Hunt, Nonaka, Pilz Golden at World Games—A Preview Of the 2024 Olympics? Results
Although not part of the ongoing World Cup circuit, the climbing portion of the World Games took place this weekend in Birmingham, Alabama, and included many of the stars that we've already seen shine this season. In fact, these World Games likely gave us the first nibbles of the 2024 Olympic pie, as the World Games--like the Olympics--are held every four years and bring together fans and athletes from around the world for a multi-day extravaganza. Unlike the Olympics, which combined Speed, Lead and Boulder, however, the World Games separate the disciplines, with medals for each.
Here's a recap of all the action and surprises that happened in those separate climbing disciplines (all under an umbrella title of "sport climbing" and within the larger category of "trend sports").
USA's Hunt steals the show
The unequivocal star of the men's Speed discipline was Indonesia's Kiromal Katibin, who began the qualification round of the World Games just a week after having set a new world record. And Katibin did not disappoint, clocking a blistering time of 5.27 seconds in one of his first World Games races. His compatriot (and former world record holder), Veddriq Leonardo, also posted a fast time early--5.286 seconds--and easily advanced to the finals. But closely behind them in the standings was Team USA's John Brosler, whose best qualification time of 5.43 seconds was just 0.23 seconds off his American record.
In the elimination bracket of the final round, an unfortunate stumble from Brosler resulted in a loss to Kazakhstan's Rishat Khaibullin. In contrast, Indonesia's Katibin cruised past opponents in the finals, first France's Guillaume Moro and then Ukraine's Yaroslav Tkach. Leonardo's path through the elimination bracket was a bit rockier, highlighted by a narrow victory over Khaibullin (separated by just 0.09 seconds).
Soon, Leonardo and Katibin found themselves going head-to-head for the gold medal. The climactic race--pitting the current world record holder against the former world record holder--was hotly anticipated, but a costly slip by Katibin resulted in Leonardo coasting to victory with a casual time of 7.22 seconds. Katibin, in defeat, had to settle for the silver medal. In a much more thrilling race, Tkach edged out Khaibullin by just 0.04 seconds to earn the bronze medal.
The women's Speed division featured close races as well, including intense battles in the finals between Poland's Natalia Kalucka and France's Capucine Viglione (which Kalucka won by just 0.23 seconds), and Team USA's Emma Hunt and Germany's Franziska Ritter (which Hunt won in a time--7.15 seconds--that was only 0.10 off her own American record).
Emma Hunt Proves She’s Our Best Ever in Speed, Sets New American Record. Slippery Wall Stymies at Speed World Cup.
Hunt's astonishing performance in the finals was, in many ways, an extension of her supremacy in the earlier qualification round, which saw her clock some of the fastest times of the day. Ultimately, it all led to a showdown for the gold medal between Hunt and Kalucka, who had been consistently near the top of the World Games' field as well. But when Kalucka shockingly slipped at the start of the concluding race, Hunt was able to capitalize and give a clean run--with a finishing time of 7.24 seconds. Hunt thus earned the gold medal; Kalucka earned the silver, and Ritter beat Viglione to earn the bronze. As an apt anecdote to all that, on July 15 Hunt was recognized as the "Athlete of the Day" by the International World Games Association.
Nonaka and Collin dazzle on the boulder
Japan's Kokoro Fujii managed to stand out in a stacked men's field for the Boulder discipline, beginning with tops on all four boulders in the qualification round. Such dominion vaulted Fujii into the leader position, with several competitors--Japan's Yoshiyuki Ogata, Slovenia's Anze Peharc, and Belgium's Nicolas Collin, among them--aiming to overtake Fujii in the eventual finals.
To that point, Collin made a big statement early in the finals by flashing the first boulder, a shouldery progression over large pink volumes. Ogata could not match Collin's top of the boulder. However, Fujii managed to reach the top with just 10 seconds left, hinting that the round's main quarrel might be between Fujii and Collin.
