Bouldering requires an unparalleled skill set in the sporting world: the strength of a weight lifter, the agility of a gymnast and the mind of a chess master – and all must come together for success on the world stage.
All were on display in Canmore last weekend.
The International Federation of Sport Climbing Bouldering World Cup event was the first of its kind on Canadian soil, however, Japan stole the spotlight when Akiyo Noguchi and Tsukuru Hori took the gold medals, May 28 at Millenium Park.
Hosting Canada’s first-ever world cup bouldering event, a raucous crowd of 400-plus roared as each of the immaculately sculpted climbers executed movements of astonishing athleticism and élan. Athletes were tasked with bouldering ‘problems’ which they had to solve in a limited time.
Canadian bouldering champ Sean McColl finished third with a crowd-pleasing performance in the final. Slovinia’s Klemen Becan won silver.
Hori’s remarkable quickness was a factor, as he contorted his spindly frame in impossible positions, conquering nearly every challenge thrown his way.
With the help of an interpreteur, Hori explained he was proud to finally win his first title.
“I’m so happy. The first problem was my style, but the second, no way,” Hori said.
McColl, the former world champion, finished one of four problems in the final, which was enough for the bronze.
“I thought I had a pretty good finals even though I only completed one problem,” McColl said, who came close on two other problems in the end.
“For the first World Cup in Canada, as a Canadian, I was psyched to make the finals. In the finals, everyone has a chance, but congrats to Hori on his first world cup victory,” McColl said. “It’s been a great show and crowd, which was good for Canadian climbing… just having a world cup in Canada will bring a lot of focus (to the sport).”
Noguchi methodically dissected the women’s competition, clinching the win with a remarkable final climb.
“The conditions were good for me,” Noguchi said. “This was my first time in Canmore. The people are so exciting.”
Anna Stohr narrowly missed her second gold medal of the season, while the crowd favourite, Korea’s Jain Kim, finished with the bronze. The petit Kim’s propensity for assembling winning climbs in the dying seconds of competition kept the audience enthralled.
Stohr’s astonishing speed and efficiency has taken her to the top ranks of the world cup bouldering circuit, however, she was blown away by the noise under the big top in Canmore. She gave the crowd several marvelous performances, topping all four problems in the final.
“The crowd was really supportive. At first I was disappointed there wasn’t as many people (as other competitions), but you Canadians can be so loud. It was really cool to climb for this crowd,” Stohr said.
Such competitions tend to attract crowds in the thousands in Europe.
In the final, climbers were given four minutes to solve increasingly difficult, complex climbing problems. Using speed, stamina and cunning, the top boulderers in the world can make as many attempts as they wish in the four minute window and must reach the top of the course to earn maximum points.
Bouldering is a ropes-free form of climbing in which athletes rely on speed, strength, smarts and dexterity to reach the top of bouldering problems. The objective is not to climb the highest, but solve the complex climbing puzzles quickly and efficiently. Bonus points are rewarded for specific holds.
Organizers hope the world cup event will lead to an Olympics appearance for climbing. The sport needs enough countries with competitive athletes to make an Olympic bid and McColl said the competition allows the sport to get that much closer to a spot at the Olympics.