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Innsbruck has a reputation for hosting amazing climbing events and for the 2014 IFSC Bouldering World Cup it surely lived up to that reputation. With its location central to the outdoor town of Innsbruck and a buzzing crowd for semis and finals it was never going to disappoint.
Continuing my theme of ranking World Cups it slots in close behind Switzerland as the second best event of the year so far, let down only by its own size and the implementation of a rule which is proving difficult to police and confusing for the crowds.
Held over a Friday and Saturday the competition started slowly with the two groups in male qualifications facing problems that were vastly different in terms of difficultly which impacted the spectacle and left many competitors in group A feeling let down and frustrated.
The Problems for group A were extremely difficult with Dmitrii saying they were the toughest he had encountered at that stage of a competition. The vast majority of the group were unable to progress past the start holds of 3 of the problems which means a deeply unsatisfying round for spectators and a frustrating round for the climbers who had travelled from all over the World to the event.
On the group B problems the setting seemed far more aligned to the level of the climbers with only one of the jump moves proving tricky and the round decided on attempts. For the climbers this at least means they are getting some actual climbing in even if they fail to progress.
I think with the growth of the sport leading to consistently bigger fields we are moving to the situation where there should be identical walls where the same problems can be set for both qualifying groups. This alignment will reduce pressure on the routesetters (setting 10 less problems per event) and create a level playing field for the athletes.
In the women’s qualification round the setting was far more consistent which led to a far more enjoyable round to watch. It was interesting in the men’s and women’s fields to see several consistently well ranked climbers qualifying for the next round lower or failing to qualify at all. Has the intense start to the season with 4 events back to back worn down some of the athletes that have been travelling with the circuit all season?
Which brings me to an aside. All year people have been baying for the qualifications to be shown. If there is a deal with Red Bull TV signed which gives them the rights to screen the finals surely the opportunity could have been taken to divert some of the 24/7 resources to screen the qualifications, even if it’s just a qualifications highlights package. With the big fields and tight results people are wanting to see the events unfold and the lack of qualifications coverage is constantly raised. Hopefully with increased media interest the IFSC can negotiate a more complete package for 2015.
Semi finals were greeted by a large crowd and they weren’t disappointed. Well set problems had the crowd watching the scores and counting attempts, who was through, who would miss? In the mens we had a false indicator of the difficulty at the beginning of the round with Adam Ondra and Michael Piccolruaz making quick work of the problems and booking tickets to the finals. After that though things got tough with Jan Hojer being knocked out of the comp along side such giants as Jernej Kruder and Sean McColl. As the round wound down it was clear to see that it would be a mixed up final with veterans Guillaume Glairon-Mondet and Rustam Gelmanov also slotting in alongside perennial favorites Dmitrii Sharafutdinov and Kilian Fischhuber.
In the womens field the upsets continued. Of the big 5 both Juliane Wurm and Alex Puccio had competitions to forget and missed the finals for the first time this season. Shauna Coxsey of the UK almost joined them after failing to solve the first, slabby boulder of the round. Coming into the final problem it was top or spectate… Thankfully for Shauna she nailed the problem and joined Anna Stöhr, Akiyo Noguchi, Melissa Le Neve and final newcomers Marine Thevenet who has looked strong all season and Japanese teen Miho Nonaka who has made the top 10 in both Bouldering World Cups she has entered, surely another to watch for the future!
Saturday evening brought the finals and with it a fantastic show. The packed in crowd showed that interest is at fever pitch for competition climbing in Innsbruck and creates an atmosphere unmatched on the IFSC Boulder World Cup calendar. As popular as the event is at its current venue I hope the organizers are considering other options as currently the crowd is so rammed that it’s almost impossible to move. I know of one climber watching from the athletes pen at the back of the crowd, hard against the VIP stands, who left to use the loo and couldn’t get back through the crowd to the see the show at all. A sure sign Innsbruck is ready for a bigger venue!
