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Final Lead Men report

Ramón Julian Puigblanque © Giulio Malfer

Ramón Julian Puigblanque © Giulio Malfer

Everything starts off in some way or other. And this story starts with something awesome. Because it was that man, Evgeny Ovchinnikov, who kicked off this long awaited Lead World Final. For many spectators it was like taking a step back in time: the Russian has a great competition record and, at the tender age of 40, once again he was taking on the world’s best by competing in this World Championship Final. Is this why the atmosphere tonight was so magical?  What is certain is that it was a beautiful evening here at the Climbing Stadium and the crowd of climbing fans couldn’t wait to be enraptured by this title fight.

Ovchinnikov set off. What lay in store was a route which climbed straight up the central prow on the left-hand wall. After roughly 25 moves the first hurdle arose and this is where Evgeny said good-bye to his unexpected but great World Championship. Made even greater because his younger team-mate Evgeny Zazulin fell lower. But there was no time to ponder. These awesome final acts were quick, just like this World Championship route which was now being tackled by Manuel Romain. The Frenchman climbed past Ovchinnnikov’s highpoint and pushed on upwards, past the green volume and just kept going…he fell trying to grasp the first holds in the massive roof… Oh yes, this route was fast but it hid some nasty surprises…

Magnus Midtboe apparently saw few of those. He’d never been on such form and, above all, climbed so decisively. Who knows whether yesterday’s tragedy, honoured with a black band in sign of mourning, influenced him in any way. In the meantime he continued his climb upwards. Past the first filter. The green volume. And on to the big roof. Up he went, fuelled almost by rage. When he fell he had really managed to climb high. Now it was Korean Hyunbin Min’s turn. Probably no one thought he’d reach this stage. And he, 22 years of age, confronted the route “head on”, without problems. He took all the risks worth taking until he finished his comp slightly beneath Romain.

The time all had been waiting for had finally come.  This final was a time bomb… only three more competitors to go. It comes as no surprise that the were the three athletes contending the title! There was electricity in the air when Adam Ondra entered the climbing arena. The crowd had great expectations, and knew they wouldn’t be disappointed. And Magic Adam wanted it more than anyone else. So he took his time, climbed confidently, trying to control everything, taking the least possible risks. But then up high, there on the large red sphere where the route leaves the terrible overhang, for a moment he went back to being good old Adam. Cheeky and without thinking he made a perfect dyno which left the crowd breathless. He then prepared for the final rush towards the sky. An awesome cross through, a shoulder move and on upwards towards the final dyno and top which… which he just touched. Adam fell but, once again, he amazed everyone.

The time had come for Jakob Schubert. Along with Ramón Julian Puigblanque, the 20-year-old had been the only athlete to have sent all three routes which paved the way into the final. 10 days ago he had won the first stage of the Lead World Cup in Chamonix; he was on tremendous form and climbed like a devil. He seemed fresh and when he reached the massive red sphere he didn’t even stop for a breather. He just continued. There was no stopping him. The route seemed in his grasp.  He reached the dyno and the crowd prepared to cheer his top. But instead, the crowd’s reaction was of surprise: Jakob held the top for an instant, his hand curled in but this didn’t suffice. His journey ended there, and that top seemed impossible. The route-setters had invented a great little trick. The positive tension was palpable. Maybe a photo-finish final lay in store.

At this point it’s worth catching your breath. Let thoughts take over. For instance, if Ramonette were to win here in Arco, then this would photocopy the 2007 Aviles result. After Stöhr and Sharafutdinov in the Boulder event, and Eiter in the Women’s Lead, Puigblanque was the only one missing to complete the perfect copy. But there was no time to stop and think about different destinies. The competition had to continue its course…  Ramonette was already high on the route, as usual climbing weightlessly, inexorably towards the top. Dancing as usual between up amongst the holds and footholds.

Puigblanque was up to his usual tricks. And while he rested on the red island just before the last section, thoughts went back to Aviles and his epic battle against Patxi Usobiaga, the defending World Champion who didn’t compete in Arco due to injury. Great Patxi was in  amongst the crowd… and who knows what was going through his mind. Whatever it was, it must have flashed through his mind as fast as lightening. But never as quick as Ramonette who threw himself towards the top. And sticking it! Great Schubert placed second, magical Adam third.

I didn’t count the seconds (a dozen perhaps?) that Puigblanque hung off the top with one hand while the crowd paid homage with an unforgettable standing ovation. All I know is that I’ll not forget this moment for quite a while. And I also know that I’ve never seen so many people at the Climbing Stadium. And this what happened tonight wasn’t simply a dream: it was something truly amazing.

P.S. A special mention goes to the route setters (Christian Bindhammer, Donato Lella & Luigi Billoro) who took the risk of setting this final. And also to the crowd which believed, right to the end, that the miracle would happen.

report by Vinicio Stefanello / planetmountain.com

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