Sport climbing season kicks off in China

The 2024 sport climbing World Cup season commenced with thrilling boulder qualification rounds at the Shaoxing Keqiao Yangshan Climbing Center on Monday.

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Li Yantan competes in the women's boulder and lead at China's inaugural Student (Youth) Games in Mashan County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Nov. 10, 2023. (Xinhua/Cao Yiming)

Having hosted events for the Hangzhou Asian Games last year, the climbing center welcomed over 130 athletes from 33 teams around the globe.

In the women's category, Slovenia's Janja Garnbret set the bar high by flawlessly solving all five boulder problems in Group A and progressing into the semifinal.

After the match, the Olympic champion expressed her excitement to be back on the wall.

"At the first competition every year I'm always a little bit nervous, because you don't know if you have been training enough over the winter, and you don't know how the other girls have been trained," said Garnbret. "But today I felt super good. It was not the easiest qualification round compared to Cups, but I managed to flash all routes today."

The 25-year-old also revealed that Keqiao would be one of her only three World Cup choices this year, as the title favorite is preparing for her second Olympic appearance in Paris.

"Me and my coach, Roman, have chosen a few competitions to do this year. You need to get into the competition mood but you also need to rest and train in between," said Garnbret, adding that she did something similar ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and it worked out well then.

Joining Garnbret at the top of Group B were Japan's Miho Nonaka and Australia's Oceania Mackenzie, both of whom demonstrated impressive performances with flawless boulder solutions.

Although Group A presented tougher challenges, climbers like Kyra Condie of the United States and Austria's Jessica Pilz managed to secure spots in the semifinal.

Pilz emphasized the importance of the competition as an opportunity to gear up for the Paris Olympics.

"My big event is in a few months, I have a different timeline to be in shape compared to some of other athletes, so I'm not too nervous actually," she commented.

Home favorite, Luo Zhilu, also showcased her prowess by conquering all five problems in Group B. The 18-year-old will have to strive for an Olympic berth at the Olympic Qualifier Series in May and June. She saw the season opener as a test for her training during the winter.

"Today is just like a training class for me. I have demonstrated what I trained at home and in Japan last winter, so I'm happy with my performance today and look forward to seeing what the route-setters will bring to us tomorrow," said Luo.

Men's qualification was postponed due to unexpected rain.

The women's and men's champions will be determined on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.