First and foremost, congratulations to all the competitors and coaches at Nationals this year. You rocked our socks off. Without you and everyone else involved in USA Climbing, we wouldn’t have a comp. Thank you for being super strong and climbing like professionals.
Setting for the past seven days on the 2011 SCS National Crew has redefined my understanding of what it means to be a national level route setter: an exceptional climber devoid of an overwhelming ego that is able to quickly set creative, aesthetic, and functional routes while working effectively and efficiently with others. It’s about working hard. Listening. Removing your feelings and natural inclination to be possessive of your work. Being fast. Respectful. Eating shrimp and chocolate milk on the sidewalk outside of Kroger’s at 2:30am. Wrestling to the death in and outside of the pool. Not smashing the lull into any walls. Being a team player and having fun.
Outside of these essential qualities, I learned that you should be able to comfortably work an average of 14 to 18-hour days for close to a week while battling the inevitable onset of fatigue-induced mental fog. It rolls in during the late hours of your the third day while swaying 60-feet off the deck in a 15,000 pound lull. Side note: Being in a lull for your first time high off the ground is creepy. I was looking for Kyle to give me confidence one night and his response was, “Yup, these booms just work on hydraulics; so they could let go and crash at any time. Just hold onto the cage if we go down.” Thanks pal.
Despite the apparent challenges of a heavy work load and all the stresses and anxieties that are naturally associated with route setting responsibility and personal accountability, I can say without a doubt that this event has been the most rewarding roped competition I’ve ever had the opportunity to set for so far. Thanks to Mike Helt and the rest of his crew, I’ve learned more in a week than I have in the past year about setting for youth rope climbing events.
Ross Halverson a.k.a “Stone Cold Steve Ross-tin”
Ok. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty. I’ve broken up my random thoughts throughout the week in sub-categories to make for easier reading. Many of you may already know this stuff, but I didn’t, so go suck on a loli-pop.
Percentages: Every route is set with a percentage in mind. The pragmatic question is: How many climbers do you want to proceed from one day to the next? For the most part, qualifiers this year were far too easy. On average, there was an 85-95% send rate. It turns out that most competitors, as well as spectators, don’t appreciate this. In fact, some of them take it as an insult. Their logic is that they’ve come all this way to Nationals to be tested, not given an ego-boosting jug haul. Perhaps qualifiers next year will only see a 40% success rate. What then butter cup? This percentage evolution will call for much more aggressive competition rounds, separating the strong from the weak much quicker.
Grades: When setting routes for each category, a grade is a faint guideline to set with. Depending on the category and terrain–and how the two interact with one another–the grade is in a constant state of flux, only useful to the genesis of the route. All tweaks and cruxes are specifically designed for the climbers within the category, so most of the time finite grades become obsolete.
Off-Ramp Crux: I had never heard this term,”Off-Ramp Crux,” until Mike Helt busted it out when analyzing my Female B Semi-Final. I had a gaston move after the roof that dropped around 5 girls in the same exact spot. This is not good. A five move off-ramp crux is preferred over a one move off-ramp crux since the whole point of the route is to create multiple fall points for an increased range of separation. We eventually tweaked this shoulder move by flattening out the gaston and adding a drive foot so that the next group of Female A girls had a better shot at advancing a bit further. I think I’m going to start using this term as much as possible, even when it makes no sense, to increase my coolness. Like, “Hey man, don’t off-ramp crux it tonight on your date,” or “Dude, that gaster-cling totally off-ramp cruxed me.”
Gaston: Turns out this word used to describe a shoulder move is not used in France at all. For real? They say épaule (a – pull), which means shoulder. Hm. Rem-dog, Mr. Frenchy Pants, enlightened us on this one.
American Competition Theory versus European Competition Theory (Remi Samyn, the French exchange setter and all around bad-ass, had a lot of insight to offer here):
Route Construction: In America, routes are extremely progressive. You can think of a route here like a wave in the ocean. It slowly gains momentum and intensity before reaching its apex and crashing. In the same way, we set routes to slowly intensify before the final punch that theoretically isolates the top one or two climbers. In Europe, the fluff-ah-nutter and jelly is cut out. Routes start off hard and stay hard. Which is better? Depending on the competitor field, terrain, and age category, there may not necessarily be a black and white answer.
Technique: Remi noticed that our youth competitors climb very square with a quick pace and rhythm in the beginning of routes, using heel-hooks often, but straying away from drop-knees and twisting. He also noticed that American climbers tend to use too much power in certain moves when they could relax more. For example, he noticed some climbers at Nationals were crimping hard when they could have been holding on with a three-fingered open hand. Big woop. In Europe, competitors generally climb with more feeling and a feathered touch, not using 100% of their power unless absolutely necessary. Technique is no substitute for power Remi. But since he absolutely crushed all of us forerunning, maybe we should listen up.
Coaching Style: In America, if a climber falls, coaches are generally very supportive (maybe when they shouldn’t be); saying things like “Good job” or “Nice Try,” when really they just made a number of fatal mistakes and climbed poorly because of it. In France, coaches are much harsher. If you fall, the coach is not happy and will tell you exactly what you did wrong straight away. Remi said he has unintentionally made his kids cry in the past for their mistakes, but this is not out of the ordinary in Europe. I would like to be much more strict as a coach, but many of the kids on the team are often just there for fun. What? Climbing for fun? Recreational climbing represents a different cultural perspective because in Europe I feel like climbing is generally treated more as a professional endeavor as opposed to a club sport.
French Federation vs. USA Climbing: There are 80,000 members under the French Climbing Federation; 5,000 of which are competitors. The climbing federation has 40 people that work under salary. While the French Federation has seven sanctioned sports within it, 80% of its sanctions are for climbing. Basically, all climbers pay a club fee to use whatever gym they choose and that fee goes to the Federation. As far as I understand from my conversation with Remi, it seems like Europe has established a kind of sport climbing communism within the Federation. While in America, each gym is a private business making its own money (capitalism), which is beneficial to the individual, but not for the whole sport, as so aptly demonstrated by the extremely advanced progression of climbing in France and other European countries. Hence, the 12 continental championships in Europe per year for both sport and bouldering, while we have only one national event per year for each category. We’re catching up though. Right?
Overall, I think the event finished pretty smoothly, with the exception of a few hiccups. There were a few ties to worry about from Semi-Finals, but they were nicely broken in Finals. Finals were a bit stiff, with only a few tops between all the categories, which means they could have been a touch easier. And since the qualies were intentionally set easier than normal, we won’t count an overwhelming amount of tops as a minus.
After it’s all said and done, what I will remember most is the shenanigans: Battle Rouge and Blood Ball. Unfortunately, for the sake of my job, I can’t describe these events in detail, but I can say that I am thankful Bret survived Battle Rouge and that Team 20′s took the championship round in Blood Ball. Until next year!
Thanks for an awesome week guys.
(Oh, and all the photos were taken by the one and only Bret Johnston. Yah buddy.)