In the finals Shauna was the only climber to unlock the desperate opening crux on the womens first problem. This was followed by sends on the second and third problem but failure on the last. If Anna could unlock the last problem it would be an Austrian victory in Austria and she came so, so close!
But in the end Shauna’s effort on problem one proved the difference and for the second consecutive week she would stand on the top of a World Cup podium. Following Shauna and Anna onto the podium was the ever consistent Akiyo Noguchi who has just crept ahead of Germany’s Juliane Wurm in the overall as well, the podium mirroring the rankings currently.
In the mens Adam Ondra looked unstoppable over the first 2 problems, especially his seemingly effortly ascent of mens problem 2 which the climbers out before had made look epically hard. Rustam’s efforts on mens 2 prompted calls for an instant gold medal as he fought long and hard after his 4 minutes was up, never giving up and finally tasting success. The Rustam of old was back!
Come the 3rd problem and it all started to unravel for Adam on the slab. Where other crucially flashed Adam slipped, then again, then again. Crucial attempts in such a close final.
Austrian Veteran Kilian Fischhuber was climbing flawlessly and all the pressure came on Adam to flash the final problem to ensure victory. Then, at the interjection of a judge, Adam was down and his hopes of a dream comeback were slipping away. Adam had failed to establish all four points of contact as required in the rules at the start and had blown his chances, Kilian reigned supreme in Innsbruck!
Looking back Innsbruck put on a stellar competition as always (and an equally fantastic after party).
Moving forward though the IFSC needs to revisit the start rule as it’s clearly impacting the results and more importantly to many the spectacle for the viewers. There are plenty of options being mooted and I hope the IFSC takes the time to look into the options and find a way of improving the show and reducing frustrations for the athletes.
This weekend is Hamilton in Canada, lets see what the 2014 IFSC Bouldering World Cup circuit brings us next! (Sorry for the late report, I went climbing in the time off between comps as I’d been on the road and not climbing for a month solid!)
The IFSC Bouldering World Cup series has arrived in Europe for two competitions before jetting off once more to North America.
For many of the athletes this is the start of the season with a far bigger field entered than in either of the two flyaway rounds. Indeed from the start list this could be the biggest field ever at a Bouldering World Cup, in fact any World Cup ever! For those athletes that toured to China and Azerbaijan the return to Europe signifies a welcome return to normality after two weeks of interrupted training schedules and long hours traveling. While I can’t speak for anyone else to get this far has already taken over 65 hours of travel time which is a lot for two weeks!!!
This season so far has seen the consolidation of the top five ladies on the circuit with a significant gap to the chasing group. How these ladies have pulled such a gap on their opposition is unclear but it must certainly be demoralizing for the chasing pack.
Anna Stöhr appears to be climbing as well as ever with victory last weekend in Baku but the weekend before showed how tight it has got with a couple of difficulties in the final seeing her off the podium altogether. It is highly unlikely Anna will be able to emulate last year’s domination with the others so strong right now.
Akiyo Noguhi has seemingly come into the season very fit reaching the podium twice already, her fantastic consistency will be a huge threat to the others in the quest for the overall. Dropping points against a competitor like Akiyo could prove insurmountable.
Shauna Coxsey is looking fantastic this season, more composed than in previous years and she’s climbing with a real sense of self-assurance. She should have won last weekend in Baku and needs to take confidence from that performance. I also think representing the supporters who got in and crowd funded the Brits gives an extra sense of meaning to this year’s campaign.
Alex Puccio is another looking stronger than I’ve ever seen her. Indeed seeing her do three one arm pull ups the other day makes me wonder if she is the strongest female boulderer ever? Alex was under the weather last weekend and it’s uncertain if she will be back to 100% for this weekend… Fingers crossed!
Last but by absolutely no means least is Germany’s Juliane Wurm. Coming off a victory in the opening round in Chongqing Jule didn’t have quite the comp see would have wanted in Baku and will be looking to get back on top of the podium this weekend. A change of training situation for Jule appears to be paying dividends with here looking more confident and comfortable than ever before.
