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Eight Men Who Could Win the World Cup Series

The Meiringen World Cup is just around the corner, and this year, the contenders vying for first are stronger than ever

With most National teams decided, athletes have begun to prepare for the start of 2022’s Boulder World Cup Season. Who will take this year’s title? Defending Champion Fujii Kokoro could seem like the favourite, but competition climbing is always a conversation in consistency. These four men stand the best chance of winning the 2022 IFSC World Cup Series, but several dark horses stand to take the title from them.

Adam Ondra wins in Salt Lake – Photo by Daniel Gajda

Contenders

Adam Ondra

Despite his eighth-place finish in Boulder last year, Ondra has a chance of performing well in this year’s Series. Perhaps that seems obvious, but Ondra concluded last year’s season with fading consistency. With that said, Ondra had a strong Boulder season in 2021.

He competed in only two Boulder World Cups and won both. However, the Olympic appeared to upset Ondra’s run and his Lead performances also appeared to suffer on the World Cup Circuit. Naturally, these are different competitions than the Boulder World Cup, but for a generalist like Ondra, these events seem related. He appeared tired on the wall as the season progressed last year.

With that said, he will not have to train Speed in 2022 which will lend him a little extra resistance.  Speed is an exhausting discipline, and, without it, he may return to the consistency he appeared to lose at the Olympics and during the Lead World Cups.

Fujii Kokoro

Japan always looks strong, but this year they seem impregnable. Last year, Kokoro appeared to circle the top spot in men’s boulder, just failing to secure gold at Boulder World Cups. It was not until the World Championships the Kokoro took gold. In doing so, Kokoro also earned enough points to become the World Cup Series title winner for 2021.  In all the events from the last year, Kokoro scored fourth or higher. Including the World Championships, Kokoro landed on the podium in three out of five competitions.

While this is impressive, it should be noted that only Ondra earned gold more than once in Boulder. While Kokoro will defend his title, Ondra may be this year’s man to beat. Still, Kokoro is probably the strongest competitor in the entire field as exhibited by his masterful performance in Moscow over the summer.

Fujii Kokoro wins the World Championships on M4 – Photo by Jan Virt

Tomoa Narasaki

Perhaps the most technically advanced climber in the entire field, Japan’s Tomoa Narasaki stands to pressure even Kokoro. Narasaki recently won the 2022 Bouldering Japan Cup ahead of Kokoro and showed arguably better consistency than Kokoro in the three World Cups he did participate in. He earned silver once and bronze one last year and took another silver at the Boulder World Championships.

While Narasaki dominated the bouldering competition, he failed to make finals at the Lead Japan Cup. On Instagram he said that he must restart his career after an “irreparable” result at the Lead Cup. Whether this will affect his head is unclear.

Yoshiyuki Ogata

If Kokoro is the strongest competitor in the men’s field, then it is possible that Ogata is the most powerful. After earning gold and silver medals at the 2021 World Cup Series, Ogata could become the leader in the men’s category. Winning World Cups is important to winning the series as first place is worth 25% more than second when added to an athlete’s cumulative score.

Still, consistency remains king at competition. An athlete who earns second or even third consistently over all events will outshine a competitor who, like Ogata, scored all over the board. Ogata could regularly make semi-finals, but with one 16 place finish at the Salt Lake City World Cup, and one eighth place finish at the World Championships, he will need to improve to win the category. That’s where Narasaki appears particularly strong: Narasaki makes boulder finals.

Yoshiyuki Ogata stands – Photo by Jan Virt

The Darkhorses

Although the above four athletes have a legitimate chance of leading the rest of the competition, there remain a few competitors who could challenge the title given strong seasons. The USA’s Sean Bailey, Zach Galla, and Colin Duffy each had strong years, and each could break out. Duffy has consistency and experience on his side, while Galla offers nearly unparalleled finger strength. He may be as strong or stronger than Kokoro, however Kokoro has a longer reach than Galla, a key advantage on many competition boulder problems.

Bailey, by comparison, has a gold medal to his name but lacks consistency in bouldering events. Bailey has the capacity to win, but after so much time away from high-level competition his forthcoming results are difficult to predict.

French athlete Mejdi Schalck joins Duffy as another teenager with the potential to win the Boulder World Cup series after last year’ sixth place ranking. Schalck only had one podium for the year, but his other results were strong. They pushed him into the upper end of the field. Schalck’s lowest score last year was 20 in Innsbruck, where, if he had made third instead, he would have finished the Series in fourth.

Mejdi Schalck at the World Championships – photo by Jan Virt

Featured image of Tomoa Narasaki by Jan Virt