Mori and Schubert take Gold in roller-coaster Lead Final in Bern
- Monday 7th August 2023
Ai Mori and Jakob Schubert took the Lead Gold medals in Bern at the World Championships yesterday in an emotional, record-breaking, roller-coaster final.
Ai Mori’s success beating the ‘bookies favourite’ Janja Garnbret, was little short of sensational. Although still only 24 years old, Garnbret’s ability in both Boulder and Lead is legendary. After winning the Boulder and Lead Double at the 2019 Hachioji World Championships in 2019, Garnbret went on to win the Olympic Combined event in the Toyko Games in 2021. She skipped the 2021 World Championships after the Olympics but was back on the top of the podiums at the Boulder, Lead and Combined events at the Continental Championships in Munich in August 2022. Having broken her toe in the ‘training season’, Garnbret was back at her dominant best taking both Boulder and Lead Golds at the Innsbruck World Cup earlier this summer. Going into Bern, Garnbret seemed favourite for the Double in Boulder and Lead – as well as the yet to be held - Combined. Mori however, had the Lead competition of her life and snatched the Lead Gold out from under Garnbret’s grasp in a sensational win yesterday.
Whilst Garnbret is typically the de-facto favourite in the women’s events, the men’s competitions are much more open especially now as a raft of young climbers such as Sorato Anraku, Mejdi Schalck, Dohyun Lee, Sam Avezou and Toby Roberts are vying for positions alongside the established climbers like Adam Ondra, Jakob Schubert and Alex Megos. Against what might have been expected, the likes of Anraku, Schalck, Lee, Avezou and Roberts have all leap-frogged over the Olympic young guns from Tokyo like Alberto Gines Lopez and Colin Duffy. It’s easy to argue that in a stacked field such as the men’s Lead it was simply impossible to predict – with any certainty – a winner. On any one day, on any one route, any one of these climbers might have stood on the top spot of the Lead podium. To a degree it’s often been like this; however, one man – Jakob Schubert – always seems to come to the fore in the Lead events and do the business when the pressure is on. Having already climbed, Schubert could only watch the remaining higher ranked climbers – Adam Ondra and Toby Roberts – come out and climb. However, both Ondra and Roberts - despite their respective superb semi-final performances - fell low on the wall having made mistakes; against the odds, Schubert ended up with the win. At 33-years old he was the oldest climber on the podium and the oldest ever World Champion!
The Lead qualification round, back on Day 2 of the Championships, saw both Janja Garnbret and Ai Morifinish the day in joint position in the top spot in their respective group. Brooke Raboutou and Laura Rogora were close behind however. Just back again were the established Lead climbers such as Chaehyun Seo, Jessica Pilz and Vita Lukan. In joint 11th place was Molly Thompson-Smith and Oriane Bertone. Farther down the order Miho Nonaka, Jain Kim and Mia Krampl were all above the cut for the semi’s just outside however was Natalia Grossman in 27th.
Once the chalk dust has finally settled after yesterday’s semi-final round the vast majority of the semi-finalists had all fallen between holds 32 and 37. Two athletes stood above this group on 37+, Laura Rogora and Molly Thompson-Smith, in joint 4th place. Above them was Brooke Raboutou on 44+, Janja Garnbret on 47 but out in the lead, and by a clear margin, was Ai Mori on 52. From time to time, Garnbret has shown herself to be vulnerable; this was one such occasion. She hadn’t looks quite her ‘normal’ self in the semi and had fallen below Ai Mori’s highpoint. Whilst it looked like we might be in for an upset, the big news for Brits was that Molly had posted an amazing performance to finish in joint 4th; GB Climbing had their first ever British women in a World Championship Lead Final! Remarkable this came eight months or so after Molly broke her ankle in a bouldering accident out in the Peak District just days before the final Lead event of 2022.
Yesterday evening Olympic Bronze medallist Miho Nonaka got the Women’s Lead Final underway to a packed stadium; the Japanese Boulder specialist fell mid-height. Mia Krampl was next out and gunned her way to move 42, ten moves beyond where Nonaka had fallen at move 32. Chaehyun Seo, obviously keen to put some of her recent troubles behind her (she’d clipped out of sync in a recent comp and was withdrawn by the officials) and she bettered Krampl’s position taking the highpoint up to move 47+. Jessica Pilz got to 39 before falling; but, with no doubt, all the Brits watching at home screaming at the telly, Molly fell at 26+ in 9th place. She’d more to give for sure but it wasn’t to be – sadly; regardless of the result Molly had done GB Climbing proud!
When Laura Rogora failed to get beyond mid-field it was down to Raboutou, Garnbret and Mori to chase Chaehyun Seo’s highpoint at 47+. Once Raboutou had fallen below the highpoint it was a dual to the end between Garnbret and Mori with Garnbret going first. Somewhat uncharacteristically, Garnbret looks ill at ease getting onto a ‘fridge-shaped box’ low on the route. She recovered but wasn’t really climbing at her very best. Once on the headwall and with the top in sight, Garnbret seems to settle more and climbing quickly with the clock ticking down fast she made the top and clipped the chains.
