Female climber on steep rock.

Competition Climbers Excelling On Rock

Leading up to the Olympics in Tokyo there were the expected malcontent murmurings from purist climbers about how competition climbing is a sham and bears little resemblance to actual rock climbing. Certainly, those Olympic competitors who have more presence in the outdoor rock climbing community with resumes of hard redpoints were heavily favoured by many climbers I knew—and considered more worthy of support because of their backgrounds in real climbing. Climbers like Adam Ondra, Jakob Schubert and Alexander Megos all have impressive lists of hard outdoor ascents to their name, while many of their competitors are considered plastic specialists. While those three mentioned climbers had mixed fortunes in Tokyo, what has become clear since Tokyo is that many of the 'plastic specialists' are more than useful on the rock too, when time and training schedules allow. 

Firstly, we had silver medaliist Miho Nonaka of Japan report from Ceuse that she had redpointed an 8c+ (34), casually dropping in that her hardest previous redpoint she could recall was a 7c+ (28). Jumping ahead a number grade at a time in the french grading system is fairly absurd, and shows how much potential someone like Miho has if she makes her focus rock rather than plastic. 

In the last few days Alex Megos has reported not one, but two flashes of routes graded 9a (35), although one seems like it is increasingly thought of as 8c+ (34). Megos was the first person to onsight a 9a, many years ago now, but given how much he struggles to make a podium in even the lead competitions shows how high the standard is in competition climbing.

Belay image
Male rock climber on blue limnestone rock
Sean Bailey on the unmistakeable blue limestone of Ceuse, Bibliographie (9b+/38). Courtesy of instagram @neilson.ben.

Then came the news that the American Sean Bailey, who failed to qualify for the Olympics in 2019, but had a fantastic year in both the Boulder and Lead World Cups this year, has made an ascent of Bibliographie (9b+/38) at Ceuse—one of the world's hardest routes and originally though to be 9c (39). Sean isn't really known for his exploits on rock, but nabbing the third ascent of this route (after Alex Megos and Stefano Ghisolfi) and ahead of phenomenal rock climbing talents like France's Seb Bouin (who has being trying the route for a while now) shows the amazing climbing form that he is in.

Now the news is that Italian Laura Rogora, who had a disappointing Olympics by her own account, but is always a podium contender in the Lead World Cups, has climbed what is considered Italy's hardest sport route, Erebor (9b/37). This route at Eremo di San Paolo, Arco, was first climbed by Stefano Ghisolfi and graded 9b/+. Ghisolfi congratulated Rogora through social media, suggesting that Bibliographie, of which he made the first repetition, was only marginally harder and encouraging her to try it. Laura Rogora is no stranger to hard rock redpoints, having another 9b ascent to her name and putting her in the top handful of rock climbers in the world. Amongst women, just Angela Eiter of Austria (a former top competition climber) and Julia Chanourdie of France (who also went to the Olympics) have ascents of routes graded 9b.

One can only wonder what Solvenia's Janja Garnbret might do on rock if she made that her primary focus, given her utter dominance of women's competition climbing in recent years. 

No matter what your opinion is of competition climbing, it is hard to deny the training these athletes put in pays dividends on rock too.