ABS Nationals-Commentary

ABS Nationals-Commentary

Posted on 17. Feb, 2010 by in News

I haven’t devoted much of the writing on this blog to course setting, although for the last 8 years I have been involved in many of major climbing competitions in the US, including the World Cup in 2008 and 2009. All week the conversation among our routesetting crew revolved around a myriad of issues associated with competition climbing in America: What is the future? What kinds of problems are best for the competitors? What problems are best for the sport generally? for the spectators? for sponsors? How important is it that we are preparing competitors for events like the World Cup?
Caroline Treadway has a great blog with awesome photos and some thoughts on the event. Here are some thoughts from Routesetter.com and of course Climbing Narc. Most interesting was a comment posted here on this blog.

“It just strikes me that despite the overall climbing gym industry in the US probably generating 8-figure revenues, despite there being tens of thousands of active, hard core gym climbers in a key age-range/marketing demographic, despite indoor bouldering itself being ideally suited to some form of compelling competition format, and despite 10+ years of trying, gym comps themselves generate practically zero interest except among the competitors themselves, and there is really is only one professional US climber, and he doesn’t do comps. Or live in the US.
Yet instead of trying to broaden the appeal of comps, the trend is to narrow it by adopting a competition format and course-setting style that prioritizes the least skillful, least technical, most superficial aspect of it – strength. Dumbing climbing down by prioritizing basic brute power will never appeal to even the mainstream climbing community, let alone a broader audience.
The current competition format offers no hope of ever maturing into a viable competitive circuit that offers anything meaningfully renumerative to its competitors. I personally would like to see them, and the gyms also, be more successful, and for there to be more of them, and for them to appeal to a broader spectrum of the population. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get everyone on board with this? And shouldn’t the first step be to ditch what obviously isn’t working? Change it so the strongest person isn’t unfairly advantaged, and doesn’t always win. So it’s not just a strength contest. Or, keep on with this mindset that says the strongest climber is the best climber, and format and course-set the comps to reflect that, and see where that gets you.

I would love to hear what everyone thinks! Is competition climbing stagnating? growing? What can be done to make it grow? or has it reached a maximum given the size of the industry? If there are competitors, spectators, setters or anyone interested in the topic I would love to hear your constructive feedback.

sportrock-0535 Women’s Finals photo courtesy Caroline Treadway

32 Responses to “ABS Nationals-Commentary”

  1. Scott

    17. Feb, 2010

    I don’t know how to fix it, but, on the topic of bouldering competitions being too focused on strength, that’s complete rubbish in my opinion.

    Strength is a major part of bouldering. Obviously, it isn’t the only part but it certainly plays a role. What does the author of that argument suggest? A crazy slab competition? At some point, given that scenario, strength will eventually begin to play a major role again as the holds get smaller and farther apart.

    I think the gym scene is growing and doing fine. I’ve never competed and don’t follow the scene too closely but I will be excited to see the ABS clips surface whenever they do.

  2. Karma

    17. Feb, 2010

    Without going into too much detail, I think the difficulty in getting a spectator to understand how suble, technical, and let’s face it, difficult, bouldering is as a sport is an almost insurmountable task without taking him or her bouldering. It’s impossible to know, without a decent amount of climbing experience, the subtle difficulties each competitor deals with on a given problem. Communicating that, to the general public, is damn near impossible. What looks like a simple jump from one hold to the next isn’t always as straightforward as it seems. But how do you communicate that to someone without a lengthy monologue about each movement on every problem?

    I realize I’ve only addressed a portion of the questions asked above, but I could write pages and pages about this…

    I’m actually impressed with how far competitions have come over the past ten years during which I’ve been climbing. My judgement is that it’s gotten more and more spectator friendly.

  3. Doug Lipinski

    17. Feb, 2010

    This is a great series of questions to ask and they may never be satisfactorily answered. I’ve been thinking about this recently and I haven’t even convinced myself whether or not the format of comps or style of problems needs to be changed. On the one hand, it seems obvious that climbing is so much more than pure strength, yet some comp problems play primarily to this aspect. On the other hand, at least to me, it usually seems that the comps produce fair results. If you ask yourself who “should” have won at ABS nationals, it would be hard to argue that the results should have been different since Daniel and both Alex’s have clearly been at the top of American climbing both indoors and out for some time now.

