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2019 Open Bouldering Nationals: Men To Watch For

Canadian Open Bouldering Nationals are happening this weekend! Normally, one of the most common questions asked is: Will anyone beat Sean McColl?

Except that McColl won’t be there this year. The reigning 12-time champion is training and competing in Europe. About missing Nationals, McColl wrote on his Instagram that, “…it didn’t fit perfectly with my training plan. […] I LOVE competing at my Nationals and I’m sad to miss it, especially because I know @bolderclimbing and everyone involved are going to put on a SHOW!”

So the door for the top men’s spot is open. And looking at the running order, it’s really quite hard to make predictions; there are so many strong competitors. Below we take a closer look at the men’s field.

Betting on Sébastien Lazure would be pretty safe. Last year, Lazure came second to McColl by only three attempts (to tops) and has been on the podium three out of the last four years (3rd in 2015, 3rd in 2017, 2nd in 2018). It would be very satisfying if he was to complete the sequence with a gold medal this weekend.

A win for Lazure is certainly possible. He has garnered great route-reading skills from his extensive international experience. He is also strong and flexible. As for his head-game, Lazure is a bit of an emotional enigma when he competes; it’s hard to tell if he’s frustrated or focused. But it doesn’t seem to matter because he gets the job done in Finals. What could matter is that he had to take some time off for two finger injuries this season. This is a particularly hard hit for Lazure because finger strength is his super power. But Lazure says he’s excited for Nationals and though his fingers aren’t perfect, he’ll work with what he has, which, let’s be honest, is more than most even at less than 100%.

Alongside Lazure, many eyes will be on veritable comp veteran, Jason Holowach. Saskatoon’s Holowach is a consistent finalist at Nationals as well as a World Cup finalist. His experience gives him a leg up over the younger competitors. When asked about the comp, he says he’s “feeling pretty good. Quite confident in some areas, nervous in others.” Nervous, because his left arm has been giving him trouble on certain moves. So, the setting may play a role in how things go for Holowach this weekend. One thing is for sure, though, longtime fans of Canadian comp climbing are ready for Holowach to win.

Florent Balsez is also a seasoned competitor who has great potential. Ontario-based Balsez has a near-unfathomable dedication to health, fitness and training for climbing. He is possibly the most flexible male competitor on the circuit. And for the first time in ten years, Balsez will be competing in Canada not as a French Foreign National but as a Canadian citizen.

It’s hard to predict how the Youth climbers will fare in the Open field but these days one cannot overlook them as serious threats. Zach Richardson from Ontario is an 18-year-old to keep an eye on this weekend. He won the 2018 Panamerican Bouldering Championships three months ago and came third in Juniors at Youth Boulder Nationals (YBN) two weeks ago. Richardson says, “I’m feeling pretty psyched for this weekend and hope I can climb my best.” Disappointed with his previous performances at Open Nationals, he’s looking to turn things around this year. Fellow Junior climbers, Manh Ellis (who came second at YBN) and David Trudeau could also cause some upset for the usual suspects in Open.

It would be both surprising and not to see a Junior on the podium amidst so many strong, experienced competitors.

Dylan Saffery. Photo by Matthew Chapman

But, to reiterate, the running order is filled with podium contenders. Winner of B.C. Provincials, JJ Mah is climbing super strong, as is Ontario Champ, 19-yr-old Dylan Saffery. Maybe Pier-Michaël Lemay‘s new-found confidence after winning the Quebec Cup will translate into another medal. Or perhaps Bloc Shop athletes Francis Bilodeau and Nathan Smith will rise to the occasion. Albertan beast Alex Fricker has been training like crazy. And National Team member, Lucas Uchida is no stranger to first place, let alone podiums. And the list goes on.

If you’ve got tickets already, you will be lucky enough to watch in person. Otherwise, tune in with the rest of us to find out how it all shakes down.

Qualifiers are on Saturday at 10am (MT). Semi-finals are on Sunday at 10am (MT). Finals are on Sunday at 4pm (MT). Sunday’s events will be emceed for you by Pete Woods and former Canadian bouldering champion, Elise Sethna. Watch the live-stream on SportsCanada.TV.

Revised Running Order as of Feb 27, 2019: