The UIAA Ice Climbing World Championships, the closing event in the 2018-2019 UIAA Ice Climbing season, was held in Kirov, Russia from 9-10 March.
A warm weekend in the Russian city provided a welcome respite from the freezing conditions athletes have had to endure throughout the season. The World Championships, the pinnacle event in the UIAA Ice Climbing calendar and running every two years, provided thrilling competition with action going down to the wire. The men’s lead and speed competitions have new World Champions, in the women’s competition athletes retain their titles won in Champagny-en-Vanoise, France two years ago.
Men’s Lead: Of the four winners of the overall six-event World Cup season, Nikolai Kuzovlev was the only athlete to eventually add a world title success. Already with four World Cup gold medals and the World Combined Championships to his name after a momentous and consistent season, the 36-year old faced close competition in Kirov from former World Champion Maxim Tomilov. Tomilov has not featured during the 2018-2019 season and his reappearance at the World Championships added an element of unknown. Despite a lack of recent international competition, Tomilov demonstrated all of his class and experience in equalling Kuzovlev’s performance in the qualification round before climbing highest in the semi-finals. The final round presented a showdown between the two athletes. Kuzovlev was first to climb, falling shortly after the 14th clip with only seconds to spare. Tomilov as last athlete to climb had time on his side and seemed to have Kuzovlev’s score within his reach before falling after the 13th clip with over a minute still to climb. It handed the world title to Kuzovlev, silver to Tomilov with the bronze medal being claimed by Aleksei Marshalov.
Women’s Lead: Athletes from Finland, France, Russia and South Korea made the Finals. The competition was set up for a dramatic showdown between the two athletes who dominated the World Cup season – Maria Tolokonina and defending world champion Woonseon Shin. The two athletes topped both the qualification and semi-final routes with the South Korean fastest going into the Final. The competition ultimately came down to mere seconds and how these two great competitors negotiated a tricky final section. First to climb, Tolokonina fell as she made a big reach after the 15th clip with the top in her sights. An impressive performance which left Shin little margin for error. Reaching the final few holds at a similar pace to Tolokonina, Shin’s extra height allowed her to make the final reach a little faster. She made the last hold before timing out. Enough to deliver another world title. Gold for Shin, silver for Tolokonina and bronze for Russia’s Maryam Filippova.
Men’s Speed: Conditions were excellent on the Kirov speed wall with very few athletes failing to complete their climbs. It led to a closely-fought competition with 7-second climbs required to be in medal contention. The most consistent performer on the speed wall was Vladislav Iurlov, a World Cup gold medal winner in Beijing, who won the final duel against Anton Sukharev. This despite the latter registering the fastest summit of the weekend (7.29 seconds) with his final climb. Iurlov succeeds Vladimir Kartashev as World Champion. Anton Nemov, World Tour winner, denied Nikolai Kuzovlev another medal by winning the bronze medal climb.
Women’s Speed: If there was any physical or emotional hangover from the morning’s lead competition, Maria Tolokonina didn’t show it. In the women’s event there were five sub-10 second climbs with Tolokonina typically reserving her fastest ascent – 9.36 seconds – for the Final. Despite recovering in the the second duel, Natalia Savitskaia had to settle for silver as Tolokonina defended the title won two years ago. Bronze went to the fastest woman on the wall Valeriia Bogdan (9.22 seconds) who defeated Irina Dubovtseva. World Tour winner Ekaterina Koshcheeva finished fifth overall.
Tribute to Tom Ballard
On Saturday the news broke that the bodies of Briton Tom Ballard and his Italian climbing partner Daniele Nardi had been discovered on Nanga Parbat, Pakistan. The two climbers had last made contact a little over two weeks ago. A regular competitor on the UIAA Ice Climbing World Tour, representing Great Britain at World Cups during the 2016, 2017 and 2018 seasons, Tom enjoyed close friendships with a number of fellow athletes and officials nurtured both during the competition environment and throughout many climbing trips in the French Alps, and more recently the Dolomites, where Tom spent a significant amount of time. Tom was considered one of the most gifted climbers of his generation. In 2015 he made headlines when becoming the first person to successfully solo climb the Alps’ six major north faces in the same winter season.
His mother Alison Hargreaves died descending from the summit of K2 in 1995. This in the same year she became the first woman to conquer Everest unaided.
During the closing ceremony in Kirov, athletes and officials paid their respects. A minute’s silence was held to remember Tom and Daniele before Frits Vrijlandt, UIAA President, dedicated his closing speech to the two men. The UIAA’s thoughts are with Tom and Daniele’s family and friends.
Key Links from Kirov:
Kirov photos: UIAA/Timur Gainullin
The UIAA thanks all of the organisers who staged a memorable World Championships in Kirov and to title sponsor Outdoor Research for their support and commitment to the World Tour. A full review of the 2018-2019 UIAA Ice Climbing season will be published in due course.