    There are infinite possibilities for route setters (that’s part of what keeps gym climbing fun), so you could probably choose to set a specific style which might defeat these top climbers and lead to different winners, but why? What is the point of these competitions? I think you can take 1 of 3 views on this: 1) to entertain (insert audience of choice) 2) to decide the best climber 3) they’re pointless

    While option 3 is the simplest, option 1 opens up a whole new can of worms. Who should be entertained? The competitors? The live audience? An internet/TV audience? Other climbers or the broader public? I think the best option is to consider comps to be first and foremost a way of determining the “best” climbers in a very limited sense and then work with that to entertain both competitors and a climber audience. The aspects to be tested are strength, technique, and problem solving and I haven’t seen a problem in a recent competition which didn’t require a bit of all of these abilities. Sure incredible strength can overcome some poor technique, but excellent technique makes less strength necessary.

    If you watch the 4 videos of DW posted on ClimbingNarc’s site it’s obvious that he’s an absolute beast, but if you watch his technique, footwork and body position, what would you change? I may only climb V5, but I see these guys climbing at the gyms in Boulder and I’d trade my technique for theirs any day.

    As for the argument that these aren’t technical problems and it’s no fun to watch brute strength and that just caters to the lowest common denominator I’d say this: True, these aren’t the most technical problems, but I think they are some of the most fun problems to watch. Would you rather watch people skidding of V12 slabs? Maybe non-climbers can’t fully appreciate how difficult this stuff really is (I doubt I really do, but I sure enjoy seeing it anyway), but would they appreciate the subtleties of seeing a tricky sequence unlocked?

    I’d love to hear ideas for different formats and particular aspects of climbing which should be better tested in comps (and how to do so), but I don’t have any good ideas myself. Personally, I don’t think comps need to make more money or significantly change. The comps I have the most fun in are the small ones where I know the community of climbers and organizers and as for the bigger ones, I have a pretty good time watching them.

  4. Justin

    17. Feb, 2010

    Jamie, you can count me amongst the group of people (however small) that enjoys a competitive well-set climbing competition.

    A few thoughts.

    Doug’s question regarding the purpose of a climbing comp is an important one and the answer most definitely depends on who is answering the question. I think both options 1 and two can be accomplished simultaneously, so long as the audience is composed of climbing enthusiasts.

    One often hears the complaint, ‘the winner should be the best climber, not the strongest.’ The problem with this complaint is its ambiguity. How do we define “the best”? Is the best climber the one with the best technique or the one that can climb the most diverse set of difficult climbs in the fewest attempts? I would argue for the latter. If this is the case, then I think you and the rest of the course setting crew succeeded. Kudos.

    I do however, think there are ways to improve the watchability of a comp while refining how the best climber is sorted out from the pack. Unfortunately my suggestion means more work for the course setters. I think creating problems with two or more distinct paths would lead to more variation in how the problems are attempted and add a more demanding route reading challenge to the competitors. In comp climbing’s current state there is always some variation in how competitors utilize the holds they are presented with, but there is almost never much in the way of ‘dummy sequences’ or planned alternatives.

    Personally, I believe the strongest competitors would still find their way to the podium, but perhaps the winners would change more frequently then they currently do. This change would reflect a lesson taken from the most successful sports league in the country, the NFL. Parity makes for suspense, makes for excitement, makes for devoted fans, which ultimately leads to bigger pay checks for everyone involved.

    Good job and good luck!

    -Justin

  5. bmj

    17. Feb, 2010

    Why does technical == V12 slab? I think we’ve all climbed plenty of technical boulder problems that include aesthetic movement (for both climber and spectator) that aren’t slabs.

    Also, if I recall correctly, it looked like there _were_ some technical problems at the comp, at least based on the video that’s been posted so far.

  6. sidepull

    17. Feb, 2010

    I remember the first time I went to a PCA comp: Sharma, Gerome Pouvreau, Malcolm Smith, Dave Graham, Obe Carrion, Lisa Rands, Tori Allen, Liv Sansov – I was blown away. I was also surprised – the OR show was the biggest thing in town in SLC and there was zero mention of the comp on the local news. What gives?

    I don’t agree that bouldering comps test “brute strength” – that’s a world’s strongest man competition or the crossfit world games. Moreover, sports that emphasize brute strength are not at a dis-advantage. A football game, when broken down to actual playing time lasts about 11 minutes. Why, because each play is simply an explosion of brute force. Judging by the fact that the super bowl is one of the most watched events in the world, I think people don’t mind brute strength.

