IFSC World Cup Seoul Results

The second leg of the IFSC World Cup competition climbing calendar took place in Seoul, Korea, over 6–8 May. This was the first speed event of the season and it started with a bang, as Indonesia's Kiromal Katibin broke the men's world record in the qualifying round with a 5.17 second run. The cruelty of the format again emerged in the final, as Katibin false started, handing an easy victory to his countryman Veddriq Leonardo. In the women's, Poland's Aleksandra Miroslaw broke the world record in qualifying too (6.64 seconds) and proved her consistency by again logging under seven seconds in the final, giving her the only times under seven seconds of the entire competition. USA's Emma Hunt emerged as a contender to place second, though with the absence of the very competitive Russians, the speed fields are slightly reduced in depth this year.

In the bouldering, the women's overall had an unfamiliar glint of uncertainty in the result, with Janja Garnbret (statistically one of the world's most dominant athletes in any sport) excusing herself from the rest of the season after yet another superlative performance in round one, at Meiringen. The finals were a nail-biting affair, with the lead changing hands several times and the result still hanging in the balance when the last climber stepped onto the mats to attempt the last problem.

Mia Aoyagi of Japan, just 18 years-old and a first time finalist was the surprise package of the competition, beating out her better-credentialed compatriots Miho Nonaka and Futaba Ito to make the final. However, the setting in the finals exposed some flaws in her repertoire, as she struggled with a mantle move on boulder one and an inverted tension move on boulder four. She finished in sixth place with three zones, but is one to watch in the future as the experience of making finals is likely to boost her confidence for the rest of the season.

Italy's Camilla Moroni qualified in second and was thought to be a strong contender for victory after her impressive showing at last year's World Championships. However, a slightly morpho set of finals problems disadvantaged her as the shortest climber of the field. The first move of boulder one was a pure jump move, a giant foot ledge with only sidepulls for hands meant that generating upwards momentum was purely height and leg drive, she came agonisingly short after four minutes of attempts. Likewise, the inverted foot-first toe hook move that opened boulder four proved just beyond her reach and she failed to make zone on this problem also. A top and a flash on boulders two and three weren't going to be enough for a podium and she finished in fifth.

Stasa Gejo of Serbia scraped into finals in sixth place, but stormed to an early lead with a flash of boulder one. However, she then slipped back into the pack with only a zone on the slab problem boulder two, scolding the offending volume as her foot skated too many times to complete the boulder in the four minutes. As four of the other finalists topped this boulder, she was going to have to dig deep to get on the podium. Digging deep is Gejo's outstanding quality though, finding a quick top on boulder three and fighting hard to solve boulder four, eventually getting a late zone as she was timed out within sight of the top hold. She finished fourth and looks to be a strong contender for the rest of the season with consistent results.

American Brooke Raboutou failed to make finals in Meiringen, somewhat surprisingly, but was back in Seoul with plenty of determination and climbed well in the semifinals to qualify in third. As the only other finalist under 160cm in height, she also failed to complete the first move jump on boulder one where Moroni had struggled. Showing her competition experience and poise, she then flashed boulder two and made an impressive second try top on boulder three, giving herself a shot at the podium going into the last problem. She needed a top on this boulder to move a place ahead of Gejo, ultimately displaying a cool head and impressive core strength to overcome the stretchy inverted toehook at the start of this problem and make the top she needed. It would have been interesting to see where she might have placed with a different set on boulder one, as the four taller athletes in the final all completed the jump fairly easily and the rest of the boulder looked slightly too easy, with only one failing to make a top after completing the jump and all getting the zone.

French phenom Oriane Bertone stormed into finals in her first competition last year and has barely slowed down since. Still only 18 years-old, she looks likely to be a podium contender at every competition this year. Climbing with a confidence and virtuosity reminiscent of Janja Garnbret, she styled three of the four problems and came agonisingly short of a top on boulder three, falling with her fingers touching the final hold. Her extra zone and less attempts at top put her comfortably ahead of Raboutou and meant that Natalia Grossman had to top to win, as Bertone had her tops and zones in less attempts than Grossman to that point.

As you can probably guess from the format of this report, it was indeed USA's Natalia Grossman who took victory, as the only climber to make four tops. When the pressure was on to top the final boulder, she showed impressive power to campus where others had needed trickery and her ease on the final boulder dismissed any question that she was the deserved winner. She will remain as favourite for the rest of the season and to retain her overall title, but there were signs she could be beaten, with some route-reading errors and slight lack of execution on the coordination moves of boulder three. The eventual podium of Grossman, Bertone and Raboutou mirrors last season, where the same climbers emerged from Garnbret's shadow at the first competition she wasn't present for. It looks likely that these three will be fighting it out for the rest of the season, especially with Akiyo Noguchi retired and Miho Nonaka seeming to be struggling with consistency. The next two competitions are back to back in Salt Lake City, USA, where the Americans put in a strong showing last year and Grossman beat Janja Garnbret for the first time.

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The men's final was utterly dominated by Team Japan, their depth giving them eight semifinalists, five of whom progressed into the final. France's Paul Jenft was the only other finalist, his 186cm frame providing a point of difference to the impressive gymnastic skill and contact strength epitomised by the Japanese. Which strengths would the four problems of the final suit best?