Below these ladies are several strong competitors, from Japans Momoka Oda to Slovenia’s Mina Markovic and a host of strong French athletes looking to crack the top six. Based on what we’ve seen so far it’d be a brave guess for that last finals spot but based on her form of the last fortnight I’d say watch out for the young French star Marine Thevenet.
Moving to the men’s field now and no such demarcation appears between the climbers. There are realistically 30 climbers with a chance at making finals meaning some top echelon climbers won’t even make the semifinals let alone the main show!
The standout athletes so far have been Russia’s Dmitrii Sharafutdinov and Germany’s Jan Hojer, both even at the top of the standings with 180 points for the season so far! Close behind them though is a huge pack and that’s before we add the climbers who have waited to the European season like Sean McColl, Thomas Tauporn and Gabriele Moroni.
Dmitrii is looking strong this year, easily the most composed climber in both of the finals this year. However he still has some weaknesses as exposed on the run and jump in Chongqing. When the problems suit him though his mistake free style puts huge pressure on the others.
Jan has dropped some weight over the off season and is looked more conditioned than last year. After taking time off the sport completely a while ago to go play basketball he has come back as enthusiastic as ever and clearly ready for a big season! While he may have lacked the consistency of some of the top climbers in previous years Udo seems to have done a great job in his emotional and psychological preparation and we are seeing a more consistent, balanced Jan.
No preview would be complete without mentioning the legend that is Kilian Fischhuber. Coming off a poor event by his standards in Chongqing Kilian bounced back to be just off the podium in Baku. Indeed he was the only athlete that came close on the final problem and that would have secured 2nd for him… Kilian is most likely training towards the World Championships this year but will want a good showing in the European rounds to confirm his place at the top of the sport!
James Kassay of Australia sits third in points currently, just ahead of the mega experienced Jorg Verhoeven. This may come as a surprise to some but as James had acquitted himself well in his limited seasons over the previous two years with no specific training it is no surprise that after some dedicated training for this season he is sitting where he is.
So there’s what we know going into Grindelwald. What we don’t know is the level of those who have been waiting in Europe for the season to come to them. Sean McColl is sounding psyched to be back, Strong Aussie (James training partner quite often this summer) Thomas Farrell will be back in action, as will Italy’s Michael Piccolruaz who looked so impressive in the European Champs in Eindhoven last year.
Check Facebook and the IFSC scoring app for updates through Saturday and enjoy the stream on Sunday!
The Circuit World Cup and Performance Climbing magazine is available now and gives a unique insight into the lives of the world’s best climbers. To keep getting all the competition reports and photos you can support us by purchasing a copy of Issue 1 through http://www.thecircuitclimbing.com/Buy (worldwide excluding North America) or http://store.madrockclimbing.com/thecircuit.aspx (North America)
Issue 2 is being researched and written currently for release later this year.
For My Baku review I am going to look at the event first and then discuss the athlete’s performances second.
Yesterday I read that Baku was hoping to hold a Formula 1 Grand Prix in 2016. This both surprised me and amused me in turn. Anyone that knows Formula 1 knows of Bernie Ecclestone the legendary boss of the sport.
The simple truth is Bernie would not tolerate a fraction of what the IFSC tolerated in Baku this previous weekend. Here is a man that grew Formula 1 from niche sport to where it is today by expecting a high level of professionalism wiIth every event organizer contracted, one not afraid to walk away if the event didn’t meet the standard expected as a top echelon professional sport. The onus is on the IFSC to exact the same high standards of organizers of World Cup climbing events to ensure the growth and development of competition climbing.
I didn’t say this at all to readers, Facebook followers etc. while I was in Baku (because http://www.cnbc.com/id/46471155/page/3) but it needs to be said. The event organizers in Baku failed to provide the basics at an acceptable level. There was intermittent bursts of enthusiasm but no consistency of effort and very little cohesive direction from above and the result was an IFSC World Cup that didn’t present the sport to the wider viewing audience in a favorable light.