    That said, I do think the format of climbing doesn’t make it translatable to a broader audience. Part of this is due to the fact that few people that have never climbed can empathize with how it feels to hold a sloper or smear on a bad foothold. But these non-translatable intricacies of sport exist in other mainstream sports as well. I have friends that don’t understand a drop step or a UCLA cut but they can still enjoy basketball.

    I think the larger problem is that most formats don’t play up the “competitive” aspect of the competition. For example, if I’m watching soccer, I know that each team is trying to beat the other and I know the score. When I go to a comp it’s unclear that the climbers are really competing with each other and it’s equally unclear what the score is. Without this knowledge there is little drama and without drama there is little reason to watch unless you’re a diehard fan. How can we create drama? Here are some ideas:

    1) Have a live scoreboard that updates automatically as a climber moves.

    2) Have live video feeds with close ups of the holds so the audience can appreciate the nuance.

    3) Set a wall with a lot of holds and have the climbers create problems for each other like most do with “add-on” or “flash-ables” or other training games. That way climbers can play to their strengths and try to defeat/beat each other. This also allows competitors multiple shots to get back into play – part of the drama of sport is the potential for a comeback.

    4) Make the scoring simple.

    5) Do away with isolation and let the climbers climb in a round robin format.

    These are easy fixes. I assume they don’t happen because people are concerned with aligning with world cup standards. But if the goal is to bring a broader audience to climbing (and we should ask 1) is this a good goal? and 2) is this the right way to do it?) then it might make sense to put aside the assumptions that are stopping us from using more compelling formats and putting more drama into the competition.

  7. Rando

    17. Feb, 2010

    It really seems absurd to think that more technical problems will appeal to a broader audience. A competition involving slab or vertical technical problems will make the competition less appealing to the people already interested, namely the competitors and current audience, given that the people who currently compete and watch are heavily into climbing powerful dynamic problems anyway. That’s the direction the sport has largely gone and will likely continue to go. Slab boulder problems are in the minority.

    As for appealing to the general audience, the large dynamic moves and large falls lend more obvious appeal to a non-climbing audience then technical slab or vert climbs. The argument that the current emphasis on powerful dynamic boulder problems doesn’t appeal to the general audience just doesn’t make sense if you look at the mass appeal of other sports. For example, what is more popular and/or marketable? Figure skating or downhill skiing? Synchronized diving or the high dive? If anything, eliminating the danger aspect, illusory or real, will reduce the mass appeal.

  8. Dan C

    17. Feb, 2010

    I love watching comps especially comps that have some of the best talent in the world on display as was at the ABS in DC last weekend. Of the Men’s finals problems I found #2 to be the most fun to watch with #4 being the 2nd most fun. MF#2 was a gymnastic climb with illogical movement on small holds which some people flashed including some of the lower qualifying guys and others flailed including Paul R the #1 qualifier. And #2 being the most intereting problem for the Women, a techy yet powerful climb where an obvious progression could be seen from the lower qualifiers to the higher. I can appreciate the techinical climbing done as in both the Women’s and Men’s #1 but really they were pretty straight forward climbs. Men’s #3 and Women’s #4 were so hard most of the competitiors couldn’t do the first moves, which made it super fun to watch Daniel and the Alexes crush but otherwise were quite boring.

    Taking that into account I like the idea of putting up multiple extra holds as dummy holds or to allow for creativity and climbers different strengths to come into play. This will make each problem more fun to watch as it becomes more of a puzzle and each climber can showcase their strengths and make progress. It may also open up a bit more parity in the final results.

    I did appreciate the big screen which showed action happening in the other parts of the gym on Sat. I was standing by the #4 problems and would have had zero clue what was going on on Mens 1 and 2 with out that. I think people need to be able to see everything which can be hard to do in the modern climbing gym. So kudos to the ABS for stepping up in that area. I do like the idea of stepping up the footage tho. There were a ton of cameras on hand as was evidenced by the teaser footage but it seemed only one was linked to the big screen.

    I was completely confused as to what the final results would be after the comp and while I knew Boz and Rob D were doing well I had no idea they were doing THAT well especially Boz who was qualified pretty low. I think a live scoreboard would really be helpful, even if it was just a simple sidebar on the big screen.

    DC is a big city with a lot going on but on the Metro riding to the comp everyone I talked too was shocked that some of the best climbers in the world were in town that night and would be showing their stuff. Others had no idea what a climbing comp was so I used the analogy of the olympics and that seemed to resonate. When I explained that watching DWoods climb was like watching Usain Bolt run people almost changed their plans and came along. I think a little more promotion could really go a long way in drumming up interest from the public.

