*Three fingers grab a hold of an inch-wide protrusion on the overhanging wall, bearing all the weight of a 6ft man with legs flailing from the leap he just made. Hundreds of eyes remain nervously glued as his sinewy forearms contract and he pulls himself higher up on the wall*

History was made this month, as the International Federation for Sport Climbing (IFSC) World Cup took place in India for the first time ever. The four day event was held from the 13th – 16th of May, in Navi Mumbai, where 15 Indians joined 80 elite climbers from countries like Iran, Slovakia, Canada, Great Britain, and Russia. Although it went unnoticed by most eyes that remained turned towards the IPL, bringing the World Cup home has been a colossal feat for Indian sport.

4th route for the Men’s and Women’s finals at the IFSC World Cup, Mumbai

4th route for the men’s and women’s finals

Rock climbing in India has existed for decades. Initially considered just a branch of mountaineering, today it is a full fledged sport in itself, with a very driven community of climbers who have dedicated their lives to the sport. These athletes, whether professional or just passionate, are always out there climbing and training hard at their local walls or in the hills. But outside of this small community, the country remains oblivious to the sport.

On the international scale, rock climbing has been a proliferating sport, as people are drawn to the adventure and physical challenges it offers. The global community of climbers is increasing rapidly, with more and more climbing walls being built, competitions being held globally, and elite athletes travelling the world and drawing corporate sponsors. It is now even shortlisted as one of the 8 additional sports at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Sean McColl (Canada) in the men’s qualifying round at the IFSC World Cup, Mumbai (Image courtesy - Vinay Potdar)

Sean McColl (Canada) in the men’s qualifying round (Image courtesy – Vinay Potdar)

After decades of Indian rock climbers struggling for recognition, the attention of the international climbing populace was finally turned towards India. It is the only new country to be added to the World Cup circuit in 2016, and this was made possible by the Girivihar Mountaineering Group.

The core organising team is a group of scruffy, ambitious climbers. When they aren’t in the forests, scaling the rock faces of the Parsik hills, they are found huddled in a small cottage, surrounded by climbing gear, discussing their dreams of bringing the wall home. Girivihar has hosted bouldering competitions in Belapur for the past decade, bringing together climbers from all across the country and some from abroad. They have been persistently trying to promote the sport and encourage young and upcoming athletes. Nearly 2 years after they applied for a chance to be a World Cup host, their dream was finally realised.

Still, putting together the funds to hold this large scale event was a challenge. With insufficient support from the government and very few companies willing to sponsor the lesser known sport, the World Cup was almost entirely crowdfunded. “This is a silent revolution. It’s sad that it has to be silent, but it is a revolution. Because imagine, there is no state support… no corporate support. It is just a bunch of mad people who have pursued this over the past 10 years, syncing in their personal incomes to get this [event] here,” said Girivihar member Kiran Khalap in an interview with RadioOne.

Whether in cash or kind, all the support that was needed to make this event happen, came from the community – climbers and non-climbers alike. Even people who had never heard of the sport recognised its significance and contributed to their campaign on ketto.org, thus spreading the fascination before the competition had even taken place.

The four days of the World Cup were those of excitement and hope. The same young climbers who, for years, had been training on a worn down wall in borrowed shoes were now climbing with the top athletes of the world.

But how does the competition work?

The IFSC distinguishes between three types of competitive climbing: Lead (one attempt to ascend as high as possible, attaching the rope to the safety equipment whilst climbing), Bouldering (multiple short, technical climbs without the use of ropes or harnesses), and Speed (done with a pre-attached top-rope, where speed of ascent is the ultimate goal). The World Cup at Navi Mumbai was a bouldering competition. Competitors were all given 4 boulder problems (or routes), with 4 minutes to attempt each. The ranking is decided by the total number of routes topped, attempts on each problem, and “bonus holds” tapped by each participant (explained in more detail here).

(Left to Right) Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi, Melissa Le Nevé (France), and Katharina Saurwein (Russia) in the Women’s qualifying round at the IFSC World Cup, Mumbai

(Left to Right) Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi, Melissa Le Nevé (France), and Katharina Saurwein (Russia) in the women’s qualifying round

The routes set for the finals seemed to play to the strengths of the Japanese team, as they claimed 4 of the 6 podium spots. While Kokoro Fujii bagged the gold medal for the Men’s category with 3 out of 4 routes cleared, his teammate, 18 year old Miho Nonaka, topped 2 of the women’s bouldering routes, winning the gold for her category.

Men: 1st Kokoro Fujii (JPN), 2nd Tomoa Narasaki (JPN), 3rd Alexy Rubstov (RUS) Women: 1st Miho Nonaka (JPN), 2nd Monika Retschy (GER), 3rd Akiyo Noguchi (JPN) at the IFSC World Cup, Mumbai

Men: 1st Kokoro Fujii (JPN), 2nd Tomoa Narasaki (JPN), 3rd Alexy Rubstov (RUS) Women: 1st Miho Nonaka (JPN), 2nd Monika Retschy (GER), 3rd Akiyo Noguchi (JPN)

Although the Indian team didn’t make it to the podium, just the event in itself was a big opportunity for them to showcase their potential, meet, climb, and interact with their role models, and to test their strengths and weaknesses on global standards. “It feels incredible to qualify for a World Cup. I never thought I would get this chance. But I think our team still needs more training,” said participant Dhanashri Lekurwale, stressing that better support and training facilities could help our athletes reach their full potential.

Though we may not be at par with the global levels in terms of the magnitude and intensity of performance, the only thing that gets in the way of our climbers achieving those standards is recognition and support thereafter. The World Cup being hosted here has put us on the international radar. The global climbing community has seen their potential and Navi Mumbai can now become a renowned climbing destination. The event has also triggered more publicity and awareness by introducing newcomers to the sport. With a growing community and opportunities like this, the future of the sport looks nothing but bright.

Shimul Bijoor
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