The majority of the athletes, coaches and family members that travel to World Cup events have only partial funding or none at all, when they invest in traveling to a World Cup they expect to be representing their countries at a professional run event. The climbers train for years to get to a standard where they are good enough to compete in front of a global audience and the expectation is the events will have an equivalent level of professionalism. They want the best routes on the best walls in front of the best crowds and with clean, professional coverage. Sure mess ups can happen like the rainstorm interfering with qualification at Innsbruck last year but that needs to be the exception, not the rule!
Baku gave us an amazing venue but then things went south fast. When the setters arrived to start setting the problems the only holds they were given would be suitable for a kids wall, thus began an urgent race to bring holds in from Europe in time. The mats weren’t finished for them and within days the large roof designed to protect the athletes from the blazing desert sun had buckled under the relentless wind (Baku means Windy City in Azeri) and had to be removed on safety grounds, exposing the athletes to the elements.
The Speed wall was also beset by difficulties and at one stage I watched open mouthed as a local soloed up the outside of the scaffolding to hang one of the topropes. Completely unprotected 15 meters up… What a look it would have been for the sport if he had fallen…
In short the IFSC needs to give the organizers a Bernie Ecclestone level shellacking and let them know that to have a World Cup again they have to seriously improve at their end and put in safeguards to ensure it happens.
So, how was the actual climbing at the event? What did we learn and how has the season evolved from a week earlier in Chongqing?
Starting with the Women’s field the first thing we saw in qualifying is that France’s World Champion Melanie Sandoz is continuing to struggle, narrowly missing the semifinals cut. Is it that the French are arriving to late on the fly away rounds? Other performances in the team would indicate this isn’t the case so maybe Mel just struggles with travel?
On the flip side one thing these fly away rounds have given us is the opportunity to see some of the up and coming athletes who are rapidly establishing themselves in the sport. From France both Marine Thevenet and Fanny Gibert have climbed extremely well with Marine making finals in her first attempt and finishing one place out in 7th at Baku. The established pros Melanie and Melissa Le Neve will have their work cut out staying ahead of this pair.
Also making a superb showing in the ladies have been the two I call the little Americans, Grace Mckeehan and Claire Bresnan. Both had competed at the highest level domestically and it’s fantastic to see them getting international exposure at such a formative period of their careers!
The Women’s field is different from the men’s though as now, barring a huge upset, we have 5 ladies I’d expect to see in every final. The quintet of Anna Stöhr, Alex Puccio, Shauna Coxsey, Akiyo Noguhi and Jule Wurm have all come into the season looking fitter than ever and ready to win! Last year Anna dominated in finals but this year it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw 4 or even all 5 atop a podium at some point. It was devastating for Shauna to lose on a dab this weekend as she looked totally at ease on every boulder. In saying that so did Anna and the setters will have a tough job ahead ensuring the problems are really hard enough without resorting to party trick problems like the run and jump last week.
The men’s field has also thrown up its share of surprises with two of the legends of the sport Rustam Gelmanov and Kilian Fischhuber not making the first final in China. They quickly showed their professionalism and put themselves back in the leading pack for Baku though which is great to see. Keep an eye on Kilian this year, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the World Champs in Munich is his last event as a full time competitor on the circuit so savour those few comps we have left seeing the master at work!
Dmitrii Sharafutdinov and Jan Hojer are looking like the absolute form pair this year with Dmitrii scything the problems in Baku and Jan fighting his way to victory a week earlier. It’s great to see as with very different body types they show how diverse body types can be matched at the highest level.
Of course there’s no room for complacency with Climbers like James Kassay and Jorg Verhoeven always threatening and the likes of Sean McColl and Adam Ondra coming out to play over the next few weeks! On top of that we have some superb young climbers in Alban Levier of France and Vadim Timonov of Russia working their way into serious contention!
Tune in to the IFSC stream this weekend to see all the action from Grindelwald in whats looking to be the biggest IFSC Bouldering World Cup turnout ever!!!
The new tome on climbing by German legend Udo Neumann raises some interesting questions on training for climbing. Not so much in its content but in its delivery.