    Also to have there be an after comp bounty offered to anyone in the audience (not a routesetter) who could climb any of the problems in 2-3 tries. This could help demonstrate just how hard these climbs are. And maybe for the locals leave the bounty up for grabs for a day or two.

  9. Andrew Bisharat

    17. Feb, 2010

    Jamie

    Nice post! Interesting topic that I think about a lot.

    I think the comp format as it exists now is really exciting to the 100 or fewer people who can pack into a tight gym at night and cheer and yell and scream. That is really fun for the audience–and it feels like an underground nightclub or something with high energy and the feeling of witnessing something exclusive.

    But the problem is opening it up to more people. The outdoor/bigger comps that I’ve been to don’t have that energy that is found when you’re crowded into a gym and are forced to pay attention.

    The biggest problem with comps is that no one knows who wins or why at the end of the event. Comps try to mimic real climbing too closely. There’s a lot of focus on setting fun/interesting/technical/hard problems, and not enough focus on what format would engage a large audience.

    I think the things people want to see are: head-to-head competition, a sense of danger and risk, and competitors overcoming obvious physical/mental difficulties

    What would that look like?

    1) Physical difficulty & Head-to-head competition: A giant wall with five “lanes,” identical routes set on the lanes, and 5 competitors racing to the top of a difficult (5.13c) line. You have to move fast, but the route isn’t so easy that you can race up it a la speed comps. Even people who know nothing about climbing will be able to see who wins and who doesn’t win based on who gets to the top first, who gets past the high crux that thwarted the competitor in lane 3 (etc.)

    2) Risk: What about free-soloing comps? Not just deep-water soloing … but free-soloing. Real danger of people breaking their legs. It would be exhilarating, to say the least, to watch people up and down climb a route while they decipher beta with a real risk of injury. I think a deep-water-style comp could be the gateway into this format, but I see deep-water comps losing their appeal after awhile when people just hit water and swim away totally fine.

    If there was a wall with lanes, and a handful of competitors, each racing each other to the top of a free solo, up and downclimbing through cruxes, coming down to the ground even to rest and compose … that could be a pretty amazing thing to watch.

  10. Cynic

    17. Feb, 2010

    For a sport to grow, it needs sponsors. Big ones. Companies won’t sponsor a sport unless it has a huge spectator base. Americans enjoying watching sports that have team loyalty (football, basketball, baseball), sports that they actively participate in (golf, tennis) or sports in which you can eat shit in, preferably at high speeds (nascar, motocross). Climbing is obviously not a team sport, it is not readily available for most Americans to even try, and while you most certainly can eat shit, most people still aren’t impressed by a 15 foot fall. I work in a gym and every single non climber that comes in the gym looks at the bouldering and asks if it’s the kiddies area. Non climbers just can’t relate to the sport, they will never know what makes a move impressive or difficult.

    Furthermore, compared to other high spectator sports, the venue sucks. Not many people want to go into an overcrowded, chalky, smelly gym or sit on top of a parking lot in SLC for hours in 100 degree temps. Outdoor comps would possibly attract more crowds, but then you are dealing with access issues and the impact that would cause.

    To answer your question, I don’t think comps will grow past the size of the industry. Comp spectators will probably continue to consist of industry professionals and the families and friends of the competitors. I just don’t think the typical American will ever understand or appreciate how amazing our top athletes are.

  11. Park

    17. Feb, 2010

    I’m one of those climbers who find climbing competitions very watchable – but as soon as I try to show footage to a friend with less of an interest in climbing, they are bored, lost and uninterested. The one exception was the circus act that was DW’s ridiculous show at the Mammut Boulder Championships (we all know the problem, and it was amazing). Everyone I showed was in awe of that. I actually disagree with the strength argument – I think the general public is more interested in feats of mind blowing power – they don’t know the subtle technical prowess problems might require. This is not to say that the problems can’t still be technical – I’m sorry, but I’ve climbed very few hard problems that were hard simply because I had to do a one arm in a mono pocket that would only fit my pinky (I’ve actually climbed none like this, nor could I ever) – it takes both power and technique, agreed? Something that would help me and the general spectator watch – a run down of the problems. It sounds a bit cheesy, but a play by play of the route and every hold and/or move. Before we see a competitor get on the route, the routesetter or perhaps some awful loud obnoxious announcer takes us through the route and shows us just how heinous it is. Just how slopey is that hold they are dynoing for, how tiny is that crimp. Every move would impress me if I knew, because a lot of climbers make every hold look HUGE. Chuck F. did an amazing job of illustrating how impossible a climb seems by showing us just how un-hold-like holds on really hard problems are in his film PURE (that crimp on Amandla…the compression on the Island). I think this could be transferred to Comps. Or I could just be full of bad ideas.