Garnbret had done everything she could and it meant the usually slower climber Ai Mori, would have to climb not only at her very best and top the route also but do it quicker than Garnbret whilst climbing quicker than normal too. Of Course, Mori was in isolation so didn’t know for certain that Garnbret had topped out; however, hearing the crowd roar with approval as Garnbret’s time was ending could only really have meant one thing; she’d topped. It’s seems somewhat unfathomable that the diminutive figure of Ai Mori can climb as well as she does but she climbed with precision, confidence and speed and topped out beating Garnbret’s time by a margin; she’s done what seemed improbably, she’d snatched the Lead Gold from the hands of Garnbret in the most epic of manners – truly a climb for the history books if ever there was one! Mori became the first Japanese climber ever – man or women - to win a Lead World Championship.
Speaking afterwards Mori said, “Before climbing I told myself to just enjoy it, so it was an exciting time. I knew maybe Janja got a top, so I knew I had too as well. I was nervous before, but now I’m happy.”
Back on Day 3 Jakob Schubert had ended the day at the head of the rankings after the Men’s qualification round albeit Sorato Anraku and Sam Avezou shared joint 1st with Schubert under the complex scoring system. Sascha Lehmann sat in 4th with Jesse Grupper and Toby Roberts in joint 5th. Adam Ondra was in joint 7th, Olympic Champion Alberto Gines Lopez was in joint 9th and Alex Megos in joint 13th. Plenty of celebs were farther down still; Colin Duffy (=15th), Mejdi Schalck and Yoshyuki Ogata (+17th, Tomoa Narasaki (=19th), Sean Bailey (=21st), Stefano Ghisolfi (=23rd) and Dohyun Lee (=25th). As we say, this was a field stacked with talent!
Yesterday’s semi-finals was always going to be tough and we have Adam Ondra’s word for it that it was exactly that. Writing on Instagram here’s how he described the route, how it was to climb and how he felt afterwards, “Hard semi-final round here in @climbingbern2023 ☝️ Brutally bouldery and resistant, very sketchy and high-risk climbing. Not a route you want to climb on the semi-final round of the World Championships. But I climbed well, was lucky, and proceeded to the evening finals.” Ondra, with all his climbing and competing skills, fought his way to hold 39+ before falling. For reference, Jakob Schubert fell one move down at 38+, Alex Megos fell four moves lower at 34 and the rest of the field all fell below that.
Well, not quite all the field actually; one climber went higher still and that was GB Climbing’s very own Toby Roberts! Roberts has accelerated to the highest levels in international climbing in this, his maiden senior year, and his semi-final performance was truly the stuff of dreams. When finally Toby fell, he peeled off move 43+ another four moves higher than Ondra! Progressing into the finals in top spot was remarkable; think what that means for young Toby for a moment – the excitement and, of course, the pressure!
Fast forward to yesterday evening it was very much with bated breath that the final got underway with Dohyun Lee leading out the ten climbers thanks to an un-usual three-way joint finish in 8th by Lee, Paul Jenft and Sean Bailey. As the men’s final route slowly unfolded it was obvious that the setters had severed-up a challenge of considerable proportions; not only hard but seemingly insecure and unsettling. All three lower ranked climbers made it through the lower sideways jump and then the drop-down move and onto the middle section of the route; Dohyun Lee finally falling off move 39. Surprisingly, Sorato Anraku had qualified relatively low down in the field but showing his class he surpassed Lee’s position before falling at move 48. Ao Yurikusa peeled off at 38+ but when Yunchan Song fell at move 17 it was a shocking reminder that mistakes were possible at any point on this route; an omen for what was to follow.
Alex Megos was next out and try as he did he could only extend Dohyun Lee’s highpoint by a single move before falling pumped having failed to clip a quickdraw. That left the path open for the final three climbers, Jakob Schubert, Adam Ondra and Toby Roberts. Schubert has had a lifetime pursuing his competition dreams, more so than Megos and Ondra, yet even with all his experience he could only better the 16-year old Anraku’s high point by half a move. It was clear at that point that it was going to take a considerable effort to better that score let alone top the route. Ondra was next out and looked determined yet, and totally against all the odds, he fell suddenly when he made a mistake relatively low down. So imagine the scene in isolation; Toby’s watched the world’s best lead climbers slowly leave to climb. Then he gets the call to climb; clearly Ondra must have fallen low down - as if there wasn’t enough pressure on him already! Sadly, Toby fell off the lower sideways jump when he lost his grip in the left-hand of two opposing pockets as he was preparing to launch sideways to the jug and hence gain access to the upper section of the route. How hard they might have found it or what Ondra or Roberts might have achieved we’ll clearly never know; it would have been an amazing scene to watch the two men battle upwards as both have proved they’re very capable of doing but Ondra and Robert’s bitter lose meant Schubert had successfully defended his title and won his fourth World Championship, a record for the men. Sorato Anraku finished in 2nd to take Silver and Alex Megos in 3rd to take Bronze.
Speaking after his record-breaking win Schubert said, “This field is so crazy strong, I knew I had to have the climb of my life to win this world championship title again. I feel like the Lead field is stronger than ever. The emotions are crazy right now. After being on the circuit for so long you know even better how to live these moments, and I’m living it right now. Winning in this arena is something you never forget.”
Finally, Schubert recognised the growing talent of young climbers such as Sorato Anraku and Toby Roberts saying, “It means so much to challenge one of the craziest talents we have in the sport with Anraku Sorato. He is such an amazing climber and if I can teach him a thing or two it would make me so proud. Maybe I will tell my kids about it, I don’t have any now of course, but I can say I taught him a little bit and now he wins everything. You see also Toby [Roberts], super strong young climbers, coming out on top tonight ahead of them means so much to me.”
Watch a video of the Lead competition below…