Seeing a live climbing competition had been on my wish list for a little while so when I realised that one of the competitions that makes up the climbing world cup was in Chamonix a summer holiday was planned around it. I was not disappointed!
British climbing is exploding with competition climbers competing on the world stage. With climbing coming to the Olympics for the first time in 2020 the stakes have never been higher and this was certainly reflected in the intensity of the climbing on show in Chamonix.
There are three disciplines that will be featured in the Olympics – bouldering, lead climbing and speed climbing. For a really good listen I’d recommend an episode of the infamous Jam Crack podcast by Niall Grimes featuring climbing sports journalist Eddie Fowke who explains the nitty gritty of how the climbing competition will work.
The Chamonix stage of the world cup circuit featured lead and speed climbing. Both had qualification rounds, semi finals and then the final 8 athletes competed each evening. The wall was set up in the main square and it was free to watch. A really chilled crowd began to gather around 6pm each evening, sitting on the floor and watching selected mountain films before the main event started. British hopes included Shauna Coxsey, Mollie Thompson Smith and Will Bosi.
The speed climbing was up first; in this discipline the route is always the same and the aim is to climb it as fast as possible. With the winners comfortably under 8 seconds and each round played head to head on two identical routes it was brilliant to watch. It’s something that I hadn’t really come across before and while it might not typify what I would think of as traditional climbing it is clearly is hyper-athletic and a great addition to the other two more commonplace disciplines.
The following night the lead finals took place, for the first time two British athletes had made the last eight; Will Bosi in the mens final and Mollie Thompson Smith in the womens. The men and women had different routes and this time the routes are so difficult that the aim is to get as high up the route as possible. Even with a final featuring arguably the best climbers in the world no one topped the route.
One of my highlights of the night was the 6 minutes that the climbers were allowed to ‘inspect’ the route. In the semi’s climbers will watch other climbers attempt the route but in the final no climber has seen the route before. Thus, after being introduced to the crowd the climbers then had 6 minutes to read the route. Queue lots of arms waving, conspiratorial whispering and a tiny bit of ‘Ondra-ing’ a term that I hope means something to people who have seen the brilliant film Age of Ondra.
It was so tense with some amazingly creative solutions to some really tricky sections of the route. A lot of men ended up climbing one section upside down. When Adam Ondra fell on the second to last hold it was probably one of the most exciting sporting moments I’ve seen! I must also mention the amazing Megos splits that had to be seen to believed.