Germany's Ines Papert and Russia's Dimitri Bytchkov were proclaimed top climbers at the end of this weekend's thrilling ice climbing World Cup in Saas-Fee.
In a somewhat controversial men's final, three of the eight finalists, including Canadian world number two Will Gadd, were halted by the jury after overstepping the marked climbing zones.
With current world number one Daniel Du Lac forced to pull out with an injury that cleared the way for Bytchkov to win his first Saas-Fee title, the Russian stunning the crowd with a marathon climb to the top of the ice wall.
"I feel very sorry for the other guys," Bytchkov told swissinfo, "but that's what can happen in competitive sport. I'm very happy to get my first win here after coming second last year, and the support of the crowd was incredible, I can't really describe it."
Held in Saas-Fee's ten-storey car park, the Swiss stage of the World Cup tour is the only one to take place indoors. And with spectators lining the spiral ramp of the car park's entrance the proximity to the climbers is also unique.
Second win for Papert
The supporters gathered for the women's final were treated to another superb performance by Germany's Ines Papert who clinched her second successive victory in Saas-Fee with a magnificent climb that took her almost to the top of the finish board before being stopped by the clock.
"Saas-Fee is my favourite event," a delighted Papert told swissinfo, "because it involves my favourite type of climbing. The rocks and the ice they use on the wall are all natural and that's what I like to climb at home. The people and the atmosphere are also great."
The standard of competition throughout the weekend was a tribute to the growing agility and professionalism of this new sport's protagonists. The Saas-Fee event is the fourth of five stages on the World Cup tour. The tour reaches its climax in March when the climbers gather one last time in Quebec, marking the tour's first ever appearance in North America.
by Mark Ledsom, Saas-Fee
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