2017 Meiringen World Cup review
To discuss the IFSC Climbing World Cup in Meiringen first we have to not so much discuss as climb over the elephant in the room.
On Wednesday, two days before the event we all saw a press release signaling the signing of a deal between the IFSC and Flosports, a US company that would provide the livestreams we had got used to receiving for free for $20 a month.
As expected the climbing community went into uproar, refusing to accept any logic behind such a move. Battle lines were drawn with the IFSC and Flosport on one side and the entire climbing community on the other.
Through their actions the IFSC had not alienated the vast majority of livestream viewers, they had also put the future of several World Cups at risk, and they put the climbers livelihoods at risk as well as so well put by Shauna Coxsey in her most recent blog post.
So, what would happen? At the technical meeting on Thursday afternoon all remained quiet as it wasn’t the forum to discuss the and the business of running a World Cup needed to take precedence.
An hour or so later, during the opening ceremony the athletes did take a stand. On a full stage, in front of a crowd of sponsors and supporters, almost the entire field raised Red cards in protest.
As many of you know, in some sports, climbing included, a Red card signal you have broken the rules and are being dismissed from the competition. It was an eloquent and extremely strong sign to the IFSC that their decision was not accepted by those within the sport.
After the protest it was time for the competition. Although boycott had been mentioned in some circles it wasn’t a realistic option with the athletes having committed so much training and having already fronted the expense of traveling to the event. These are climbers and they were here to climb!
Qualifiers was a long day. With a big field requiring two groups in the guys and girls it was a case of settling in for the long haul. The big news of qualifying was though who missed the cut. In the guys the biggest casualty was defending series champion Tomoa Narasaki who finished the round in 21st, just missing the cut. Daniel Woods, in his World Cup comeback started superbly with quick ascents of the first two problems but then was stumped by the slab third problem and faded from contention. Also just missing the cut were World Cup stars Domen Skofic and Jakob Schubert who have committed to the bouldering circuit this season.
Amongst the ladies the biggest casualties were Akiyo Noguchi in 21st and an unwell Anna Stöhr who was clearly down on power which proved her undoing in group A where four of the five problems were power dependent.
The flipside is when the stars miss out they open opportunities for new and emerging talent to step up. Most impressive here was Thilo Schröter who climbed superbly in qualifying, really showing a translation of outdoor prowess to the plastic arena.
Moving into semis we saw a more brutal set of problems, the men faced with a single steeper wall, a gentle overhang then two slabs. The first two problems really proving difficult with the first problem only seeing two ascents and the second three. At the end of the round all the problems had been sent with 2T7 being enough to get a spot in finals.
The star of the round was undoubtedly Japans Rei Sugimoto who returned from a long layoff due to shoulder surgery to finish the round at the head of the pack, being one of three Japanese through to the final round. Joining them was defending Meiringen winner Alexey Rubtsov, Jernej Kruder and young German David Firnenburg who was making his second World Cup final in a row after Munich last year.
In the women’s field all the problems were completed by Japanese star Miho Nonaka, the only one to achieve that feat on the day. She was followed on three tops by Stasa Gejo, defending champ Shauna Coxsey and Janja Garnbret while sneaking in with two tops were World Champ and local hero Petra Klingler and evergreen Austrian star Katharina Saurwein.
Finals arrived in the evening, and with it a capacity crowd. The Boulderhall at Meiringen was packed to the rafters and the smell of raclette permeated everything, the vendors outside making the fancy swiss cheese toasties as quickly as they could to keep the crowd fed.
With the crowds comes heat and humidity, add the stage lighting and temperatures were well over 20c on stage. This ended up having a huge impact on the round for the men where the setters had created tricky, powerful problems on friction dependent holds that were going off in the heat. Indeed, the round ended up being seriously overset for the men with only 4 tops in the whole round.
The first problem, a rising traverse that started in an inverted position proved super difficult, and with the new 4 minute rule in place it was telling when Rei Sugimoto looked at the clock as the seconds counted down, and realizing he would time out threw himself at the next hold and off the wall.
The second problem saw a fast ascent by rising Japanese star Keita Watabe who switched up the beta on the technical slab to skip the bonus and dyno to the top. A move that would secure him 3rd on the day.
After the second problem we still had little idea about who was climbing well in the men’s field as we’d seen so little climbing.
The third problem offered some respite and finally some enjoyment for the crowd. Kokoro Fujii came out and nailed the flash in spectacular fashion, unbeknownst to him securing victory with a single top. Then Alexey Rubtsov sent it in two attempts, securing second.
Moving on to the last climb, an uninspiring jumble of hexagonal volumes we again saw failure after failure until at the last Rei pulled out a superb top, showing it was possible and ending an otherwise disappointing final on a high note.
The women’s finals provided better viewing and Shauna Coxey not only saved the show, she stole the show. Proving that she was coming back stronger than ever Shauna cruised problem after problem, looking in a different league to her competitors.
As a set, again it was underwhelming, with three of the four problems being slabby in nature, the setters even using volumes to make a gentle overhang into a slab.
Coming in second on the evening was Katharina Saurwein, putting in an awesome effort to secure her first World Cup podium since her victory at the World cup in Moscow in 2008. To give it some perspective last time Katha stood on the podium Janja Garnbret was 9 years old!
Rounding out the podium was 19 year old Miho Nonaka. With a single top for Miho it came down to attempts with a single attempt to top on the third problem keeping her ahead of Staša Gejo.
And so, just like that the first World Cup of the season was at an end. Some climbers left stoked by their performances, others disappointed. Everybody however left with unanswered questions about the future of the livestream and it’s impact on the future of our sport. Questions that we’re still waiting for answers to.