It has always been a dream of mine to visit Japan. During this year’s athlete summit meeting, climbing legend Yuji Hirayama invited me to his annual bouldering competition. The competition would take place in Iruma Saitama Japan, at Yuji’s climbing gym; Base Camp. During the year, there were 8 regional qualifying competitions in Japan. The top 6 qualifiers from each region were invited to attend the TNF Cup. This single event is the largest competition in Japan, with many top competitors striving for the podium. I accepted the invite and was privileged to be able to compete with Japan’s top climbers.
On Sunday, Feb. 12, all the action began. We started out with a semi-final round consisting of 49 climbers. The top 6 climbers moved on into the final round. During the semi-final, we had 8 problems that were grouped into two categories, red and blue. The red problems were “easiest” and the blue were “hardest.” There were 4 red and 4 blue to choose from. We had 1 hour to complete as many red and blue problems as we could. The climbers who had the most combined red and blue tops, moved on into the final. Since there were so many competitors, this meant that you had usually 2 or 3 tries per problem. This added more pressure to doing a problem quickly. I was able to complete 6 out of the 8 (4 red and 2 blue) problems, securing a 3rd place finish into the finals.
The final round was an exciting show. Over 500 spectators came to cheer on the climbers. Yuji did an amazing job with electrifying the crowd and motivating the competitors. The format for finals was simple. There were three problems set, 6 climbers, and two climbers were eliminated each problem. Only the last two climbers remained for the third and final problem, determining the winner. The judging was based on high point for each problem. This meant the climber who got the highest or completed the problem moved on to the next one. If there was a tie, then it would come down to how many tries it took to reach the high point. On problem 1, myself and 3 other climbers reached the same point, falling on the last move. The 4 of us then moved on to problem 2. Rei Sugimoto from Japan was the only climber to top this problem. I came in second by being able to almost control the final hold on my first try. It was now a battle between Rei and me on the third problem. Since I was not able to complete the 2nd problem, I had to go first. Luckily, I managed to complete the third problem on my first try. I knew that Rei had to match what I had just done to send us into a super final. Rei is a very talented competitor and was able to do just this. I quickly gathered myself again for the super final problem. I went first again and managed to complete it on my first try. I knew this one was a lot more difficult and I was happy with my finish. Rei came out and attempted, but was unable to complete the problem. On the podium stood myself as First, Rei Sugimoto Second, and Sachi Amma Third. This was my first TNF Cup victory in Japan and I was honored to be able and climb with such talented people.
Words cannot describe my experience in Japan. The competition was run smoothly, problems were well set, and the show was exciting. A huge thanks goes out to TNF Japan, Yuji Hirayama, and Keita Mogaki for showing me an incredible time. I will be back next year for the competition and also to sample more of the outdoor climbing scene.
Photographs by Eddie Gianelloni.