Mission Accomplished

Over the weekend I attended my first national climbing competition in many years. I felt confident and under prepared at the same time having had a bad 3 weeks preceding the comp including sickness and injury. I also had no idea what to expect in terms of the level of the competitors or even who they were. The mission was to:

  1. Qualify for the Africa Cup by placing in the top 5 overall. The Africa Cup is the Selection Event for the African Continental spot at the Olympics,
  2. Qualify to compete internationally this year,
  3. Get back onto the comp scene in South Africa and see who I’ll be up against at the Africa Cup,
  4. Gain competition experience to learn from, and
  5. Have fun.

A Separate Open Event

I fully support the separation of open nationals from youth nationals, well done SANCF on this good decision. Briefly here are my reasons:

  1. A bigger open field. Anyone turning 16 or older had the opportunity to qualify to compete in open, without having to compete in two categories in one competition, as was usually done in the past. This was the largest open field I have ever seen, 15 female climbers, and all strong!
  2. Emphasize the open category to inspire the youth. Youngsters need something to aspire to, and hearing about/watching an open event, they will want to one day compete in open. Youth competition climbing has developed over recent year and the open category has to some extent been neglected. But the open event is the competition for the best in the country and should be just as if not more important than the youth event.
  3. Attract more open competitors. Many open athletes, myself included, stopped competing in nationals because it became all about the kids. Long days in isolation with lots of kids is not fun, especially where the alternative is going outdoors to climb. Having open category separate is much more tempting for the open athletes who would like to compete.

Lead

First, we had two qualifier routes in flash style. I have never competed in a flash style competition before as far as I can remember. Flash style means we watch a demonstration video of each climb and there is no isolation so we can watch each other climb. Of the climbers before me all but one fell at the second bolt, a big move up with the left hand. I thought to myself, I can do that move, but I was nervous and in hindsight did not pay careful attention to what was going wrong with the other climbers. I was soon up, and I felt confident yet nervous. I took some deep breathes and set off. I was on that move, left hand went up, I felt strong, hit the hold and an instant later both hands popped off. And that was the start of the nationals’ weekend, a lesson in dealing with poor performance and getting on with the next route.

Negative thoughts flooded my mind, great Rach, you really messed that up. Why are you even trying? You are useless, comps are not for you. And then I had to turn it around, remember that I am a good climber and that one route does not define me. Remember that I’m here to have fun and to learn, how I deal with this is an important part of the journey I’m on.

I watched the other climbers and enjoyed cheering them on. Jasmin got up high and all the competitors were shouting encouragement. Camilla got a little further, and then Georgi too. Well done ladies, that was good to watch.

Then we started preparing for the second route. I took a much closer look at the route this time. I watched the video over, then took another careful look at the route. I noted a where you need to climb carefully and where you need to climb fast. I noted the stopper moves and the beta options and body positions. I felt much more prepared. I set off nervously and the first three bolts required some delicate climbing, not easy when you are shaking. I kept calm and moved through it. The next section needed speed, I did not want to get pumped and climbed as fast as felt safe. I took a quick shake before heading up to what seemed to be a stopper move, I stuck it and clipped while getting really pumped. I should have moved into a better position sooner. I grabbed the next hold, but my forearms gave up and I was out of there. I placed 3rd on route 2 and was happy with that. Well done to Camilla and Erin for getting quite a bit higher, that was a forearm burner!

After a short nervous wait the results were up and I was through to the finals in 6th place with 7 other ladies. Phew! The final route was on-sight which meant isolation and our phones were taken away. Another first for me, never been in a serious enough isolation to remove phones!

Before finals I verified with the Jury President that the final route will count as a normal final, ie. the rank on the final route is your rank for the competition. It was confirmed that the final route was going to be used to determine the winner of nationals, however all three routes would be used to determine the rank for selections. I was happy to hear this because it meant that the first route would not be a handicap for the overall.

