Climbing competitions. On a good day with ideal conditions climbing competitions can feel great. As a competitor you can push and push, holding horrible holds that feel at the limit of friction and punching through move after move. In my years of competition few things felt as good as pulling down hard on a day with great conditions.
This weekend at the Australian Bouldering Nationals it was not a good day. With the mercury hovering over 30c the athletes had to battle conditions as much as they had to battle the problems. Clear signs of fatigue masked the climbers faces as they walked back into isolation, sweat shining on their arm’s and brows.
This however is part of competition. Short of holding all competitions in climate controlled halls athletes often have to deal with less than ideal conditions in competition. And in Australia this spring with unseasonably high temperatures hitting us week after week it was no surprise that nationals were held on a scorcher.
The Australian Bouldering Nationals are a highlight of the national calendar bringing in a field of crushers from around the nation. This year was no exception with World Cup athletes James Kassay and Thomas Farrell heading up the strong mens field and the likes of Andrea Hah and Kumari Barry making an appearance in the womans.
The competition itself was held in the rough neighborhood of Villawood in Sydney’s south west. I always joke that I need to put on my bullet proof vest and be prepared to have my car stolen when I venture down there and sadly on the weekend Villawood lived up to its reputation. The howls of police sirens hurtling down the road caught our attention and after counting 8 cars and a helicopter coming past we found out that a shop keeper had been shot dead just down the road from the venue. This was a stark reminder that we were very much on the wrong side of the tracks that Sydney is more than clear blue skies and sun warmed sandstone. Still I guess the real estate is cheap out there!
Qualifications at the Nationals started early with all the competitors having to complete 2 rounds of 4 problems. From these 8 problems a finals field of 6 men and 6 women would be chosen.
The mens qualifiers had a great selection of problems expertly set by Christian and Scotty from Villawood who put their knowledge of the walls and a great selection of holds to good use. The problems varied greatly in style and succeeded in splitting the field to give us a fairly expected finals line up. The omission of French visitor Edouard Guis was unfortunate as he had instinctively stabilised himself on the top of the wall with his left hand on men’s problem 5 as he caught the finish hold with his right. Several of the young strong climbers showed great promise but it was only Queenland’s Sam Bowman who really looked ready to crack the upper echelon.
In the Woman’s field it was a much closer affair with about 10 or 12 girls all capable of securing a finals berth on their day. The first big shock of the day was Sydney powerhouse Sheila Binegas missing a finals berth. The problems were predominantly reachy and this ended up costing Shiela who had to fly between holds to get up some problems. On the flip side a couple of the strong juniors put on a fantastic display with Sydney’s Sophie King easily making finals and backing up the form that’s seen her up V10 on Sydney bloc’s this year. Likewise Tasmania’s pocket rocket Roxy Perry climbed fantastically, just missing a finals berth but impressing all with her dynamic strength.
So the finals were set. The men’s field of James Kassay, Sam Bowman, Thomas Farrell, Callum Hyland, Daniel Fisher and Mitchell Breheny would be joined by some of Australia’s best female climbers with Andrea Hah, Kumari Barry, Sophie King, Emma Horan, Claire Langmore and Laelia Douglas-Brown all in the finals.
The finals were a fantastic show. A large crowd packed around the bouldering wall adding to the already warm atmosphere. Tightly packed they filled the area behind the mats and probably got more than a little annoyed at the paparazzi running around in front of them.
Sam Bowman got off to an impressive start being the only male to unlock the Men’s first problem while James and Thomas both got heartbreakingly close. Sam was looking super strong, would the two World Cup seasoned athletes be able to reel him in?
From the second problem the answer began to become clear, it was close comp and Sam was climbing superbly but James was displaying more resistance and used his skill set to succeed in the only top on the second problem in majestic style. Where Sam had come close and then fought and fought James just flipped his hand down and pressed out the move. One all to Sam and James with Thomas still looking strong in third.
The third problem was shut down central and only James was able to even reach the bonus. But even in control there was no way he could find a sequence through. Still it was looking good for the defending champion going into the last problem.
In the end all the acrobatics of the men’s fourth and final problem didn’t reflect in difficulty. James cruised to an imperious win with Sam coming an impressive second and Thomas solidly in third. So no change at the top of the ladder in domestic competition but young Sam has definitely positioned himself as a star of the future.
In the women’s field the first problem stumped all the competitors except Andrea. Laelia came closest of the rest of the pack but Ku and Sophie both had tough opening climbs with Sophie unable to even jump to the second hold that the taller competitors like Emma could just reach to.
The second problem was a long slabby traverse which proved easy takings for most of the girls, Claire started the send train and although several girls were unfortunately called back for unintentional dabs while flagging to close to the mats the problem ending up being the least challenging of the finals.
The third problem of the finals was a pumper. Arching out through the roof it wasn’t surprising that the two most successful lead climbers Ku and Andrea made easy work of the problem. The other girls all made solid progress but would finish their attempts slumped on the mats, arms blazing.
Going into the last problem it was all decided. Andrea had showed the way all comp and once again her class shone through with a dominant send of the problem that had been shutting down girl after girl. Ku had done enough to secure her second consecutive second place and young Sophie exceeded her own expectations with a superb third place in what proved to be, after Andrea, a very close competition.
In closing the Bouldering Nationals were once again a great success and a huge thank you has to go out to all the judges and officials but most importantly to Scotty and Christian who toiled through the night preparing routes for the competition and were completely wiped out on the day yet had to suck it up and push though another nights setting for the Junior classes and Masters the next day.