The following is a shortened version of a longer article produced by The Beta Angel Project. For the longer article, including analysis of the males and other sections, visit this link here. Skip to the bolded sentences and graphics for highlights.
Two of climbing’s Olympic Qualifying Events (OQEs) will be held shortly. The first OQE is the World Championships for Climbing’s three disciplines starting on the 11th of August in Hachioji, Japan. Anyone with even a remote interest in Climbing’s Olympic debut will be interested to see which seven men and women get invitations to complete in the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. There are currently (subject to change) 93 men and 79 women registered to compete in the Combined Olympic discipline. Within those fields, 26 men and 25 women are what we call “wildcards” because they cannot, at this point, obtain a combined world ranking from the 18 World Cup event circuit, which will be used to determine which athletes get invited to the second OQE in Toulouse – an invitational only.
The “invitational” OQE will come after Hachioji and will be located in Toulouse, France, starting on the 28th of November. For those athletes who don’t get a bid to the Olympics at the World Championships in Hachioji, Toulouse is a fantastic second option where six additional Olympic slots per gender will be handed out… if you play the World Cup Game right.
To oversimplify and catch you up: the game is played by multiplying your top-two World Cup ranks for each discipline: Bouldering, Lead, and Speed. Climbers are competing for what are called low “multipliers” across two events in each discipline – for six scores total which will be multiplied together. Not to confuse you, but there are six World Cups per discipline, or 18 total events. Bouldering is over. Speed has one more World Cup scheduled, and Lead Climbing has three left.
There are currently 59 men and 50 women who have a combined world ranking, making them eligible for one of the top-20 coveted invitations to Toulouse. However, there are an additional 38 men and 31 women who still have the potential to get a combined ranking. At this point, we are fairly confident that ten of those 38 men and nine of the 31 women will be joining the combined rankings primarily because they have already completed five of the six events required to have a ranking.
The Current US Overall National Team
Not everyone is aware that the US Overall National Team was just changed following the Briançon Lead World Cup. The team was changed to take into account points accumulated through the World Cup season thus far– ostensibly to give the opportunity to gauge the potential of US Climbers on the world stage. The new four-member female team is Ashima Shiraishi, Kyra Condie, Margo Hayes, and Natalia Grossman. The new four-member male team is Nathaniel Coleman, Sean Bailey, John Brosler, and Drew Ruana.
The current teams are a small shift from the original teams which started the World Cup season. Natalia and John replaced Brooke Raboutou and Zach Galla. However, both Brooke and Zach are still ranked fifth, giving them the opportunity to compete in the World Championships along with the sixth place athletes Alex Johnson and Joe Goodacre. Alex, Natalia, and Joe were not in the original top six, but managed to showcase their World Cup skill and break into that top-six. These 12 athletes will all be heading to the World Championships with the exception of Margo Hayes. Sienna Kopf (currently ranked seventh) is registered in her place.
Where the US team sits now in the hunt for an invitation to Toulouse
If our US athletes don’t make the top-seven at World Championships, their next chance will be Toulouse. Recently, the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) posted the combined world rankings, which will determine the 20 invitations per gender to Toulouse. Ashima is currently in 15th place, with Kyra following closely in 17th place. Margo is in 27th, Sienna is in 31st, and Brooke is in 34th. Natalia and Alex Johnson do not currently have a ranking because they have not yet competed in the necessary number of World Cups– they both still need one more speed and two lead World Cups. There’s still some question as to whether Alex will receive invites to enough World Cups given that she is not in the top four.
A hypothetical for the US Team’s chance to receive an invitation to Toulouse
The easiest way to view the above information is to consider that you have to make the top-20, with some potential for additional slots (discussed below), to be invited to Toulouse. Currently, that leaves Ashima and Kyra in a good position to get invitations. However, there are a number of individuals who we expect to move into the combined world ranking who are fairly good climbers, such as current speed world record holder YiLing Song and Jain Kim. If the expected athletes (an extra nine women) join the world ranking, Ashima is in 16th, Kyra moves down to 19th place, Margo moves up to 25th, Brooke moves down to 37th, and Sienna is down to 40th.
With this hypothetical, Ashima and Kyra would receive invitations, and *possibly* Margo (depending on the World Championships) but while Margo may be in the top group, the “two athletes per gender” rule would mean she would not receive an invitation. Margo needs to improve on her position at the remaining World Cups to try and catch Kyra or Ashima. Unfortunately, we have little idea what Natalia or Alex will end up doing in a lead World Cup. Ashima may be fine if she were to stop lead now, especially considering it will be hard to top her previous scores. Kyra, on the other hand, can likely improve on her lead scores.