  12. david

    17. Feb, 2010

    To justin…check out the recent heart of steel competiton videos on jon glassbergs blog(jonglassberg.louderthan11.com) the setting is amazing and offers the climbers different paths, but usually only one works…a good example is this video…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkE6IUhaomM&feature=player_embedded# he has to climb it twice to get the all the money

  13. anson

    17. Feb, 2010

    What can be done to make it grow? Deep water soloing contests on plastic.

  14. Karma

    17. Feb, 2010

    sidepull,

    Just a thought, but wouldn’t points 5 and 3 be mutually exclusive? to have a competitive add on style of comp, you’d have to do a single elimination or some similar type of rotation, and that could take hours with a typical finals sized field. also, add-on problems wouldn’t necessarily be as dynamic or spectator friendly as the problems we often see in competitions.

  15. sidepull

    17. Feb, 2010

    Karma,

    Good points. Let me try to clarify a bit. I wasn’t saying all 5 of the ideas had to be used at once – it was more of a brain storm. That said, say you choose 5 finalists through some method and then had them play add on. Or, building on the lane idea above, you gave them each a lane with an identical matrix of holds (a-la the moon board) and they had 5 minutes to create their own problem …

    I’m not sure exactly about the logistics – you’re right, it can’t be a slog. Part of the point is to build drama and create more action. Allowing the climbers to create their own problems and pit them against each other introduces more strategy and more competition, so I think it’s a worthy way to go. But it definitely would need some refining. I do think, however, that you would end up seeing a lot of dynamic, spectator friendly movement simply because A) reach/power advantage would be an easy way to win, so it’s to someone’ s advantage to use these skills and B) climbers are attention whores so they’d want to do those sorts of moves :)

    Anything that increases drama and makes the outcome easily understandable (whether it’s lanes or a scoreboard) would be better. I’m not saying the current format sucks, I’m saying why not make it better?

  16. Narc

    17. Feb, 2010

    A few things that could make comps better outside of the climbing itself:

    1) Better venues – most gyms are not configured for a pleasant spectating experience. It’s exciting to be part of a mob screaming at the top of your lungs, but standing for hours crammed in a dank gym is not for everyone.

    2) Clearer scoring – The world cup scoring system is pretty straightforward, but not many people really know how it works. Figuring out a way to clearly post results as the comp unfolds would be a big help and increase excitement (and pressure for the climbers).

    3) Getting more eyeballs on the comp – basically if you aren’t competing, setting, coaching or related to one of these people chances are you aren’t seeing the comp.

  17. DenverBouldering

    17. Feb, 2010

    Climbing comps have gone in a direction to appeal to a broader audience and move the sport forward in the last few years. Problems seem much different than they used to be in comps. Problems used to seem to focus on smaller holds and be very technical. When companies like Pusher and Voodoo started making giant holds a shift started to happen. Problems were still hard but in a new way, giant moves to big slopers, big moves between decent holds, one arm cross through moves with no feet. These are the new norms in climbing. Older problems also seemed to cater to climbers of all heights. Newer problems seem to push the smaller climbers away and they often have to find different beta to get through a section. Maybe I am just getting old and cant climb like I used to.

  18. […] Good discussion about the comp scene in posts on B3Bouldering here and here. […]

  19. Mike

    18. Feb, 2010

    Without intending to demean Sharma at all, does he not have the most “brute power” and “strength” of any climber (absent, as JE believes, but I do not, DW)? The quoted post therefore makes absolutely no sense: “Dumbing climbing down by prioritizing basic brute power will never appeal to even the mainstream climbing community, let alone a broader audience.” I beg to differ. The most powerful brute on the climbing market is its most marketable and successful crossover athlete.

