After a 6 month wait for the start of the season, there was only 1 week to wait between the 1st Boulder World Cup in Hachioji, Japan (21st to 23rd April 2023) and the 2nd in Seoul, South Korea (29th & 30th April 2023).
The field was almost identical and almost all athletes took the short 2.5 hour flight from Tokyo to Seoul in South Korea – albeit on varying schedules to either continue to train in Tokyo, or explore the training gyms of Seoul.
Monday was a post comp travel\rest day and by Monday evening there was very much a ‘K-Pop’ feel with home for a week now being deep in the heart of ‘Gangnam’.
Tuesday was a short walk to the nearest climbing gym ‘Climbing Park’ which was small but with a good hold selection for a light movement based session.
Training on Wednesday would be a little heavier, and a few tube stops away from Gangnam was the bigger ‘The Climb’ gym, which featured some excellent movement based setting and some powerful problems.
Both the GB team – supported by GB coaches Liam and Rachel – and the French team had the same idea and there was a very international feel to the training.
Thursday and Friday were rest days which for Toby are his least favourite:
You’re excited for the upcoming comp which generally means everything else doesn’t seem that exciting. You’re trying to kill time without wasting energy or skin whilst eating well and keeping fresh. It’s great to hang out with the team and explore a little – but it’s mostly a boring day based around coffee and time wasting.Toby Roberts
Qualification day arrived and after a week of non-eventful weather, there was a wet start to the day. Male athletes arrived using the 45 minute shuttle transfer from the hotels in Gangnam to the competition venue at the Yongma Waterfall Park – which as the name suggest includes some seemingly man-made controllable waterfalls.
Water was seemingly the theme for the day. The male start time came and went and a series of delays were hastily announced. By 11.30am, male athletes were still in isolation 2.5 hours after the rounds scheduled start time.
‘Plastic curtains’ around the wall, tarpaulins and towels were seemingly visible in growing number and a short-while later it was announced the male qualification round would be postponed until Sunday morning.
A 6-hour round trip later most athletes were back at the hotel, with around 4 hours spent in a soggy isolation. Mikel Marwem (FRA) was seemingly as bored as the other athletes and duly found a drill and some holds and started setting his own warm up boulders.
It was assumed that the rainy weather might have been seasonably uncharacteristic given the total lack of preparation (larger roof on the temporary boulder wall, better protection, covered warmup, etc.).
Teams and athletes had flown long distances and spent considerable sums to attend, not to mention the event was part of an Olympic qualifying process. A quick online search revealed that the rain (which was by no means torrential) was typical for this time of year and also threatened to disrupt last years final.
Given the vast sums spent by everyone to prepare and attend, as well as the best endeavours of many volunteers and federations, it’s not unreasonable to ask for some basic contingency against something as predictable as the weather when planning a Boulder World Cup outdoors.
Nonetheless, the mens round was postponed, the womens qualification round went ahead on the Saturday afternoon and the competition was re-organised to remove the final round and run a semi-final format round on Sunday evening that would be used to determine overall results.
So the male athletes regrouped, and returned on Sunday for qualifications.
After finishing joint 25th In Hachioji Toby bumped up the overall World Rankings slightly and would now climb in 24th place in his group, which this time saw all GBR athletes in group A.
Boulder 1 was a tricky slab that involved pressing on 2 slopers before bring feet to hands to stand up and begin to move right using a poor foothold. Choice of shoe was a big factor for many and there were numerous shoe changes to try and help stand on the terrible foot hold. The boulder wasn’t topped by anyone in the group which meant securing the zone was almost as good as a top. Toby managed to successfully secure the zone on his 6th attempt to get his round off to a great start.
Boulder 2 involved using a poor Rockcity boomerang shaped hold in opposition to a poor right hand sloper. This move was executed a lot easier by standing up quickly and going dynamically to both holds at the same time. Catching this move was key to unlocking the top which Toby managed on his 3rd attempt.
Boulder 3 was similar to Boulder 3 in Hachioji and potentially under-cooked a little with setters maybe still getting a grip on how strong this seasons draft of climbers are. It was the most flashed boulders and Toby also managed to flash it.
The way the round was shaping, 3 tops and 4 zones looked to be enough for finals so it was likely Toby would need another top from his last 2 boulders to progress.
Boulder 4 looked like a relatively straight-forward dyno to two opposing holds – simply get high enough and most World Cup climbers would likely be able to stick the move. However, getting high enough; and moving in the right direction were the problems.