You see there are a large number of climbers out there looking for a proscriptive training book that steps them through the process of improvement in micro managed steps. In a way they are looking for somebody else to do the thinking for them, to structure their progression as a climber and possibly even to pass on the blame to if their training fails to raise them to the lofty heights of achievement they envisage.
Udo isn’t looking to give you this in a book. Instead through his new book The Art & Science Of Bouldering he is inviting you to understand the processes involved in a climbers personal evolution as an athlete. For surely having a comprehensive understanding of the principals of climbing advancement will be equip any climber to make educated choices about their own progression.
Please note this is not knocking the other style of training books, the simple truth is people learn in different fashions so as they progress in climbing and for a lot of climbers this free thinking, free flowing style of book will be a godsend!
From the first pages of this mammoth ebook Udo’s unique presentation style and personality shine through. Visually very strong the content drags you from page to page stimulating your mind though a choice selection of photos taken over the many years of Udo’s career. The photography is excellent and visually dynamic with great frame by frame breakdowns of movement and positioning taken from video stills mixed with standalone shots that reinforce the story. Indeed seeing many of today’s top climbers in their younger years gives an interesting insight into the physiological changes they have gone through on their journey to where they are today.
For some Udo’s presentation style may come across as too “loud” with lots happening on many of the pages. The trick for me is not to try and read each page like you would a traditional book but instead to let your eyes flow over the content and allow the context to dictate the flow. Indeed in some ways, and definitely supported by its interactive format, this book is more like a super PowerPoint presentation than a traditional text. And Udo himself in the introduction advises that the book is not only designed to be read from cover to cover but can be picked up at any point to focus on specifics.
Going back to the interactive aspects of the book, on the attached photos you can see clearly the highlighted text sections. All of these will either skip you ahead to a section directly dealing with the highlighted subject or will take you to another resource be it website or video where you can see what is discussed covered in more detail.
Udo’s approach to The Art & Science is uniquely his own and it works fantastically in the digital medium. While some may shy from the €26 price tag it is worth noting that the content included in this ebook is the culmination of thousands of hours of work by Udo over more than 20 years as a top climbing coach and philosopher. As any of you who have read his interview in The Circuit will understand Udo pours his heart and soul into climbing and in particular bouldering. The quality of this publication reflects that dedication.
The Art & Science Of Bouldering may not make you a better climber, only you can do that, but it is an invaluable tool in your arsenal as the knowledge it imparts could and would take years and years to puzzle out if you were to go it alone.
The Art & Science Of Bouldering is available to purchase now at http://artofbouldering.com/ and remember if you want to learn more about Udo and his philosophies and to hear from some of his top athletes on the IFSC World Cup circuit there is a feature length interview with him in issue 1 of The Circuit, available now at http://www.thecircuitclimbing.com/Buy
So… The last few months…
How do I describe them using positive words? It all seems to have been grim never ending toil intermingled with moments of heartbreaking grief and despair.
Sure there have been highlights but for longer than I care to remember now the world has weighed heavily on my shoulders.
Starting The Circuit from scratch has been the hardest, most brutally stressful undertaking of my 39 years on the planet and to be honest I’m not sure I the potential rewards have been worth the hours, the days even of mental anguish that I have gone through. I’ve had to learn so much and quite often the act of learning can only take place when you realise what you don’t know. And needless to say this realisation never seems to come early when there’s a gap in the calendar and a few days to learn a new skill.
Starting The Circuit had been a goal of mine for some time, ever since a chat with a climber from the Blue Mountains started to give shape to an idea of creating a purely performance based, high end climbing magazine focusing on the aspirational stars of the sport.
From my work as a photographer I knew several top professionals in the sport and so I decided to go to Europe, follow the IFSC World Cups and get what I figured I’d need for the magazine.
