Updates to the main article are provided at the end. Please scroll down for the latest results and team standings in the run up to the IFSC World Cup in Navi Mumbai.
Before us was a street of baked earth.
To its either side were rows of warehouses.
In one, a big pedestal fan hummed, blowing a cool breeze to counter the afternoon heat.
The floor and sides were stacked with plywood acquired for the task at hand. Drills, electric saws and tool boxes lay ready for use. Abhijit Burman (Bong), his shirt gathering sweat despite the fan in the corner, poured over diagrams and waited impatiently for his Man Friday from competitions past, to appear. He did – walking in at a measured pace, his face, intense and expressionless yet just a muscle twitch away from breaking into a smile at old team getting together. There was Bong, there was Raju the carpenter – a duo that has built several walls over a decade of climbing competitions at Girivihar – and by the side of the room, the first set of steel frames for the biggest climbing wall they have worked on so far.
The detailed drawings of this wall had been approved by the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC). The wall, built locally to IFSC specifications, will host the qualifying rounds of the IFSC World Cup due this May 14th and 15th in Navi Mumbai. The semi-finals and finals would be on imported walls. After it is fully fabricated, the locally built wall would be transported as modules to Vashi, the venue of the World Cup and put together at site. The warehouse was in a far corner of Navi Mumbai and suddenly, the atmosphere of design, drawings, the sound of metal and machinery, animated conversation about wall, and Raju, reminded of Girivihar and mountaineering. Climbers focus best, when there is a challenge. You sensed challenge in the warehouse, you sensed focus. Less than a month remained for the first World Cup in climbing to grace Indian shores.
It was in mid-2015 that a team of climbers from the Mumbai based mountaineering club Girivihar visited Munich to get a ringside view of a World Cup competition held under the aegis of IFSC. The team was in the German city because just a few months before, the IFSC had granted its approval for a World Cup in Navi Mumbai to be hosted by its official representative from India, the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF), and organized by Girivihar. The World Cup is a series of competitions held annually worldwide, attended by some of the best international climbers. It showcases cutting edge climbing. The Indian pitch was for a World Cup in bouldering. In India, mountaineering zipped to early prominence. A lifestyle sport, free by nature, rock climbing awaited the right generation, age group, maybe even apt juncture in economic development, to take off. The IMF diligently held its own annual climbing competitions (six zonal competitions dovetailing into a national final, every year) to select the Indian sport climbing team, conducted workshops and did what it could to promote the sport. Sport climbing is growing. But in huge country of 1.3 billion people, it is very small; a far cry from cricket, which almost shapes national imagination. What the Girivihar team saw in Munich amazed them. The retail awareness about climbing stunned. The venue hadn’t been advertised a great deal, nor was there any big buzz surrounding the event. Yet anyone who was interested in climbing was there. “ It was wonderful to see the level of awareness about climbing they had,’’ one of the team members said. The observation wasn’t without reason.
Back in India the team members climbed at the crags of Belapur in Navi Mumbai. The crags are located on the edge of Mumbai-Navi Mumbai, its existence threatened daily by the relentless push of urbanization. On the other hand, for 11 years in a row, Girivihar had successfully conducted an open climbing competition, originally on natural rock at the Belapur crags, slowly gravitating to bouldering on artificial walls. At its peak, the annual event had attracted 192 climbers from all over India. A few thoughts emerged behind the scenes, as this competition series progressed. First, there was definitely expertise accumulating with Girivihar to organize climbing competitions. If the IMF helped, projects could be more ambitious. Second, the annual competition was encouraging bouldering and sport climbing. It has seen climbers from 11 foreign countries participate so far. The competition typically concluded in a rock trip by visiting climbers and locals, to an Indian climbing hotspot like Hampi or Badami. This interaction encouraged Indians to improve their climbing skills like an adjunct to what the IMF was already doing. Third, the competition was popularizing the sport; taking it to a larger audience. This was critical for continued climbing in the Mumbai-Navi Mumbai region because with crags under pressure, the future had to be either greater public empathy for the sport resulting in better preservation of the climbing crags or the empathy manifesting as more artificial climbing walls in the region. Climbing’s priorities survive in society, if climbing is active and visible. Fourth, every time Girivihar organized a competition it had to search for adequately certified judges, for in India’s small world of climbing, the talent pool to judge was also commensurately small. It was a case of small ecosystem begging to be nudged bigger; put one’s shoulder to what the IMF was already doing. The trends pointed to a possibility: why not try and organize something big like a World Cup? If the sport grows as a result, it benefits all who love it.