The setters had done an excellent job in ensuring a very poor volume to initiate the jump meant moving up and in the general direction you wanted to travel were both issues.
Toby seemed to be making progress and figuring out the movement – that was seemingly a very similar movement to a boulder he recently tried at B-Pump the week before.
After 15 attempts he suddenly found himself in a knee bar on the zone hold starting down the sequence to the top. There were many climbers who only achieved a zone on the boulder and it was no forgone conclusion to top the route and put one foot in semi-finals.
Toby reported afterwards that it climbed exactly as he read it and secured one of only 7 tops of boulder 4 with 15 seconds remaining and bumped himself up to 5th in his group and joint 9th overall.
Boulder 5 looked like Toby’s style of boulder – however Boulder 4 had left it’s mark. 15 attempts at a dynamic move meant bleeding from 3 finger tips – a feeling all to familiar to many climbers and normally the immediate end of climbing for a few days.
Feeling he’d probably done enough with a hard fought top on Boulder 4 the round was more about skin management and whilst Toby managed to secure a zone he wasn’t able to top.
However it soon became apparent that 3 tops 5 zones this week (his same score in Hachioji) was easily enough for semi-finals; which now doubled as finals due to the adverse weather from Saturday.
A quick pit-stop back to the hotel, lunch to celebrate with Max Milne (aka @maxthefuture) who qualified for semi-finals with a very impressive 3rd place, and it was back to isolation for the 2 of them.
Male Semi-Finals \ Finals
The atmosphere at the venue slowly built as if it was a finals – with the crowd ready to be treated to a 40 person final spectacle that included 2 home heroes in Jongwong Chon (KOR) and Dohyun Lee (KOR).
The K-Pop inspired finals started with a vibrant performance from someone unknown to most; but seemingly adored by a small army of cheering fans who may or may not have know exactly what a zone or a top was.
The semi-finals\finals began with both male and female climbing alongside each other following a 5 on\5 off format and it quickly became evident on the mens side that it was a very hard set with very little scores within the first hour of climbing.
The boulders appeared to be a tried and tested format that consisted of hard versions of slab, power, movement and dynamic boulders.
The slab was a quick stand\jump to stand onto a poor sloper before moving right again onto a poor foot – a boulder that received just 3 zones\tops through the round, and despite Toby coming close to securing the zone he was slightly off.
The powerful problem required a very difficult move to unlock the upper moves and it was a frustrating 5 minutes for most trying to get started on the boulder. The eventual key to the move was using a foot that would pop – but crucially kill some momentum in the process.
The movement problem was a crowd pleasing boulder and involved a swing and run into an undercut before a jump up to unlock the higher section before moving around a volume to a drop in move that allowed the climbers to unleash for the final double handed pinch. Invariably there were some spectacular falls.
On Toby’s 3rd attempt he made it to the final move and stuck the finishing move with a double-handed catch to some generous appreciation from the crowd.
That only left Boulder 4 which was a very dynamic paddle dyno to a single handed catch and no-one managed to stick the friction dependent move, and Toby was certainly not in contention with his fingers now held together with a combination of super-glue and tape.
However 1 top in 3 attempts was enough to bump himself up 1 position from qualifying and finish 8th securing valuable ranking points that will boost both his Olympic qualifying hopes and his future World Cup starting positions after ending his second ever Boulder World Cup ranked 37th in the overall World Rankings.
Next up is a trip back to the UK to continue training and prepare for the Salt Lake City World Cup in 3 weeks.
I really enjoyed this competition. My aim over the Hachioji and Seoul competitions was to make a semi-final and gain experience at this level.
Having a cancelled round was difficult to deal with, but it was the same for everyone and you just have to deal with whatever situation is in front of you.
When Qualis eventually got underway it was great to make it through to my first semi-final, but it cost me a lot of skin which I then needed to manage.
The semi finals did feel a little strange knowing they doubled as the final, but I feel that only helped as it had the feel and atmosphere of a final.
It felt incredible to top bloc 3 in front of a great South Korean crowd and in a really hard round that was enough to secure 8th place.
Spending a few weeks in Japan and South Korea has been eye opening – in particular the level of the bouldering gyms and the different styles of setting. I’m definitely excited to come back.
Overall it’s been great experience and really valuable points towards the Olympic Qualifying Series and I now can’t wait to go again in Salt Lake City in 3 weeks.Toby Roberts