Everything you need to know ahead of the 2019 sport climbing season
April is the bringer of many great things, including fresh spring weather, Coachella... and the start of the sport climbing season.
But this year is particularly special for sport climbing, as qualification begins for its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020.
Can anyone catch Janja Garnbret?
In 2018 she won the World Championships in both the Bouldering and Combined formats to become the poster girl for the sport.
It seems fitting therefore, that the IFSC Climbing World Cup begins with a Bouldering event on 5-7 April in Meiringen, Switzerland.
You can watch the best bits of the event from Switzerland live on Olympic Channel here (restrictions apply in South Korea, Japan, and the U.S.).
Sport climbing's formats
Athletes must master three variations of the sport: Bouldering, Lead, and Speed.
Bouldering involves solving as many climbing routes as possible on a 4.5-metre wall in the fewest number of attempts over an allocated period of time.
In lead, competitors have six minutes to climb as high as possible on a set route in a single attempt on a 15-metre wall.
Finally in speed, two athletes compete head-to-head to see who reaches the top of the wall first.
The different legs of the IFSC Climbing World Cup host different formats with individual prizes for each, but athletes will compete in all three at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, with a combined score deciding the winner.
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Garnbret started climbing competing in senior women's competitions aged 16, and has dominated the sport ever since.
In her career to date, the 20 year old has amassed a whopping 19 World Cup wins and three World Championship titles.
The Slovenian's best years are arguably still ahead of her, and she is the red-hot favourite to become the first Olympic champion.
But victory is far from a forgone conclusion in sport climbing.
Japanese Bouldering overall world cup winner Miho Nonaka and her compatriot Akiyo Noguchi will be pushing Garnbret every step of the way, while Austria's Jessica Pilz pipped Garnbret to first place in the 2018 World Championships Lead event.
Watch out for Jakob Schubert
On the men's side, there isn't much in sport climbing that Jakob Schubert hasn't won.
The Austrian is a three-time world champion, and owner of 20 World Cup winners medals.
Similarly to Garnbret, Innsbruck native Schubert will be the favourite to win at Tokyo 2020, after a combined victory at his home-town world championships last year demonstrated his mastery across all three disciplines.
In 2019, Czech climber Adam Ondra will want to improve upon his second place in the 2018 world championships, while there will be another stern Japanese test in the form of Kai Harada and Tomoa Narasaki.
A big deal in Japan
There can be little greater incentive to perform, than to qualify for an Olympics on home turf.
Sport climbing was a very popular addition to the Olympic programme for Tokyo 2020 in Japan, where the sport enjoys immense popularity.
In Miho Nonaka, Akiyo Noguchi, and Rei Sugimoto, they have regular World Cup podium finishers, who will be especially looking forward to competing in their home World Cup in Inzai (26-27 October).
However, perhaps the most telling competition will be the 2019 World Championships, which will be held in Hachioji, Japan (11-21 August), and will test who can deliver across all three disciplines in front of an expectant home crowd.
Also keep an eye out for Kai Hadara, Tomoa Narasaki, and Kokoro Fujii, who put on a very good show at the 2018 World Championships to finish 4th, 5th, and 6th respectively in the combined event.
World Cup calendar
- 5-6 April Meiringen (Switzerland) - Bouldering
- 12-14 April Moscow (Russia) - Bouldering, Speed
- 26-28 April Chongqing (China) - Bouldering, Speed
- 3-5 May Wujiang (China) - Bouldering, Speed
- 18-19 May Munich (Germany) - Bouldering
- 7-8 June Vail (USA) - Bouldering
- 4-6 July Villars (Switzerland) - Lead, Speed
- 11-13 July Charmonix (France) - Lead, Speed
- 19-20 July Briancon (France) - Lead
- 28-29 September Kranj (Slovenia) - Lead
- 18-20 October Xiamen (China) - Lead, Speed
- 26-27 October Inzai (Japan) - Lead
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: 11-21 August Hachioji (Japan)
IFSC Olympic qualifying event: 28 November - 1 December Toulouse (France)
Olympic qualification starts now
Tokyo 2020 may still be over a year away, but the first qualifiers will be decided this season.
Both the men's and women's events at the Olympics will feature 20 athletes, with hosts Japan guaranteed at least one athlete in each.
In the men's draw, the top seven finishers at the 2019 World Championships in August will qualify automatically.
The next 20 ranked athletes in the 2019 World Cup standings will compete at the Olympic qualifying event in Toulouse, where the top six finishers will qualify for Tokyo 2020.
Each continent will feature a continental championship, with the best finisher who is not already qualified earning a quota spot. A Tripartite Commission invitation spot is also available.
In the women's competition, the top six finishers at the World Championships will qualify, alongside the highest finisher in 2019 World Cup not already qualified.
Again, the Olympic Qualifying Event will see the top six finishers qualify, as well as the winners of each continent continental championship, and a Tripartite Commission invitation berth.