The idea was good but the club needed to wait for the right time. They had to be at a point where the climbing competence you see at a World Cup won’t be drastically beyond what you see in Indian climbing. There was the need for relevant connect. Climbing – lead climbing, speed climbing and bouldering – is set to debut at the Asian Games of 2018. When the Rio Olympic Games happens, the International Olympic Committee is expected to take a call on what new games should take to the field at the Tokyo Olympics of 2020. The short list at hand includes climbing. While that is the future, at the 2015 Asian Youth Championships, Indian climbers secured four podium finishes. That’s a measure of the rising talent among young Indian climbers. Appearing on the scene in India were also youngsters gate-crashing into the truly high grades of rock climbing in Hampi and Badami (for more, please see the Ganesha series of articles on this blog), not to mention those seeking to make a career as professional climber. The inflection point the Girivihar team was looking for, seemed reached in 2014-2015. The club wrote to IMF. India’s apex body in climbing responded positively. In league with the IMF, a pitch was made to bring the World Cup to India. First half of 2015, the IFSC approvals came through. The organizing team found itself in Munich, getting acquainted with how a World Cup is organized so that they can replicate the finesse and efficiency in Navi Mumbai.
Once back in Mumbai, tasks were identified and teams formed. Veteran climber, Franco Linhares, led the team overall; Bong became Event Organizer and Vaibhav Mehta, Sports Manager. Behind the scenes, an important role in terms of managing the World Cup campaign was essayed by Kiran Khalap, a senior professional in advertising and marketing who is also a climber. By club standards, the project was capital intensive. The local Navi Mumbai administration responded well to the project’s needs. CIDCO, the agency which planned and built Navi Mumbai provided the city’s Exhibition Centre near the Vashi railway station, as venue for the World Cup. The big challenge for the organizers was funds and sponsors. Worldwide, in 2015, an estimated 35 million people were into sport climbing. Of that, 50 per cent are under 25 years of age, according to the IFSC website. In India too, climbing has a young following. In principle, this matrix should attract sponsors. Over the last couple of years, amid bleak economic conditions worldwide, the Indian economy had remained one of the bright spots. However that did not mean companies were in a mood to splurge. Two challenges dominated. First, climbing is still a small, growing sport in India. It is far from being a popular sport that immediately grabs sponsors’ attention. Second, given climbing’s profile in India, the easiest candidates to be sponsors may have been medium sized businesses. During dicey economic times, this segment prefers to keep investments relevant to core business. All the same, the organizers did find potential sponsors; they also did a round of crowd funding. Preparations for the World Cup progressed. Cost cutting options were thought of. Building the wall for the qualifying round, locally, was one. The IFSC supported the move. In April third week, when Fabrizio Minnino, Jury President, IFSC, visited Navi Mumbai to meet the organizers and check out the venue, he paid a visit to the warehouse to see the wall’s fabrication as well.
The World Cup in climbing is quite similar to Formula One in that there are several World Cup events in a year at different venues worldwide with climbers picking up points as the season progresses and an overall winner declared at the end of it all. The 2016 World Cup season in bouldering kicked off on April 15 in Meiringen, Switzerland. As of April 21, thirty six competition climbers – some of them, the world’s best – had registered to participate in the Navi Mumbai edition of the World Cup. Present in the list were the 2015 men’s champion in bouldering, Jongwon Chon of Korea, the leader (just after Meiringen) in the men’s segment from the 2016 season of the World Cup, Alexey Rubtsov of Russia and the leader (again, just after Meiringen) from the women’s section, Shauna Coxsey of Great Britain. Countries represented included Austria, UK, Iran, Russia, USA, Korea, Slovakia and Taiwan. Also enrolled were the likes of Sean McColl (Canada), Rustam Gelmanov and Dmitrii Sharafutdinov ( both Russia). After Meiringen, the 2016 World Cup season in bouldering travels to Kazo in Japan and Chongquin in China. Then in mid-May, it reaches Navi Mumbai.
Brig. M.P. Yadav, Chairman, Sport Climbing, West Zone has been coordinating efforts on behalf of the IMF. As host country, India is automatically offered reserved participation slots for its athletes. It is understood that an Indian contingent comprising 16 promising Indian climbers have been shortlisted for a training camp ahead of the May World Cup. Those selected include some of the best young Indian climbers like Aziz Shaikh, Vicky Bhalerao, Tuhin Satarkar, Irfan Shaikh, Sandeep Maity, Kumar Gaurav, Somnath Shinde, Mayuri Deshmukh, Nehaa Prakash, Smriti Singh, Dhanushri and Sidhi Manirekar.