Of course I had no idea of the complexities of the mission I was undertaking or I may well have hid under a rock and avoided the concept altogether. Fortunately for the magazine, but maybe less so for me I had no idea and so blundered around Europe, taking photos, reporting on the competitions and getting to know the athletes so I could get the interviews I needed. At that stage everything was going great and the more people I spoke to about my vision the more enthusiasm I received from the climbing scene.
I was not to know, I could not know then how much my life was about to collapse on my return to Australia. On the day of my return I was given the news that my father had pancreatic cancer and soon it became apparent that he had only months to live. The same months I had planned to write The Circuit in. I was committed to the magazine by this time but suddenly the timeline started to slip. I had to go back to New Zealand on several occasions to spend time with my family and to be honest, even though I was working hard on The Circuit my father’s illness was a far greater priority in my life.
So it was the expected completion of the magazine slipped from late September to October, then November then finally to December. Tragically my father passed away in Mid-December and would never see the finished item, although he did get the final proof in time to read over it and get a good idea of the finishing product. And I know that through all his pain and suffering seeing the magazine come to life helped keep him going that little bit longer as he waited for every update.
“If The Circuit was printed in December where is it?” I can hear people ask. The simple answer is that while I grieved I needed to step back and breathe, to re-centre myself and get back on my feet. And to be completely honest I’m still not there yet.
The first thing I realised was I lacked the emotionally capacity to deal with all the work I’d taken on. Freight was turning into a nightmare and as I had no idea what the processes were, things were taking much longer than they needed too. In fact freight to the US has now been delayed 3 times due to my lack of knowledge around the cryptic paperwork requirements and instead of having already landed in the US as it should have I’m still trying to sort it out. By now I’m paying storage fees in China and twice have had to step back and stop myself from telling the freight company to destroy the lot of them as I just can’t seem to make headway with it and I’m failing to deal with the bullshit bureaucracy at an emotional level.
Now finally I am (hopefully) one single form away from the US shipment getting underway on the 28th which will be a huge load off my shoulders.
I hope the magazine will sell well. Pre-orders are ok, not where I wanted them but reasonable and interest seems to be growing in the wider climbing community. I need to really push now and over the coming weeks to get things moving with stock arriving in Australia late next week and in the UK and Europe a few weeks after that. All the pre-orders worldwide will be filled from the initial shipment to Australia so at least they’ll be getting their copies soon. (pre-orders are still available at http://www.thecircuitclimbing.com/Buy until the end of January)
The simple truth is if I don’t get The Circuit selling my World Cup season this year could be very short. I’ve poured not only my heart and soul but my savings into this and currently only have budget till the Innsbruck round of the 2014 IFSC Bouldering World Cup series. I am sure the return on investment will come but needless to say, while still grieving the loss of my father, the added stress has really beaten me up and I need to lift myself up and start pushing sales, both to individuals and gyms.
The only bright spark has been that initial reaction to the first copies of the finished product has been extremely positive. Graeme Alderson from The Climbing Works in Sheffield was impressed enough by the finished product that he immediately put in a big order for the gym and the initial feedback from the reviewers I’ve gotten copies to is that they are extremely impressed with the magazine.
Of course all the pain and frustration I am enduring this time will make the next issue that much easier to produce. I don’t need to learn the same lessons twice and without the background of personal tragedy it’ll be much easier to run to schedule.
I want to finish this out with a huge thanks to everyone who has supported me over the last 6 months or so. I know I’ve been insufferable, distracted and extremely intense at times. My friends have really kept me going and helped me battle my demons. I’ve leaned on them immensely and can’t thank them enough. Life is still overwhelmingly intense at the moment with the combination of grief and stress but my friends have been helping me through it all.
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.
Grading. Why is it so important to us as climbers? And why is it the bone of so much contention? All the time you hear climbers plead that it’s not important to them or that too much emphasis is placed on grades, only to see the same climbers rushing away to update their scorecard on 8a.nu or arguing for hours about the grade of some piece of choss that no one in their right mind could be bothered repeating anyway.