Finals started and I climbed third. Having viewed the route it looked tricky, but not hard. I headed up and felt good. I kept moving, body position was important to make the holds usable. I had fun on this route and kept climbing. I so badly wanted to get to the last move which looked rad. I got to the massive side pull a few moves from the top. Wanting to move fast I put my foot up and went, I barn-doored off and fell thinking I should have kept my foot low, but at the same time not sure I would have reached with the low foot. The next climber to get that high was Erin, she kept her foot low and got the next hold before falling. No one else got that high and I was in second, delighted.

Speed

We had some time to practice, and I did a first practice run in my old shoes with holes in them. I felt skatey on the holds and decided to spend a bit of rubber on my much loved La Sportiva Skwamas on this occasion. I did a second practice run in them and it felt much better. Next, we each had 2 qualification runs and our best time would count. On my first run I got 17.13, this was a personal record! It got me through to the final which was a knockout round with 4 competitors. First ever speed race, I started well and was going fast but fell off halfway up, meaning I would not race for first/second. After a break I would race for third against Erin. We set off and I dialled it back slightly, I did not want to fall off again. I got to the top in 16.93, another personal best! Not quick enough to beat Erin who ran in 15.7 seconds! Angela and Amaya both ran in under 15 seconds claiming a well-deserved 1st and 2nd place.

Bouldering

My favourite discipline. We were back in isolation on Sunday morning warming up for the final leg of the 2019 Climbing Nationals. Again, excited, confident and nervous describe how I felt. We juggled, giggled and requested toilet breaks (which had to be supervised as we had to leave isolation). Isolation was pleasant, much unlike previous experiences of being crammed in a tiny space with lots of children running around.

We viewed the boulders, they looked interesting and fun. To me number 2 looked the most doable, followed by number 1 and 3. Number 4 looked hard, with big dynamic moves and then a powerful top. I was climbing 9th and so I continued with my warm up after viewing. From isolation we heard one or two tops but not very many, I thought tops sounded more important than attempts. Eventually I went out to problem 1, and made steady progress getting one hold further on every attempt and sending on my 4th go. My skin was peeling off, so I used my rest time to try and smooth out the edges with sandpaper. On problem 2 I got quite high up on my first go and thought I would have it on my second. It was not until my 4th attempt that I realised the method I was trying was hard! Perhaps with another 2 min I would have worked out the right beta, but I was out of time. I should have stepped back and re-accessed after the first go but instead I kept going and ended up pumped and frustrated. Now I had 4 min rest to sand my peeling fingers, recover from the pump and clam myself down for problem 3. On problem 3, I used one attempt trying something silly and then got across to the zone. I got up to the last move but did not stick it. I felt confident that I could, and tried again, and again, and again, falling on the last move. But something was not right, I blamed my left arm for being slightly injured and not holding on tightly enough, but later learnt that I was using the wrong foot. More frustrated I waited for problem 4. I did not manage to shake the frustration and struggled on the first move, a jump, for most of my time. I finally stuck it and then could not do the next move. There was not time to try again. That was it, bouldering was over, and I was disappointed. I’d struggled on the climbs and I’d struggled on the rests. And I know I could have done better.

One top in 4 attempts and 3 zones in 5 attempts put me in 4th position for bouldering. Well done to Camilla who managed to win, the only climber with 2 tops!

Wrap up

When friends and family asked me how the competition was my first response was “fun!” I really had a lot more fun here then I had expected. It was great to meet all these strong and inspiring young women who are climbing so well, and a nice change to have so many competitors in the open category. I gained competition experience and learnt some valuable lessons. I improved my speed time! I have a better idea of who the competition will be next year at the Africa Cup. I qualified to compete internationally this year. And I qualified for the Africa Cup, mission accomplished.

My results were:

  • Lead, 4th place. It seems that at some point between me asking the Jury President directly and the prize giving the rules changed and ranking on all three routes were combined to determine the final results. This is frustrating because it is something that really should not happen anymore, rule changes during a comp. I would have been second overall, but to be honest that less concerning at this point then the fact that we still can’t get this right! With all the development in competition climbing over the last 10 years I am shocked that this still happens at SANCF events.
  • Speed, 4th place
  • Bouldering, 4th place.
  • Overall, 3rd place.
  • FUN, 1st place 😊

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