Problem one started with a coordination dyno involving a palm-down. Sixth placed qualified Yoshiyuki Ogata fluffed his first attempt at the jump, but cruised the boulder second go, causing the commentators to speculate it might be too easy. However, Ogata's dynamic skills and contact strength are second to none, and the following three climbers all failed to complete the problem, with Paul Jenft misreading the jump move and going with the other hand to avoid the palm down. Kokoro Fujii flashed the opening move but failed to stick the top, then needed three more attempts to get back to the top and secure the finish. Tomoa Narasaki mirrored Fujii's performance, but sat ahead of him going into problem two as the highest qualifier.

On the second boulder, a slab, Ogata again showed remarkable dynamicism in jumping from a low position to catch the top jib one-handed, securing a top from a position where it looked like there were still several moves required to complete the boulder as designed. An early slip-up meant those trailing him could make up some ground with a flash, but there was little room for error. Every other climber also managed to top this problem, so the number of attempts proved vital. Paul Jenft was the only climber to flash, both he and Meichi Narasaki were able to use their height to skip Ogata's jump move and reach the base of the top volume from a low stance. Kokoro Fujii and Tomoa Narasaki both failed the top move on their first attempts—pushing them further behind Ogata on attempts to top, Tomoa moving into outright second place with one less attempt than Fujii in third at the halfway point of the final.

Boulder three was described by the route setters as containing 'an old-school drop knee move' as it weaved its way sinuously up the wall via a jump, some compression moves and then frictionless volumes and the odd huge jug. The opening coordination dyno was solved by Ogata on his first attempt, but he slipped while swinging from a tricky catch on jibs screwed to frictionless volumes as he released a toehook where the drop knee was supposed to be done. While the commentators speculated on whether he'd find the necessary drop knee, Ogata flew up the problem, sticking the catch this time and solving the tricky foot sequence of the last two moves by opting to simply campus. The beta was further broken by Paul Jenft and Meichi Narasaki, who both used their height to skip multiple moves on the problem, choosing to risk not getting zone by ignoring that hold completely and stretching up the left hand side of the problem, rather than weaving an 'S' across the wall as intended. Only Keita Dohi failed to top the boulder, with Kokoro Fujii gaining an impressive flash to draw back level with Tomoa Narasaki, who needed one extra attempt after skipping a move on the opening dyno on his flash go.

Going into the final boulder, Ogata, Fujii and Narasaki all sat on three tops and were separated by only two attempts across the three of them. Yoskiyuki Ogata, climbing first, had two attempts up his sleeve so a flash or second try top would seal the victory for him. The boulder was a steep and powerful, with a draining hand traverse on a sloping rail below the top hold. This is not  the style of boulder people do in four or five attempts, as the physical nature means a flash or second try top are the most likely recipes for success. After falling as he slapped the top hold on his flash go, Ogata took a long rest and tried again with 40 seconds remaining on the clock. Unfortunately, he fell again on the hand traverse and had neither time nor energy for a third attempt. This left the door slightly ajar for Narasaki or Fujii to take the win with a top. The drama intensified after Ogata's time finished, as the rain that had emerged during the men's final started to seep it's way through from the back of the wall onto the problem. While potentially the problem was now in worse condition, it also gave Fujii and Narasaki, the last two climbers, slightly more rest time before their crucial opportunities. Keita Dohi was also unsuccessful on boulder four, his one top and three zones placing him sixth. Paul Jenft fought fatigue on his attempts, an inefficient sequence draining his power prior to reaching the last few moves. He finished with two tops and two zones for fourth place-and left the route setters with some things to think about if he is to regularly make finals this season. Meichi Narasaki battled skin degradation and increasingly damp holds on his attempts, making zone but failing to top. Two tops and one zone left him in fifth place. It came down then, to Kokoro Fujii 'the climbing robot' and Tomoa Narasaki 'the magician'. Fujii looked clinical and still fresh, but couldn't quite fit in the box on the final hand traverse on his flash go, and then cruising the problem on his second go, he placed one hand on either side of the screw-on jib on the otherwise sloping final hold, falling back to the mats. With a minute left, he applied liquid chalk and made a final attempt, sticking the final hold with one second of time remaining. His buzzer-beater effort moved him into first ahead of Ogata, with four tops. Narasaki, climbing last, now had two attempts at a top to sneak past Fujii for the win. He fumbled an early jump on the flash, then dry-fired off a volume on his second go, undermining any chance at a fairytale finish. It wasn't too late for a top though, as he finally made it through the bottom on his fourth attempt and was the only climber to do the top section of the boulder the first time getting there. Four tops in 12 attempts moved him ahead of Ogata and second to Fujii by one attempt. 

The gripping finishes to both the men's and women's final made this a terrific event for spectators, with the route setting permutations adding a bit of intrigue, but probably without actually affecting a fair result in either category. Anticipation is high for the Salt lake City Boulder events, with the men's overall race looking to be a tight contest all year, currently Narasaki currently holds a small lead over Ogata and Fujii, tied for second. In the women's Grossman has a lead over Bertone, with Stasa Gejo further back in third.