Russia’s Maria Tolokonina and Nikolai Kuzovlev commenced the 2018-2019 UIAA Ice Climbing World Tour with statement victories in December’s inaugural Combined World Championships in Moscow.
During this weekend’s first leg of the six series World Cup season held in Cheongsong, South Korea, the two athletes maintained their excellent start to the season. Tolokonina enjoyed a remarkable Sunday, first defeating compatriot Ekaterina Koshcheeva in the final of the speed competition to take gold, before surpassing local favourites Woonseon Shin (silver) and Hannarai Song (bronze) to take the lead finals.
In the men’s competitions Kuzovlev’s Sunday was almost as impressive. He reached the final round of the men’s speed finals only to lose out to Anton Nemov. Vladislav Iurlov took bronze. Like Tolokonina, Kuzovlev beat local athletes to claim gold in the lead finals with Heeyong Park (silver) and Lee Younggeon (bronze) coming close for South Korea.
The women’s competition was contested by the two athletes who have dominated the World Cup scene in recent years. Tolokonina and Koshcheeva are the past two World Champions and their match up on the Cheongsong wall on Sunday morning is one we have been accustomed too. In the quarter-finals in her defeat of the USA’s Kendra Stritch, Koshcheeva set the fastest time of the weekend with a blistering 7.87. In the all-Russian semi-finals she surpassed Maryam Filippova while Tolokonina won narrowly over Natalia Savitskaia. In the final showdown just .007 seconds separated the athletes on the first climb with Tolokonina holding the advantage. On the second climb, a minor slip from Koshcheeva proved the difference. Tolokonina needed no invitation to take advantage. The speed podium was completed by Filippova who won the bronze medal climb.
The men’s speed competition is proving ever more competitive with three nations – Mongolia, Russia and South Korea – represented in the final rounds. Kuzovlev’s seemingly impossible ascent of 5.71 seconds, the fastest of the entire weekend, set the bar high in his quarter-final victory over Iran’s Mohsen Beheshti Rad. In reaching the semi-finals local athlete Myungwook Yang performed impressively. Here he lost out to Kuzovlev, defending World Tour champion in speed, who set up a final with compatriot Anton Nemov, fresh from victory over Vladislav Iurlov. In the finals it was Nemov, World Cup winner in Rabenstein in 2018, who upset the form book making the most of a slip from Kuzovlev in the final climb.
The lead finals are always the showpiece occasion in Cheongsong, attracting a large crowd for the final act of the weekend. Five nationalities – France, Ireland, Russia, South Korea and Switzerland – were represented in the women’s competition. It is rare for only one Russian athlete to make the Finals, and Tolokonina seemed to revel in the extra responsibility. The best performer in the semi-finals, she won a narrow women’s final ahead of Shin and Song, both former winners in Cheongsong. Impressive performances also came from Swiss youngster Sina Goetz, Korea’s Son Sunga and France’s Coralie Jary, all close to the podium. Ireland’s Eimir McSwiggan again made the Finals and was subject of a dedicated feature video during the weekend.
American climber Kevin Lindlau was the only non-Russian or South Korean athlete in the men’s finals which, as expected, was a showdown between Kuzovlev and the Heeyong Park, multiple World Cup winner whose appearances in recent seasons have been limited to his event. The two athletes would ultimately top the lead route with the Russian athlete achieving the feat in a faster time to take gold. Bronze went to Lee Younggeon who is continuing to produce consistent performances on the world stage. Last year’s Cheongsong winner Alexey Dengin had to settle for fourth.
The UIAA thanks the Korean Alpine Federation, all local organisers and the county of Cheongsong for organising another excellent World Cup.
The next leg of the UIAA Ice Climbing World Tour, partnered by Outdoor Research, visits Beijing, China on 18-20 January.
Photos from the event are available here. More will be uploaded shortly.
Rewatch: Speed Finals
Rewatch: Lead Finals