It’s hard to say what the biggest news from Chamonix is, Adam Ondra taking gold in fairy tale style, 15-year-old Chaehyun Seo winning her first World Cup in only her second senior appearance, or the fact that on Saturday morning Janja Garnbret’s record-breaking run of victories ground to a surprising, abrupt halt.
In Friday’s qualifiers the Slovenian had topped out on both routes along with Chaehyun Seo, while Ai Mori trailed on their heels, confirming after Villars an interesting change occurring in the women’s event with the two 15-year-olds beginning to be threaten the Slovenian’s dominance. No one though would have predicted that Garnbret would fail to make the cut but in the Semis she looked vulnerable and, as things turned out, after a controversial judges decision she placed ninth and missed out on the finals for the first time since debuting on the senior stage in 2015. Which, as it happens, was in very same Place du Mont Blanc when, aged 16, she placed second in the European Championship. In the last 4 years Garnbret has left her mark like no other and there can be no doubting that she’ll more than make up for things in the next competition. Other surprise exclusions in the Semis included last year’s winner Stefano Ghisolfi who’s route reading mistake proved costly, as well as Tomoa Narasaki.
The finals began with Molly Thompson-Smith who, after having waited eternally in the Semis to be told she had qualified, climbed powerfully past big moves before falling off the 40° section. London’s best was followed by New York’s leading light, namely Ashima Shiraishi gunning for her first senior World Cup. She climbed statically past Thompson-Smith’s highpoint and gained another 8 holds before falling off the headwall. Ai Mori looked less composed but nevertheless battled her way to the same hold as Shiraishi. Lucka Rakovec fell disappointing low, before reigning World Champion Jessica Pilz reached the move that had stopped Shiraishi and Mori; she appeared to latch the hold for half a second, just enough for the judges to award a new highpoint. Despite feet cutting loose continuously, YueTong Zhang managed to battle her way upwards, well past the ideal point to clip the rope which she did, somehow, before falling off the 34+ stopper move. The impression she gave was, had she clipped earlier, she would have made significant more headway. Chaehyun Seo climbed with the carefreeness of youth, then missed the stopper hold and slipped into second place behind Pilz. But even before Natsuki Tanii, the last athlete, came out these scores suddenly changed: acting on their own accord, the judges deemed her latch insufficient and downgraded Pilz from 35 to 34+, putting her into provisional third. In front of the 12,000 strong crowd last out Tanii, a mere 15 years old and 8th in Villars last week, started upwards but failed to find the right rhythm and fell lowest of all. Meaning that, with five athletes having fallen off the same hold, victory went to Seo based on countback – all the way to Friday qualifiers.
At this point Chamonix had disappeared into the darkness yet the Place du Mont Blanc was ablaze with anticipation. Temperatures dropped considerably and conditions were prime for the exciting men’s final. First out was Alexander Megos who had looked awesome in the semis but had been penalised for having touched a bolt with his foot. He looked just as awesome in the Finals and after having done the splits to find an impossible rest, the German powered to hold 44 before skidding off the black volume. He vent his anger into the cold aid but, without knowing it, had made a perfect start to the last round. Martin Stranik, who Ondra has defined as “really strong”, fought his way feet first through the steepest section but then fell off hold 31. Sean McColl was finally back where he belongs, competing against the best of the best in a World Cup final, and with his hallmark high-risk style climbed feet first to the undercling before suddenly running out of power. Jakob Schubert is the athlete with the most World Cup wins -18 Lead and 3 Boulder – yet even he ran out of steam just below Megos’ highpoint. Scotland’s William Bosi was in a Chamonix final for the second year running and once again climbed steady. And brutally, not feet first but somehow straight up, before falling lower than Schubert. The tension was palpable as Bouldering Champion Kai Harada started his run up the wall but for some reason this ended before it even began. With two climbers still to come, Megos was now guaranteed a place on the podium. Next up was promising young Alberto Gines Lopez, competing in his first but certainly not last final. In obvious difficulties right from the outset, the Spaniard put in the fight of his life; his incredible endurance, and beaming smile, said it all. Last out was the man they had all been waiting for, Adam Ondra who’d skipped the first stage in Villars due to his slight wrist injury. This evidently didn’t give him any cause for concern as he delivered the fairy-tale ending, chalking up halfway through the inverted sequence before launching into the headwall. Way past Megos’ highpoint to just below the top. Here he turned to the crowd, asked for their support, dropped his knee and powered to touch an impossible sidepull. “Somehow I had an inner feeling that everything would work out perfectly and I felt great from start to finish” Ondra stated buoyantly immediately after his win. His first this season and his first in the biggest venue in the World Cup circuit.
Chamonix also hosted the fourth and penultimate stage of the Speed World Cup, won on Friday night by YiLing Song and Alfian Muhammad who beat, respectively, Elizaveta Ivanova (penalised for a false start) and QiXin Zhong. Bronze went to Aleksandra Kalucka and Vladislav Deulin.