  20. ngeny

    18. Feb, 2010

    I think some great suggestions have been made in the previous posts. I do believe that climbing comps have reached their apex in the U.S for the time being. This is true for several reasons:
    A.
    Climbing in the U.S is not seen as competitive, but as fun.
    Climbers generally do not want to beat other climbers. They want to win, but the atmosphere at a comp is usually one of camaraderie. People like rivalries.
    B.
    There is very little money to be won.
    C.
    The format is tolerable at best and based on the ABS honor system which allows tons of sandbaggers to ruin it for recreational and intermediate competitors.
    C.
    I do currently think that the problems being set at the major climbing events lean towards power and showcase big exciting moves that don’t always appeal to other elite climbers, but appeal to inexperienced climbers and muggles.
    D.
    The best don’t show up (more on this later).
    E.
    The competition scene is not organized. I live in California, and I wanted to look up the ABS regionals results. They are not even up! On the A.B.S site it simply says results coming soon. Its been almost a month.
    F.
    The venues are too small and climbers are forced to climb packed in like sardines, always worrying about crossing others’ paths or falling on someone.

    These are just a few things off the top of my head. More importantly, this is why I think Competitions are a joke:

    I personally have competed at the professional level of three different sports (including climbing). Climbing as a sport is way underdeveloped. Most climbers in the U.S. do not train; they simply climb and wait to get better. I agree with Jamie when he said climbing v12/13 is not hard and flashing V10 should not be impressive. People have been doing these things for many years.

    Climbers are not educating themselves on how to climb and reach their physical potentials. I think if American climbers saw our very best climbers pushing themselves and training hard all the time, they would be more inspired. Instead you watch our top climbers in videos acting like clowns, getting drunk and stoned and sleeping in. We have no training camps in the U.S for climbing, there are no local climbing pros that you can take an hour lesson with. Most climbers I see have poor technique and only care about reaching the top. In other sports, technique is put first above everything thing else including winning. We need ambassadors for the sport who stand for something more then their own interests. As I mentioned earlier, the best climbers don’t show up to comps. Why? Climbing is generally something much more then a sport to the best in the world. Its a way of life, a system of thought, an art. Its something instinctive, primitive, pure, and perfect. Flashing lights, noisy crowds, and screaming announcers are not their natural habitats and they will not sacrifice their piece of mind for money and a pair of shoes. No indoor gym will ever inspire climbers the way nature does.

    I know that I have offered many problems and few solutions. Can you make competition formats better? Yes. Does this mean a comp will tell you who is the best in the country? No. Climbing is not a competition-based sport, and maybe it shouldn’t be…

  21. Calvin

    18. Feb, 2010

    Who is your target audience? Everyone posting here is biased because they’re all climbers. That’s not necessarily bad or wrong, but you’re only getting answers from a small segment of the climbing population.

    I’d be interested to see responses from non-climbers, if there were a way to solicit them.

    Personally, I think we have the same problem soccer and other Olympic sports have in the US. Climbing isn’t b-ball or football or hockey and getting interest from the general population isn’t that easy in a non-Olympic year. E.g. Shaun White (a.k.a The Flying Tomato) is super popular now, but who cares after the Olympics if they don’t ski or snowboard already?

    And, I think that’s okay for climbing competitions. Just adjust expectations and figure out how to best cater the sport to the people who care about it: climbers and their watching families. We can make incremental improvements to watching enjoyable for those who already watch and perhaps keep an eye toward building new venues like Movement in Boulder that was apparently designed with comp-audiences in mind.

  22. ElliotB

    19. Feb, 2010

    All very interesting…

    The “endurance” comps are like watching paint dry, imo. THey def should go to a deep water solo format off the side of an aircraft carrier…Lol

    From the short teaser video of the recent event, it looked to me like super-sick gymnastic bouldering, which is what plastic climbing/comp climbing is all about.

    In Europe, aside from the intermittent comp slab, it s the same and it is fun to watch… and there s a reason 5000 people show up to L’argentier, chamonix, arco, etc. Btw, usually the slabs are gymastic too!

    I think more recently the divide between competition and “rock” climbing has grown, requiring additional skills to climb plastic rather than rock (bouldering, not big walls obv).

    I mean there isn’t 1 strong competition boulderer who doesnt shred the rock: DW, PR, Chris, Killian, Nalle, etc, etc. I don’t think Kevin Jorgenson claims to be a comp climber but that dude crushes plastic too…

    HOwever, there are many guys with astronomic 8a scorecards, who can’t get out of qualifiers at a comp… Go figure….

    The money thing has been and will continue to be the biggest obstacle for North American based comp climbers. The PCA days had decent purses but in the midst of this horrible economy it is going to be tough to raise dough…

    Whatever we do, don’t make climbing an olympic event because than i certainly can’t blood dope anymore for my sandstone slabs in Red Rocks.