After the excerpt of my interview with Daniel Woods where I quizzed him on grade compression at the upper end of grading I received a lot of emails and comments about certain problems and whether our disregard in mentioning them was a slight against the perceived difficulty of the problems in question or the credentials of those who graded them. If you go back and reread the excerpt though you will notice that Daniel only mentions one problem by name. One! And that is purely discussing its aesthetics in an anecdote about life before youtube.
Sure Courtney mentions Daniels problem ‘The Game’, but again that is as an example of a problem which has experienced grade compression after repeat ascents.
So, getting back to the original query that I raised, why are grades so important to us? Indeed why do we grade in the first place?
Daniel made a comment about just this in his interview, a comment I removed from the excerpt as I felt it was superfluous to the discussion we were having. How wrong I would prove to be. Daniels comment on grading was as follows.
“Numbers are irrelevant, it’s like how do you post a number to a rock climb? It just basically shows progression, that’s all it labels. It’s more of a safety mechanism so that if you’re a V6 climber you’re not going to go and try V14 and get really hurt, like pop your tendons or eat shit onto your back and be done. I see it that way, but it is a cool way to be like “oh I’m improving” you know.”
And in that one comment he pegged the two most important aspects of grading to climbers. Safety and progression.
Safety is important whether it be on a sport climb or boulder problem, and even more so on a traditional, multipitch or alpine climb. When someone makes an ascent putting a grade on it gives perspective to the objective. Much the same as giving a name can set the tone of a route. Calling a problem “Shitty razorblades of skin eating death” isn’t going to have you expecting skin friendly open hand slopers all the way to the top!
Progression on the other hand is the nightmare. Calling a problem or climb a certain difficulty is exposing your ego and there are climbers out there who by their very natures will enjoy nothing more that undermining the achievements of others.
The simple fact is we all want to improve so we can enjoy climbing as much rock and as many climbs as possible. If you go to a bouldering area like the Grampians your options are limited if you are a V3 climber. Progress your ability to V6 and the number of problems open to enjoy increases massively. Likewise if you were to move the bar again to V9 or V12 the scope of available problems increases again. So progression is important and grading gives us a measure of that progression.
The simple fact is however that bouldering grades are confused and fundamentally flawed.
Ask a boulderer what the grade of a problem reflects and they’ll give you one of two answers. The grade given either reflects the difficulty of the hardest move of the problem, or it reflects the cumulative difficulty of the moves. Two very different answers with two very different outcomes.
The Grampians mega problem ‘The Wheel of Life’ is the perfect example of this conundrum. Originally the unheard of grade of V16 was thrown around, the mythical 8c+ that has been strived for over many years. However speak to the ascensionists (I’ve spoken to several), and you’ll hear them give the hardest individual move no more than V9. So if we are going by the hardest move school of thought we are left with the world’s hardest pumper V9…
On the other hand if we give a cumulative grade based on the overall difficulty of linking the problem we see a far more difficult grade associated with the problem. But then a fit (super talented) sport climber like Germany’s Alex Megos will come along and dispatch it with little difficulty at all… So maybe it doesn’t deserve the higher grade after all…
The solution is simple. It’s time to consign V grades and Font grades to the same scrap pile that contains Gill grades (B1, B2 and B3) and other defunct systems. It’s time to replace them with a new grading system that reflects both the Safety through indicating the overall difficulty and progression through outlining the actual maximum difficulty.
So I propose the following.
Break the grade of a boulder in to several separate components that when joined give the overall difficulty of a problem. Similar to the English E grade system but tailored for boulderers.
The first component we will give is the overall length of the problem, just how many moves is it? So on a long problem like The Wheel you’ll see a huge number like 70. Whereas a problem like Fontainebleau’s Rainbow Rocket will get a far more reasonable looking 1. We will call this the Full grade
The second component will be using the symbols on any modern keyboard to indicate the predominant angle of a problem. So The Wheel, being a roof, gets a -. On the other side of the spectrum Duel would get / for being a slab and Unrepeatable in Castle Hill would get a ^ as a mantle. Nice and visual for the current generation of instagrammer’s and iphone beta video watchers.