We can use the current world ranking as a corollary for the potential top seven spots at Hachioji. Even though this remains a gigantic assumption, it’s still fun. Here is a table of the top-seven after 14 events:
If these seven were also the top-seven at the World Championships, Mia Krampl (SLO) (ranked eighth) would also get an Olympic slot because Ai Mori wouldn’t be eligible due to the fact that Akiyo and Miho would secure Japan’s two slots. And that’s only the beginning of the havoc the “two athletes per gender per country” rule would cause. Futaba Ito (currently 14th) would also not be eligible to receive an Olympic slot for the same reason, along with Slovenia’s Lucka Rakovec (tenth) and Vita Lukan (23rd), and the United States’ Margo Hayes (27th) and Sienna Kopf (31st).
What this means is that, in this super-hypothetical scenario only, all females up to the 33rd place would either (a) have an Olympic slot, (b) have an invitation to compete at Toulouse, or (c) would not be invited due to the “two athletes per country” rule. Note that this assumes a few interpretations of rules that I’m checking into and not totally clear about. Interestingly, three countries are responsible for the reallocated Toulouse invitations in this scenario: the Japanese, Slovenians, and the Americans. The Americans have a significant amount of depth between places 15 and 31.
One way for us to view the current state of competitors is to look across all of the data and see how consistent the climbers are. For example, unless you’ve been living under a rock you know Janja swept all six bouldering World Cups, giving her an unbeatable average, minimum, and maximum of one with an N of six. Even keeping in mind that the top competitors weren’t at all of the bouldering World Cups due to a combination of Olympic focus and injury, this is still an exceptional feat arguably only rivaled by Anna Stöhr’s 2013 year in which she swept seven of eight bouldering World Cups (and took second at the eighth). The below graphs give us a sense of consistency by depicting average, min, and max bars for Bouldering, Speed, and Lead Climbing.
It’s hard to make any broad generalizations. There’s lot of data, lots of ways of looking at the data, and there are lots of reasons not to trust the data. Athletes may have to struggle with whether to increase the risk at these events to “go for broke.” Risk can be modified in a number of ways, especially in the Lead and Speed World Cups. Looking forward, it may make sense for climbers to prioritize the remaining three lead world cups and one speed world cup, and possibly shift “risk” or “training” strategies depending on their current multipliers. This is especially true for bubble athletes, and it may even be more important if one or more of the “wildcards” take a top-seven spot at the World Championships.
The Wildcards and The Injured
The “wildcards” are climbers who will attend the World Championships but aren’t eligible to receive a combined world ranking at this stage of the game. Among these are Chaehyun Seo and Natsuki Tanii, both of whom have podium finishes in this year’s lead world cups. These are climbers who could jump into the “top competitor” pack and take an Olympic bid. A wildcard will make it harder for any climber with a combined world ranking to receive an invitation to Toulouse.
On the other hand, promising competitors can end up sidelined by the rigors of training and competition. Russia’s Anna Tsyganova appears to be out of contention after a bad fall fractured her spine; Slovenian Katja Kadic appears to be out of contention as well with a bad shoulder injury; and Serbian Stasa Gejo is recovering from knee surgery. Jain Kim has a finger injury which may be recovering well. Every time we watch Miho on a hard shoulder move, we cover our eyes – she started the season with a shoulder injury but appears to be on the mend. As of this writing, the authors’ favorite climber Fanny Gibert better not have an injured knee or they’ll consider burning their own website to the ground and taking up a sport that doesn’t involve knees – like darts.
The World Championships are going to be fascinating, but the game will really heat up once the top-seven for both genders are selected and out of “the game.” At that point, competitors may start math-ing to determine what they *potentially* need to get at the final World Cups of the season in order to break into a Toulouse invitation slot. There will understandably be a lot of uncertainty since athletes will have little control over other competitors. But with uncertainty comes both concern about maintaining one’s position and hope from those looking to move up. We don’t know what you’re calling it. But in our house, where spreadsheets are Queen and the names of international competitors slip off the tongue at every meal conversation, it’s called: “Invitation Watch 2019.”
Feature Image by Eddie Fowke/IFSC