    Sockhands??? where’s sockhands???

  23. jghedge

    19. Feb, 2010

    this from gabor’s blog:

    “the setting was very straightforward and didn’t involve any super technical moves. Every single problem was power-based and it made it obvious who would be the winner. This type of setting does not allow other competitors to do well compared to Daniel who is by far the strongest in the field.”

    This was dead obvious just from watching a few video clips of the finals. And i’ve never even been to a bouldering comp (done extensive course-setting in gyms and set routes for a several lead comps).

    My idea is for combined comps. Qualifiers/quarter-finals would be bouldering, 8 moves-12 feet high. Power, but not ridiculous power. You have to use your feet.

    Semis/eliminator rounds would be longer, route-like boulder problems in a cave structure, 16-25 moves. Power endurance.

    Finals would be 2 routes, 35-50′ long, 40 moves each with 2 tries allowed if needed per route. Endurance. Combined score wins. This would mix it up and give the people with overall skill, not just power, a reason to compete.

  24. Steve W

    19. Feb, 2010

    For what it’s worth (great discussion btw JE) I have heard that the future of competition climbing will involve large venues and mainstream sponsors who have the much needed capital to infuse into our beloved sport. I have been privileged to see bouldering world cups in Europe held in large civic centers. In many cases, however, they were as boring to watch as synchronized swimming. The US has the formula, but really needs the capital and venues – we have to get these events out of the local climbing gyms. Good lord, I had to drive 40 minutes away to do the Citizens comp which was so far under the radar, most folks did not even know there was one.

    I really like the ideas proposed here concerning “creative route setting” – alternate sequences or even “rabbit trails” would add a lot to the experience and outcome. (e.g. i thought men’s #4 might have had an alternate sequence without having to drop down to the bonus hold).

    The arguments that bouldering comps should promote the most well-rounded athlete (somewhat based on the idea that bouldering began in Fontainebleau where bouldering is more technical, ergo bouldering comps should be more technical) ignores the fact that bouldering has evolved into a sport in-and-of-itself and the current evolved state of boulder is about doing the hardest possible moves. Contrast that to the current state of route climbing which is about doing the most possible moves. That said, i do believe that bouldering comps should encompass aspects of “technical” route climbing, as route-climbing should encompass aspects of bouldering. They are intrinsically related, but as we all know, route climbing and bouldering are really two distinct disciplines of rock climbing and they require distinct training regimes – one focusing on endurance and the other on power.

    PS: Could somone please solve the problem of waiting for all the problems to be filled with actors at the start of the competition?

  25. jghedge

    19. Feb, 2010

    ” What about free-soloing comps? Not just deep-water soloing … but free-soloing. Real danger of people breaking their legs. It would be exhilarating, to say the least, to watch people up and down climb a route while they decipher beta with a real risk of injury.”

    Yeah let’s put kids in the hospital. 30 foot ground falls onto bare cement (can’t use pads, otherwise they might not break anything). Brilliant idea.

    Let’s use this idiot as the forerunner too – maybe he’ll land on his head and do us all a favor.

  26. B3

    19. Feb, 2010

    @jhedge who writes from Gabor’s blog “‘the setting was very straightforward and didn’t involve any super technical moves. Every single problem was power-based and it made it obvious who would be the winner. This type of setting does not allow other competitors to do well compared to Daniel who is by far the strongest in the field.’
    This was dead obvious just from watching a few video clips of the finals. And i’ve never even been to a bouldering comp (done extensive course-setting in gyms and set routes for a several lead comps).”

    Again, if this opinion were correct, the second and third place finishers would be the second and third strongest. But that was not the case. Matt Bosley and Rob finished where they did because of their experience and route reading ability, not because of their power. What does the evidence show? Gabor is not the strongest competitor and was admittedly sick, yet still got the second highest point on Men’s 4.

  27. Calvin

    19. Feb, 2010

    Jamie, Gabor made the point about zone scoring, which gives people no incentive to climb past the bonus hold if they weren’t going to make it to the top. That seems to indicate his getting the second highest point on Men’s 4 is meaningless in terms of determining strength or route reading ability. Nevermind his excitement about being the second highest person on #4, which contradicts his point.

    BTW, do you have an opinion on who is the ‘strongest’ in terms of power when you say that Matt and Rob finished where they did? This is all a bit arbitrary, but I was curious.