Next we will have the Ultimate grade. How hard is the single most difficult move on the problem? In isolation. So now we are looking at a grade that will resemble this in a guide book. The Wheel of Life 70-9 or Duel 7/11.
Penultimately for the guide we will have the option of giving the problem up to two letters. The first letter would be C for contended. Confirmation can only be given by repeat ascensionists, preferably climbers more fashionable and better sponsored than the first ascensionist.
Lastly, and because safety is important we have an optional D to put on the end if a problem is dangerous. So an established, reasonably safe problem like Duel getting a simple 7/11 but Eagles Nest in the Grampians as a sand bag V8 by today’s standards would end up with a grade something like 14I8CD. In itself the length of the grade should deter less experienced suitors.
This I am calling the Full Ultimate (F.U) grading system. Contentious problems would get a F.U.C Grading until such time that they are confirmed and potentially dangerous problems will be known as F.U.C.D!
When you think about it a weekend away bouldering in the Grampians sounds like a perfect excuse to put The Circuit on the back burner for a couple of days, chill and get lots of climbing in. Of course anyone that knows me will be able to tell you that wouldn’t be the case. And this weekend at least they were right.
After meeting a good friend on Friday evening the plan was to head out and meet the American climbers where they were staying to introduce myself and talk about The Circuit before climbing with my friend for the weekend as she had never been to the Grampians and I was excited to show her the amazing rock and let her experience the incredible bouldering for herself.
Dodgy weather put pay to that plan and before I knew it we were hiking into the Kindergarten, an area sheltered from the rain but almost devoid of moderates… While this somewhat limited the climbing opportunities of both my friend Nina and myself it gave me the opportunity to start shooting the visiting climbers straight away, and with Daniel Woods trying the desperate V12 Giada photo opportunities abounded. One thing I love about shooting great climbers is that athleticism on display when they climb and Daniel fits the bill here perfectly. The play of light and shadow against a climbers body as they move through the amazing curls and swoops of the Grampians sandstone is a photographers (or indeed an anatomists) dream.
Of course it wasn’t just Daniel who was out being photogenic. When you get a big crew of super fit, talented boulderers in action there are times when two cameras and four arms would be quite beneficial. Wherever I looked it seemed there was a photo waiting to be taken and by Sunday afternoon I almost had to be dragged from the crag as the Sun finally broke through and the rock turned that amazing red gold that it is renowned for.
I had the pleasure of discussing The Circuit at length with the Team America crew and it was great that from the get go they understood where I was coming from with my vision for The Circuit and sounded happy to get on board. Now with photos rolling in I need to work on the direction of the interviews and ensure that I’m asking the right questions. Pertinent questions that will bring out the stories and personalities of these world class climbers.
One boulderer whose story fascinated me this weekend is the young American Nina Williams. Her climbing gracefully blends technique and power and is taking her to greater and greater achievements. As she progresses in the sport she is caught at a crossroads in life weighing up priorities and ambitions. There is definitely a story fit for the telling there.
Aside from my trip to the Grampians I received a very positive email from Nina Gallo, the talented Sydney writer I had engaged as a sounding board early in the project. Having worked with Nina previously I know that she has a great grasp of not only the English language but also how to compose and structure interviews and articles. Nina recently listened to and transcribed both my interviews with Chris Webb Parsons and the Slovenian duo of Klemen Becan and Jernej Kruder and came back to me with a raft of questions and recommendations. These are food for thought and it’s great to get such positive input into the creative process. Indeed, it grows and evolves The Circuit before it even goes to press.
In conclusion, thanks so much to the team for working with me on this. Nina for the input and the work she’s put into transcribing. Dan for the awesome looking website we hope to have live before long and Natalie… Well Natalie’s living her own dream shooting a movie and getting ready to compete in the lead World Cups at the moment but her time will come conducting interviews for me in August! Also thank you to all those that have contacted me through firstname.lastname@example.org to offer support and assistance, it’s great to see my vision as a shared passion.