Atlanta in mid-July is HOT. That was my first thought as I stepped off the plane last month to get ready for the 2010 SCS Nationals at Stone Summit, the largest climbing gym in the country. I got to Atlanta two weeks early to train at the gym with the US Team coach, Claudiu Videscelu, and a bunch of my friends from all over the US. When everyone first walked into the gym, the first impression was to stand back and look in awe at the sheer size of the walls. The highest wall is over 60 feet tall, with many roofs and overhangs in between. The most impressive part is a 50 foot long roof section that connects all the way through to the lead area above. Sickkk.
Over the next two weeks, I trained with everyone else at the gym and outdoors at Foster Falls, preparing myself for Nationals. We spent most of the day in the gym either projecting or doing laps with speed training at the end, then would go back to the clubhouse we were staying in to relax and have dinner. We had some fun times playing Jungle Speed, pool, hanging out, etc. We all had a great time with everyone there.
Then, all of the sudden, it was time for Nationals. On the first day, walking back into the same gym where we had done endless hours of training and suddenly feeling the pressure of the competition was huge. But I was able to calm myself down, and easily sent my first qualifier route going straight up the headwall in the middle of the gym. Speed climbing later that night went pretty smoothly, and I was able to hit both my times in the 6 second range, the same times as in practice. First place after qualifiers in speed and difficulty!
Day 2 of qualifiers was pretty much a repeat of day 1, but the routes were a lot harder. Our climb started at the far back end of the gym and worked its way onto the huge roof, with lots of campusing and power moves before cutting up onto the slab the last few moves with some small crimps. After watching around 10 or so people fall towards the end of the overhang and on the slab, (flash format) I went into iso to warm up and get ready. When it was my turn, I tried to climb the beginning part as quickly as I could to conserve energy for the last sequence. the roof moves pumped me out a fair amount, but I was able to power through them and cruise the upper crux to top it out, along with 5.10 athletes Julian Bautista and Andrew Kim.
Speed semifinals were that afternoon, and I was pretty nervous before my turn to climb. In this format, the qualifier times determined who you would be climbing against; 1st vs 2nd, 3rd vs 4th... down to 15th vs 16th. I was paired up with my friend Addison Kim from Dallas in semifinals, and we were both really psyched to race each other after having the two fastest times from the day before. Unfortunately, Addison's hand slipped on the first run, and as he reached down to stop himself from falling, the rope caught him and he was pulled off the wall, disqualifying him from the comp. I still got to climb, but it wasn't the race we were both hoping for. Oh well.
The next morning we got to wake up a little later due to split schedule and onsight format that day. Being used to flash format from the last two days, I was a little nervous walking into isolation and having a huge tarp covering our view of the wall. When we went out for preview, our route turned out to be around the same place where our first qualifier was, a little to the left. It looked like pretty sustained hard moves, up to a huge sideways dyno about 2/3rds of the way up, and an impossible looking finish. Cool. Being tied for first from qualifiers, I went last after Andrew Kim. I found my pace after the first few moves, and fired it up to the rest before the dyno. I rested there for a couple minutes, then hit the dyno and tried to fire the last boulder problem. Thinking too quickly, I tried to reach a hold around the arete without letting go of my heelhook first, and it pulled me down, stopping my movement and forcing me off the wall. I felt like I could still keep going, but that's what happens in comps sometimes, and you just have to live with it and focus on the next route ahead. I still ended up tied for third that day, which put me in striking range for finals the next day.
I went back to my friend Charlie Andrews' hotel after I had finished climbing to rest and get ready for speed finals that night. I tried to relax and not focus on the comp, but I still found it hard not to think about having to compete in a couple hours time. I had never lost a speed competition at nationals before, and I needed to be focused in order to pull it off again. When we finally headed over to the gym, I felt ready for whatever would happen. Turns out, I hadn't expected one thing: they had dimmed the lights in the whole gym and put spotlights on the speed wall, creating a huge show for spectators! This surprised me, but it got me excited to climb even more. I ended up pulling off a time of 6.36, which was the record for the comp so far! Even better, Charlie and I had another 1-2 finish from last year in speed, meaning we would both be going to worlds for sure! Very psyched with the results, but I had to get to bed to get ready for sport finals the next day.
Before finals, I wasn't as nervous as I had been the day before. It might've been that I got more sleep, or the fact that I had already been through one round of onsight, but I felt way more confident than the day before. Our route turned out to be a long traverse with a bunch of jugs and huge rests the whole way. YESSSS. It was probably one of the coolest routes I've ever been on in a competition. I went after my friend Alex Fritz, who had come close to making US team the year before, but really wanted to make it even more this year. I pulled through the juggy lower section pretty easily, and made it up to the very last crux, where I rested for a while before pulling the last few moves and dynoing for the finish, which I barely missed.
I ended up in 2nd place overall after Julian Bautista, with the score between me and Owen Graham being decided on the 2nd qualifier route. Alex made the national team as well, coming in 5th place for the entire comp. Proud, dude! Team 5.10 representing on the national team for 3 places out of 5! Overall, I placed much better than I was expecting, and now I can look forward to climbing in both speed and difficulty at worlds in Edinburgh this September. Scotland, here I come!