  28. B3

    19. Feb, 2010

    I would say Paul Robinson, Magnus Mitboe, Kyle Owen would be up there.

  29. B3

    19. Feb, 2010

    I do agree that the scoring system is arguably not the best, although I think it is the same basic system used in the World Cup. The scoring is always a tricky thing, because it seems the person who has the disadvantage is always the one complaining, and it seems someone is always at a disadvantage.
    I would like to say that I think bouldering comps have come a very long way in the last 5 years. Five years ago I would never have imagined that the US would be hosting a World Cup in which thousands of spectators would show up, the city of Vail would pour literally tens of thousands of dollars into (specifically climbing) and that this event would feature climbing as the premier attraction. Having seen hundreds of European competitors fly over in the last two years was just awesome.
    After watching Shaun White win the Gold, I think climbing is a difficult sell to the main stream media. What can really grow the sport is the gyms, Nearly every major metropolitan area now has at least one, and I think if climbing were to get some kind of national attention, there would a place for people to go and do it, which wasn’t the case 10 years ago.
    I totally agree that on the marketing/media end things could get much better,. Again, many people are far under paid or are simply volunteering their time because they care and want to see the sport grown. Even if you could get 10,000 people to come watch, unless you are outside, there isn’t a gym in the country that could even think about holding half that many people.
    This is a really complex issue, but at the heart of it is the lack of money in the industry, the downturn in the economy, and the general lack of interest from the public. I think growth will and can continue, but it will be slow and with the help of organizations like USA Climbing, who focus a good deal of resources on the kids.
    Setting is like being an umpire. When your job is done correctly, no one notices. And it seems like people are looking for something to go wrong and blame the setters generally. The setters I worked with this weekend were professional, eager to work hard, and took far more care and interest in the most of the details of the problems than most outsiders can imagine. It wasn’t a perfect event, they never are, but the vibe was awesome and like Alex Johnson said to me last night “It’s the most fun I have had at a comp in a long time”

  30. Karma

    21. Feb, 2010

    Not to nitpick, but saying things like “This type of setting does not allow other competitors to do well compared to Daniel who is by far the strongest in the field” reminds me something that one of the businesspeople in Atlas Shrugged would’ve said.

  31. DB

    03. Mar, 2010

    From a competitors standpoint, I really enjoyed the problems, but It felt to me like there were basically two styles of climb. Gimicky slab and giant moves on good holds. While these are entertaining, and the top few certainly win out, I would like to see much worse holds and more manageable moves for shorter climbers. People like woods and carlo did manage to pull through, but I think height has become a very clear advantage. At least in qualifiers there was not one hold on all six problems that I would consider to be anything like poor (with the exception of the sloper on men’s two, but that was either a bump or skipped). As a shorter competitor it’s just frustrating to feel really spanned on almost every problem.
    Oh, and I haven’t seen a legit crimp problem at any major competition in years, despite it being a predominate style outside.
    I don’t mean to complain, and I really do enjoy the setting, but I don’t think that it accurately divides the field beyond showing that Daniel is a monster.
    Thanks,
    -Dan

  32. Outsider

    06. Feb, 2011

    What I really fear about USA Climbing and the comps is the pre-occupation with getting climbing into the Olympics to the exclusion of many more pressing issues. The Olympic opportunity, if available, is a 2020-2024 event which really means that Climbing is not in for the current round of games as anything beyond 2016 is a complete unknown.

    If it is an Olympic opportunity, the current view is it is for speed. That is scary, speed is now a mechanised event on a standard wall. My fear is that the average Olympic spectator won’t get it and the true beauty and skill of today’s great climbers will be completely lost when a track and field star eclipes the climbers on the IFSC speed wall.

    USA Climbing ought to concentrate on sponsorship at every level. I am galled by the fact that these kids basically advertise for gyms that charge full freight and give them nothing. Once that issue gets sorted out, there are all sorts of opportunities to attract moeny to the sport. But, as long as the gyms control the advertising on the kids jersey for nothing, little can happen.

    This is not brain surgery, dozens of other off-mainstream sports have delt with these issues, most are headquartered in Colorado. Until sponsors see they can get something of value in exchange for their investment, they will stay away.

    The flip side is that even in what was and remains an offbeat sport 20 years ago, good sponsorship basically fully funded team participation. Without good sponsorship, the sport can drift the direction of figure skating where the deepest wallet for private coaches and arrangers pretty much determines the finish order these days.

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