a traditional text. And Udo himself in the introduction advises that the book is not only designed to be read from cover to cover but can be picked up at any point to focus on specifics.

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Going back to the interactive aspects of the book, on the attached photos you can see clearly the highlighted text sections. All of these will either skip you ahead to a section directly dealing with the highlighted subject or will take you to another resource be it website or video where you can see what is discussed covered in more detail.

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Udo’s approach to The Art & Science is uniquely his own and it works fantastically in the digital medium. While some may shy from the €26 price tag it is worth noting that the content included in this ebook is the culmination of thousands of hours of work by Udo over more than 20 years as a top climbing coach and philosopher. As any of you who have read his interview in The Circuit will understand Udo pours his heart and soul into climbing and in particular bouldering. The quality of this publication reflects that dedication.

The Art & Science Of Bouldering may not make you a better climber, only you can do that, but it is an invaluable tool in your arsenal as the knowledge it imparts could and would take years and years to puzzle out if you were to go it alone.

The Art & Science Of Bouldering is available to purchase now at http://artofbouldering.com/ and remember if you want to learn more about Udo and his philosophies and to hear from some of his top athletes on the IFSC World Cup circuit there is a feature length interview with him in issue 1 of The Circuit, available now at  http://www.thecircuitclimbing.com/Buy

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