It’s been a funny old time of it in the competition climbing world – the lucky athletes who has qualified for the Olympics have been working hard, training long hours in the hopes that the Games will go ahead. As for the rest – with the Olympics delayed a year, they haven’t been able to put the disappointment of not qualifying behind them yet and are stuck in some sort of limbo.
The good news is the 2021 season is back up and running, with the first event a few weeks ago in Switzerland going off without a hitch. GB didn’t send athletes there for a variety of reasons, but they did send a team to Salt Lake City in the US and that meant we finally got an idea of where our home favourites are in terms of form.
Both the men’s and women’s fields were stacked with talent, but it does need to be said that there were a few notable names missing from the entry list. Janja Garnbret, heavy favourite for gold in Tokyo wasn’t there, and neither was one of the big Japanese hopefuls, Akiyo Noguchi. Their counterpart Tomoa Narasaki also didn’t make the trip – but because Japan has so much strength in depth, there were plenty of talented athletes on show.
As for GB, Shauna Coxsey is the only Briton qualified for Tokyo and after a year of injuries and ailments, it was great to see her back on the mats. She led a strong team which included Molly Thompson-Smith and Jen Wood, while Nathan Phillips and Billy Ridal were in action for the guys along with Matty Cousins.
The men’s field was slightly more stacked than the women’s with regards to Olympic qualified athletes – 12 of the 20 male climbers that will be headed to Tokyo competed, compared to just 8 of the 20 qualified women.
In the end, the women’s podium had a very youthful feel to it. Natalia Grossman won for the USA, with her great friend Brooke Raboutou taking bronze. Those two are 19 and 20 respectively – while Oriane Bertone who took silver for France is just 16. Bertone became the youngest climber to send V14 (8B+) when she was just 12 years old, and it looks like she is going to be a name to watch in the competition scene heading towards the next Olympics in Paris in 2024.
As for the men, that was more a podium for the veterans. Adam Ondra grabbed another gold with four tops, Mejdi Schalck scored his debut podium aged just 17 with silver but bronze was Jakob Schubert’s. That French team certainly seem to have plenty of talent coming through, which with a home Olympics in just three years’ time, could see them replace Japan as the team with the most strength in depth.
As for the Brits, Holly Toothill made it through the qualifiers but couldn’t make the final. She was the only Brit to progress, with Jen Wood just missing out in 21st spot. Shauna Coxsey in particular struggled down in 36th place and has opted to fly home before the next world cup in the same location this coming weekend.
None of the guys made it through, Matty Cousins coming the closest in 23rd spot (the top 20 made it through to the semi-finals).
The two world cups so far this season have thrown up all sorts of anomalies though, with new names breaking through, and plenty of the old guard either coming back after lengthy lockdowns, or just not looking competition sharp.
With another boulder world cup to come next weekend which also includes speed, there will be a slightly different variety of climbers on show – but as for that all-important Olympic pecking order, that remains more of an unknown…