BERN 2023 PREVIEW: WOMEN’S BOULDER AND LEAD
The two year wait for a World Championships is nearly over as the Swiss capital Bern will host the IFSC Climbing and Paraclimbing World Championships 2023 from 1 to 12 August.
The premier event will not only offer World Championships titles, but also the first tickets to the Paris 2024 for Climbing’s second participation at the Olympic Games.
A total of 10 Olympic qualification places are up for grabs with three for men and three for women in the Boulder & Lead format and two for each gender in Speed.
There are 192 women set to compete in Bern, 120 in Boulder and 113 in Lead, with the 20 best performers who have competed in the two disciplines advancing to the Boulder & Lead competition to fight for a coveted Paris 2024 ticket.
An athlete that comes to mind straight away when you talk medals, World Championships and Olympics is Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret. The first, and only, women’s Olympic Climbing gold medallist is once again in great form in 2023, a year in which she notched up her 40th World Cup gold medal. Those golds have also come in both Boulder and Lead competitions which undeniably makes Garnbret a hot favourite for a World Championships medal.
Garnbret isn’t the only Slovenian with medals in their locker. Vita Lukan won her first World Cup gold in the last World Cup before the World Championships in Lead in Briançon, France, whereas teammate Mia Krampl seems to excel when the Boulder and Lead disciplines are combined. She has a silver medal the 2021 World Championships in the Combined format and another silver from the 2022 European Championships Boulder & Lead.
USA’s Natalia Grossman won a Boulder gold and a Lead silver at the last World Championships. Add to that consistently high place finishes at World Cup’s in both disciplines since then. In 2023 the American has once again showed her form by taking the 2023 Boulder World Cup series title.
Talking about her year so far Grossman said: “My 2023 season started off pretty rocky as I was dealing with some gastrointestinal issues. However, as my symptoms became more manageable my performances improved and I’m happy with how the season turned around for the better.
“I came home after the Villars World Cup in order to have three weeks to train at home. It has felt so good to be back in the States and at the US Training Centre. I’ve had lots of fun and hard sessions and I feel as though I’ve done everything possible in training.”
Longtime friend, teammate and training partner of Grossman, Brooke Raboutou, has been no stranger to a World Cup podium in her career, but it wasn’t until the first event of 2023 that she claimed her first ever World Cup gold medal from the Boulder competition. Add onto that a Lead bronze and you can see Raboutou will once again be a name to look out for.
Another pair of teammates to keep an eye on would be South Korea’s Seo Chaehyun and Kim Jain. Proving her longevity in the sport, Kim came back after a hiatus to make multiple finals and claim a 30th World Cup gold medal of her career in 2023. Alongside her in finals, Seo has had a mixed season to date.
Seo said: “I had quite a hard time at the beginning of the Boulder season, but at the end I felt pretty strong.In Lead, well I made some mistakes during the whole process, but I still have a lot of confidence for Lead.
“I have been focusing more on Boulder than Lead, mainly because I feel I have lots of weaknesses in that discipline. But now I’m finding a good balance for both. I always feel strong on the Lead wall, so I have more confidence there than with Boulder.”
Seo has shown good form throughout her career in Lead and will be defending the gold medal she won in the Lead competition at the last World Championships. In 2023, she now has a World Cup Boulder medal to compliment her Lead achievements after taking silver in the discipline from Brixen, Italy.
With ‘some mistakes’ and being a current World Championships gold medallist, does this add pressure for Seo: “It does a little, but I just want to enjoy the process, and like all climbers I always want to top the routes. It’s important to get out of that pressure though. It will be another challenge for me, and that gets me psyched.”
In contrast to the South Korean, Grossman said: “The last World Championships feels like forever ago, so to me it doesn’t add more pressure.”
When it comes to actually competing in the World Championships, the defending champions can agree.
Seo said: “I always feel honoured to be part of the sport. It feels great and it makes me proud that I can compete in competitions like the World Championships.”
Grossman echoed the sentiment saying: “I’m extremely excited and grateful to be able to compete at the upcoming World Championships. My goals are to stay present, to enjoy the moment, and to be able give my best performance.”
Other World Championships medallists from 2021 include the two Italian climbers Laura Rogora and Camilla Moroni, Iran’s Elnaz Rekabi and Serbia’s Stasa Gejo who also claimed a World Cup medal this season.
Austria’s Jessica Pilz was the Combined winner in 2021 and in 2023 has had a good Lead season with a silver from the World Cup in Villars and bronze in Innsbruck.
There are a few strong teams in attendance for Bern and unsurprisingly Japan is one. More often or not you will see a Japanese athlete at the top end of the leaderboards, and some of those names include Miho Nonaka who returned to the top step of a World Cup podium for the first time in five years with a win in Seoul at the start of the season.
Other Japanese climbers gracing the 2023 World Cup podium were Ai Mori, Kume Nonoha and Matsufuji Anon.
With the next Olympic Games in Paris, there is interest in how the French athletes have been faring in the build-up. And not too bad is the answer. Oriane Bertone won the first World Cup gold of her career in 2023 and teammates Manon Hily and Hélène Janicot have also stepped onto the podium.
Focusing on an Olympic return, Australia’s Oceania Mackenzie has been a mainstay in IFSC World Cup competitions in 2023 after a restricted international competition schedule in 2022 due to her country’s Covid-19 rules, and a national record fifth place finish in Boulder at World Cup Brixen is sure to give her confidence.
Another climber with increasing confidence is Great Britain’s Molly Thompson-Smith who has had to fight back from an ankle injury in the offseason. After consecutive ninth-place finishes, and with it just missing out on finals, Thompson-Smith made the leap into the Briançon Lead finals to take an upward trajectory into Bern.
Hannah Meul started the year with a Boulder World Cup silver but hasn’t featured much in the Lead competitions. The German climber narrowly missed out on a European Championships Boulder & Lead medal finishing in fourth but showing her potential across both disciplines.
On a happy and sad note, Canada’s Alannah Yip and Switzerland’s Petra Klinger will both feature, however, they have both indicated this World Championships could well be their last, so going out on a high will be in their minds.
Climbing begins for the women at IFSC World Championships Bern 2023 with Lead qualification at 11:00 (UTC+2:00) on 2 August and Boulder qualification at 16:00 on 3 August.
News and updates about the IFSC World Championships Bern 2023 will be available on the official website of the event, on the IFSC event page, and on the Federation’s digital channels: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and exclusively for the Chinese audience, Douyinand Weibo.
This is the first in a series of Bern 2023 previews with men’s Boulder and Lead, Speed and Paraclimbing still to come.
USA's Natalia Grossman competes at IFSC World Cup Innsbruck 2023 in Lead
Photo: Jan Virt/IFSC