In Navi Mumbai, the countdown has begun for a rendezvous with climbing’s best in May 2016, the scheduled time for India’s first IFSC World Cup.
Update: Shauna Coxsey consolidated her lead in the women’s segment while the see-saw battle for leadership among men continued, in the run up to the Navi Mumbai World Cup in bouldering. By late evening May 1, results in bouldering from the World Cup competition at Chongqing, China, became available. The men’s section was won by Tomoa Narasaki of Japan. Jan Hojer of Germany placed second while Jongwon Chon of Korea came third. The women’s section was topped by Shauna Coxsey of Great Britain followed by Akiyo Noguchi of Japan and Miho Nonaka of Japan. For Shauna Coxsey, this was her fourth consecutive triumph at a World Cup bouldering competition; the previous woman to do so was Akiyo Noguchi in 2014. Of six places on the podium across both men’s and women’s sections at Chongqing, the Japanese secured four. Of the six climbers named above, all have already registered to participate in the upcoming World Cup in Navi Mumbai. In terms of national team ranking, Japan topped at Chongqing followed by France and Great Britain.
Post Chongqing, the leaders in the men’s segment in the 2016 World Cup series in bouldering are Alexey Rubtsov ( Russia / 177), Rustam Gelmanov (Russia / 165) and Kokoro Fujii (Japan / 155) in that order. The leaders in the women’s segment are Shauna Coxsey (Great Britain / 300), Melissa Le Neve (France / 203) and Miho Nonaka (Japan / 154). In terms of national teams, the leaders were France (536), Great Britain (438) and Japan (412) in that order. The next halt for the World Cup in bouldering is Navi Mumbai, where the competition is scheduled for May 14-15.
As of May 9, the number of athletes registered to participate in the Navi Mumbai edition of the World Cup, stood at 83 with India sending in a 17 member-team. Countries represented at the event were Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Great Britain, Germany, India, Iran, Japan, Korea, Lithuania, Netherlands, Nepal, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, Slovakia, Taiwan and USA. A couple of days before the Indian team registered, a four member-team from Germany had signed up. Among those in the team was Jan Hojer. A day before the Germans, the French had enrolled; their team included Melissa Le Neve and Fanny Gibert. Early morning April 26th, the number of athletes registered for the World Cup in Navi Mumbai was found to have increased from 36 to 50, thanks to the entry of a 14 member strong-Japanese contingent. It included Akiyo Noguchi, the defending women’s champion from the World Cup bouldering series of 2015 and Kokoro Fujii, who was third in overall ranking among men after the Kazo edition of the World Cup. Akiyo Noguchi is one of the most successful competition climbers from the women’s category.
At the Kazo World Cup in bouldering held over April 23-24, Rustam Gelmanov and Shauna Coxsey topped in their respective categories. The results, top three, were: Men – Rustam Gelmanov (Russia), Michael Piccolruaz (Italy) and Kokoro Fujii (Japan); Women – Shauna Coxsey (Great Britain), Melissa Le Neve (France) and Miho Nonaka (Japan). Post Kazo, the leader rankings in the 2016 series were Rustam Gelmanov (Russia / 128 points), Alexey Rubtsov (Russia / 126) and Kokoro Fujii (Japan / 100) in men’s, while in women’s it was Shauna Coxsey (Great Britain / 200 points), Melissa Le Neve (France / 160) and Fanny Gilbert (France / 94).
Meanwhile in a separate development, Tata Trusts have provided a financial grant as support to the Navi Mumbai World Cup. The Tata Trusts are among India’s oldest, non-sectarian philanthropic organizations. They own two thirds of the stock holding of Tata Sons, the apex company of the Tata group of companies. The Tata group is India’s biggest industrial conglomerate and from the perspective of the World Cup, a name that has in the past, supported mountaineering and climbing in India. The first successful expedition to Everest from the state of Maharashtra (where Navi Mumbai is) was supported by Tata.
As of May 8, the locally fabricated climbing wall, earlier taking shape at the warehouse in Taloja, had been installed at the venue in Vashi, painted and ready for the route setters to commence their work. A team of four route setters from IFSC have arrived for the job. By May 9, work on assembling and installing the second wall – an imported one – was well underway. Access to the walls is restricted when the route setters are at work.
May 13: The athletes have arrived. Their registration at the venue commenced at 5 PM. Here are a few photographs from the registration area:
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. The competition photos used in this article were downloaded from a link to a photo stream, provided by IFSC. All photos from the registration area are taken by Shyam G Menon)