An undercooked second boulder, topped by all, did little to separate the scores. But dueling tops by Collin and Fujii on the third boulder, an ascent up crescent-shaped volumes, kept their close rivalry alive. And when all competitors topped the steeply overhanging fourth boulder to close the round, it became evident just how vital Collin's flash of that first boulder had been: It had been enough to differentiate his score ever-so-slightly from Fujii's, and in that, Collin was awarded the gold medal. Fujii earned the silver, and Ogata--who topped three boulder throughout the round--earned the bronze.
The women's division was not marred by as many undercooked boulders. If anything, the main storyline was the remarkable comeback of Slovenia's Katja Debevec; she barely eeked into the finals, didn't top the first two boulders of that round, but then steadily worked her way up the rankings via a top of the third boulder and a flash of the fourth boulder to earn a silver medal.
Debevec's tenacity was inspiring, and it complemented another narrative of the final round: The sheer mastery of Japan's Miho Nonaka. One of the few competitors to top the finals' first boulder, an upward crunch over red and white dual-tex prisms, Nonaka never lost the lead as the round progressed. Her eventual top on the last boulder, a collection of pinches up an arete, secured the gold medal. Her teammate, Mao Nakamura, topped the boulder too and earned the bronze medal behind Debevec.
Pilz gets back on track
Team USA's Jesse Grupper led a tightly-packed qualification round in the men's Lead division, earning a score of 38+ to gain a slight advantage over Slovenia's Martin Bergant, Belgium's Collin, and Japan's Ogata (with scores of 37, 36+, and 35+, respectively). But in the finals, all four men found themselves bottlenecked with concluding scores of 22+. France's Mejdi Schalck and Japan's Masahiro Higuchi managed to work through that crux and earn slightly higher marks--24+ and 32+, respectively--before falling. But in the end, Switzerland's Sascha Lehmann surpassed them all by being the only finalist to top the route. As a result, Lehmann won the gold medal, with the silver medal going to Higuchi and the bronze being awarded to Schalck.
The women's Lead division began with Japan's Natsuki Tanii gaining a slight edge over Austria's Jessica Pilz in the qualification round, reaching the top of the route whereas Pilz fell while attempting to grasp the 36th scored hold. The clash between Pilz and Tanii soon continued in the climactic final round; Tanii propelled past the lower cruxes of the finals' route--where the section from the 31st to the 34th hold stopped most of the field--and notched a score of 35 before falling. But Pilz was able to excel through the cruxy lower section too and eventually attain a hefty mark of 42+. The score earned Pilz the gold medal, with Tanii earning silver and Slovenia's Lana Skusek earning the bronze with a score of 34+, Pilz's World Games victory is an exciting development for her 2022 Lead season. She has struggled in some World Cups this year, particularly due to a couple of errant foot slips. But this World Games gold feels more like a result that fans are accustomed to, as Pilz is generally one of the most formidable stars on the circuit. She was an Olympian for the 2020 Games, and has to be considered one of the early favorites for the forthcoming 2024 Olympics' qualification pathway as well--especially after this big win.
Veddriq Leonardo (INA)
Kiromal Katibin (INA)
Yaroslav Tkach (UKR)
Emma Hunt (USA)
Natalia Kalucka (POL)
Franziska Ritter (GER)
Nicolas Collin (BEL)
Kokoro Fujii (JPN)
Yoshiyuki Ogata (JPN)
Nicolai Uznik (AUT)
Anze Peharc (SLO)
Nimrod Marcus (ISR)
Miho Nonaka (JPN)
Katja Debevec (SLO)
Mao Nakamura (JPN)
Sofya Yokoyama (SUI)
Kylie Cullen (USA)
Ayala Kerem (ISR)
Sascha Lehmann (SUI)
Masahiro Higuchi (JPN)
Mejdi Schalck (FRA)
Jesse Grupper (USA)
Martin Bergant (SLO)
Nicolas Collin (BEL)
Yoshiyuki Ogata (JPN)
Mathias Posch (AUT)
Jessica Pilz (AUT)
Natsuki Tanii (JPN)
Lana Skusek (SLO)
Ignacia Mellando Quinteros (CHI)
Ievgeniia Kazbekova (UKR)
Salome Romain (FRA)
Momoko Abe (JPN)
Chloe Caulier (BEL)
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