International competitions are well and truly underway this season already, with boulder world cups already having been held in Meiringen, Seoul and two in Salt lake City as the athletes begin their globe-trotting ways.
In Meiringen, Tomao Narasaki picked up where he left off last year, looking strong from the off and beating countryman Yoshiyuki Ogata to the title as Japan’s strength in depth shows no signs of receding. Majdi Schalck grabbed bronze – his second ever world cup medal.
In the women’s, Janja Garnbret came, conquered and went home again – she is planning to sit most, if not all of this season out after her exploits in winning Olympic gold last year, and plans to return next season when Olympic qualifying events will be underway. Natalia Grossmen was second, Andrea Kumin perhaps a slightly surprise bronze medallist.
Leaping over to Seoul, this time Kokoro Fujii took home gold for the men, ahead of Narasaki and Ogata as Japan continued to dominate proceedings. A different Frenchman took bronze – Paul Jenft, showing that they are a team with strength in depth two years out from the Paris Olympics.
Grossman continued her strong form with a gold, ahead of Oriane Bertone and Brooke Raboutou. Grossman went on to take gold at the next two world cups in Salt Lake City as well, cementing her status as one of the very few if not the only climber currently able to give Garnbret a run for her money.
Raboutou came second and third on home soil, trading places with Miho Nonaka who came third then second. Nonaka has struggled slightly for form since an injury-hit 2019 season before Covid did for much of the next two. But there are signs she is finding her way, especially with the newer style of boulders that seem to be in vogue at the moment.
Schalck took gold in the first Salt Lake City event, beating Ogata on attempts with another Japanese climber, Rei Kawamata taking bronze. Ogata righted things the following weekend with gold, with Anze Peharc taking silver for Slovenia for his first world cup medal since 2019, and Fujii the bronze.
The spectre of Covid lingers sill – Narasaki admitted he didn’t feel 100% during the first Salt Lake City event, so wasn’t too surprised to return a positive result and have to miss the second.
As for the Brits, Max Milne made his first world cup finals last season, and has been knocking on the door nearly every round so far in 2022. Eighth in Switzerland and Seoul, 13th and 12th in Salt Lake City – his time must surely come. He was joined in the semi-finals in both Salt lake City rounds by Hamish McArthur, who is converting his incredible form in the juniors to the seniors without too many issues.
Emily Phillips made the semi-finals in Seoul, while Holly Toothill and Jen Wood did likewise in the second Salt lake City round, so there is definitely signs of improvement on the women's side, as those three and others seek to follow Shauna Coxsey’s winning ways on the world stage.
Next up is the last boulder-only world cup before the lead season begins in earnest. Brixen plays host to the boulderers this weekend, then they get a week off before Innsbruck hosts both a boulder and lead round. Watch out for those like Raboutou and Jessica Pilz – finally over a niggling finger injury - who can double up.