A colorful recap of the Power Struggle and Feats of Strength comps in CT and NY in February of 2011.
In the past two out of three weekends I have attended two storied comps in southern New England, the first being the Power Struggle and the second being the Feats of Strength.
The Power Struggle, held the same weekend as ABS Nationals, was put on by the Prime Climb gym in suburban Wallingford CT. Prime Climb opened in 1993 and is one of the oldest gyms in the nation still standing. Originally a hub for trad climbers, PC has since produced world class strongmen such as 2001 ABS Champion Tommy Durant, prolific developer Dan "Berg" Yagmin, Bradley super-local Dan Bates, and 2010 break-out star and Five Ten athlete Phil Schaal. The comp was organized and set by none other than Tommy D himself, who still finds time to help out at PC despite being a full time med student.
I showed up expecting to have a one-on-one duel with the ubiquitous Vasya Vorotnikov who had to abandon his plans to attend Nationals due to school obligations. After chatting with Tommy for a minute upon arrival, I was surprised to find out that he was also expecting Phil, who was home from CO for a few weeks helping his family renovate their house, as well as iconic V15 boulderer and Five Ten athlete Tyler Landman, who had unbeknownst to me transferred schools to the nearby Wesleyan, making PC his home gym! Ahh well, time to get to work!
By the time Phil and Ty showed up, the comp was an hour underway, and Vasya and I had finished half our climbs. For once I was feeling great in a red point round, and quickly flashed most of the harder problems. Vasya was looking a step slow, taking numerous attempts on problems that felt pretty manageable to me. For once I was optimistic. You see, I have never beaten Vasya the consummate competitor, and this spark of hope made me try even harder. I turned in my card after two hours and change, and ate a left over salad while making frantic phone calls to Boulder regarding the upset results of ABS semi-finals.
As expected, Vasya, Phil, and Ty easily hopped into finals with me, as well as up-and-coming NY youngster Bryce Viola. I was pleasantly surprised to find out I had qualified first among these big names, reaffirming my confidence from the first round. After 10 years of competing, I still don't know how to re-warm up in ISO. Lately I have been opting for a little light travesing and walking around just touching holds in lieu of trying difficult moves. "Don't wanna get pumped!" I keep telling myself. Phil and Ty were in rare form while we waited, trading lines from the latest street anthems; Vasya tried his usual mind games, vacillating between telling us that he felt strong and weak, and seeing which illicited the desired response.
Finals were in WC finals format, everyone climbing on one problem before moving on as a group to the next. Both finals 1 and 2 were on PC's barely overhung leadwall, resulting in some really poor hand holds. I found myself at two piss poor foot jibs for my hands and an awkward high foot, and trying to stab to a slope flat pinch with the right before the finish jug. Twice I melted off these miserable holds just barely missing the pinch. I can crimp, but dang! Phil had a similar result, Ty crimped down and executed with style, while Vasya also sent, opting for a mantle dyno off a previous sloper - an elegant solution! Final 2 started out of a sit start with a dyno off of two pinches to a small volume with two microscopic Bubble Wrap footholds bolted on. This move was insanely precise and everyone fell at least once. Bryce and Phil spent all 5 of their minutes trying this move to no avail and when my turn came I knew if I stuck this move I would probably secure third. After 6 or 7 adrenalized attempts I held on with a resounding "YES!!" (an exclamation I previously picked up from Phil himself) and found myself at an almost identical last move to the first problem, two micro-crystals and an awkward lunge to juggy salvation. No dice. Vasya matched this high point before Ty calmly rung the proverbial bell at the finish. I guess he's still got it!
Final 3 was anti-climatic, being steeper and a tad too hard. Phil, Vas, and myself all mirrored each other while Ty did a couple holds better. Phew! I was glad to not walk away empty handed, receiving a $100 check for third, but slightly discouraged that I had for the 50th time proven to myself that I can hang with anyone but have a hard time coming through when it counts. Big up to Ty (1st) for coming out of hiding and showing us why he was one of the 5 strongest boulderers alive at the tail end of the last decade, it's always a treat climbing with the kid. Go Nuggets! And Vasya (2nd), mark my words, one of these days.....
Fast forward two weeks. On the morning of February 26th, I met up with my training partner and fellow LT11 representative Dave Wetmore and his dad. We made the 3 hour trek south to Valhalla NY, about 40 minutes outside of NYC proper, to test ourselves in one of the most hotly contested annual competitions in the Northeast. Roughly a dozen pro-level competitors showed up, a murderer's row including Norwegian World Cup phenom Magnus Midtboe alongside his girlfriend Sasha Digulian, our arch-rival Vasya, silent storm Brian Kim, Prime Climb's Tommy D, NY+NJ youngsters Connor Macdonald and Andrew Kim, Brooklyn Boulders route setters Mark Heal and Pete Juhl, fellow Ukrainian strongman Vadim Vinokur, and others.
The redpoint round was a strange and exhausting 4 hours. Short on sleep, I had a weird out-of-breath feeling for much of the first few hours, and had a hard time warming up. After trying various V9's for the first hour and a half, I had no climbs on my card. Yikes. I quickly pulled myself together, flashed the easy V10 that everyone else was running and set to work on the big money 1200 point problem that Dave and Andrew had already sussed and summitted. After 30 minutes of work, I finally decypherd the tense hand-heel match crux and found the top. That's two anyways. I decided to sit out for a while and regroup. After another half hour break and an animated conversation with Mark about our impending summers in the Rocklands, I decided to try hard ONE TIME, and in dramatic fashion struggled through the wild double dyno and slopey top out of the difficult 1150 pointer. Dag! Surprised myself.
I still couldn't do any of the 900 point boulders and settled for two easy 8's before spending the last 45 minutes ruthlessly throwing myself at various 9's and 10's with little regard to the building fatigue in my forearms. As the bell sounded, I handed in my scorecard and quickly became engulfed in an uncomfortable situation. This isn't the time or place to discuss it, but let's just say that an open competitor who shall remain nameless forged his fellow competitors initials under climbs he did not complete, and found himself near the top of the leader board. My outrage was subdued by the fact that I had made it into finals in 5th place along with Magnus who had flashed all but one problem, Vasya, Andrew, Connor, and Patient X. Dave made honorable mention in 7th, just 25 points behind Andrew.
While loosening up in ISO, my left arm began to seize up in an uprecedented fit of cramps. Having heard about people getting such cramps from long days of many pitches, I was somewhat perturbed that a day of bouldering on plastic could achieve the same. I tried to rub it out and hopped for the best. After falling half was through the first final problem, I immediately looked down to see that my RIGHT arm had now seized in to a fist and I could not unclench it! After some worried looks and trying to shake it off, I gave it two more burns with minimal success. The next two boulders were met with a similar result; though the cramps did not reappear, my exhaustion was more profound than I'd felt in a very long time. I was happy when it was over to take off my shoes and watch Magnus and Vasya vie for the crown, and seeing Vas be the better on this day, with Connor coming in third and Sasha winning resoundingly for les femmes.
5 liters of water and some rhetorical waxing with Dave later, I was left with the same questions I have after every comp season. Why do I still do it? Is it because I like to test myself? Is it the chance at minimal prize money? The friendly rivalries and the camaraderie of solving rock-riddles with your peers?
I guess more than anything I do it for those singular moments when you surprise yourself; that instance of "YES!" where your reflexes align a little better than you expected and you find yourself having stuck the improbable move or topping out the problem you had written off. Its that same David-V.-Goliath underdog triumph that I love rooting for in all of sports and life in general. What can be better than impressing yourself?
Maybe one of these days I'll even do it during Finals....