ABS Nationals 2011

Posted on 15. Feb, 2011 by in News

This weekend was ABS 12 here in Boulder, CO. Fortunately for me, I could focus on routesetting as Pete Ward and Jason Danforth took care of the media end of things. The crew this year was myself, Chris Danielson (who is unquestionably one of, if not the country’s top coursesetter), Jeremy Hardin from VA, and Seth Lytton and Johnny Hork. This group was headed up by Scott Mechler, who was the head setter for the PCA comps for years and has worked closely as a hired setter and a head setter the last 6 years for USA climbing. Scott is a great organizer and the work environment was well managed. There were over 40 years of setting experience with this crew. This was the 8th year I have set ABS Nationals and (because there were several events in some years) the 12th Nationals I have set, in addition to 3 World Cups, and countless other events.
I really enjoyed working with such a thoughtful crew. Each problem was analyzed thoroughly to test different strengths and weaknesses throughout each round. We brought in several short female forerunners to insure that none of the problems were reachy. I have never been more proud of the diversity of movement, the hold selection (E-Grips and Teknik) and the over all quality of all the problems in all the rounds. I want to thank all who helped in setting and forerunning, including Paige Classen, Emily Harrington, Shannon Forsman, Brian Capps, Asher and Flannery Shay-Nemirow, and Ryan Sewell. It was for me, an 85 hour week of intense coursesetting.

Qualifiers: The qualifying round went off very well from our perspective. There were 6 problems in both Men’s and Women’s. There were many different styles displayed, including a tricky slab problem, feature climbing, steep powerful incuts, big move on pinches, technical crimping and powerful campusing. We wanted to get people up the walls, and many of the problems were climbed. The Men’s round was easier than the Women’s, but this difference was slight, and we were very pleased with the outcome.

Semis: There were only 3 problems in Semis. Realizing that we had gone easy on the competitors, especially the men, we decided to turn up the heat and test them a bit. Men’s 2 did not get climbed, which was too hard, but it gave us a clear view of the kind of talent we were seeing. Men’s 3 was a tricky sequence that about half of the field (including winner Sean McColl read flawlessly). Daniel Woods did not qualify because of his failure to read this sequence. If American climbers want to compete internationally then we as routesetters are going to demand that they are capable of more than just campusing on pinches. Daniel was incredibly gracious in defeat, taking responsibility for his miscue and showing up to the finals to cheer on his friends. Well done. This opened things up for a darkhorse to step up in finals.
The women’s semi’s were again very good. We felt like we had nailed the women’s quali’s and so we just continued with more of the same for semi’s. Angie Payne, Alex Puccio and Francesca Metcalf all climbed exceptionally well, and all seemed capable of a win.

Finals: Finals were 3 problems each. The first Men’s problem was too hard (although the crux sequence was climbed in forerunning by 3 forerunners.) Perhaps fatigue had set in from the previous two rounds of climbing. The second Men’s problem was one of my favorite of the comp. It began with a tricky three move sequence, followed by another tricky sequence to a jump to a sloping lip of grip tape. This is the most “european” problem in the comp, and it a style we have been integrating more and more into the American comps. While not terribly powerful, it required precision, timing, some strength and lots of technique to climb. As my setting hero Laurent Laporte (a French World Cup setter of 15 years) once told me, “The climber who wins is the one who makes no mistakes.” This problem exemplified that attitude, and when combined with the pure power pinches of Men’s 3, made for an excellent round of climbing. Canadian Sean McColl climbed with intelligence, grace and precision as he flashed the final climb to win the comp. A perfect finish to a good men’s round.
For the women we were surprised to see climbers like Angie Payne struggling on #1. Again, it seemed as though the fatigue of two previous rounds had finally caught up. Puccio however flashed the problem with ease. The second women’s problems was my favorite of the round, although impatient spectators seemed bored. The women took their time trying to solve the puzzling slab and only Sasha Digulian came out with a send. The final problem for the women was a test of power and technique. The crux move revolved around a double dyno to two pinches off of a toehook, and only Alex Puccio had the wherewithal to complete the problem, flashing it to win the comp. Danielson and I spent a long time finding the perfect arrangement of pinches, feet, and angles to make this work. This effort paid off as Puccio executed the crowd pleasing double dyno.

Our men’s problems, in terms of getting results were decent all week, with a semi final round that was too hard.
Our women’s problems, in terms of getting results, were excellent all week.
As I said before, I was very proud of the way all of the setters worked together as a cohesive unit to set well thought out problems. It was great for me to mentor some of the younger setters, and this comp in particular showed the importance of good forerunning.
Finally, as a setter I have no control over the scoring and the format, or the internet stream. There seem to be pros and cons to both, but I must say this is a huge step beyond where US bouldering comps were 8 years ago, when I first began setting such national events. It seems the internet crowd was pleased with what they saw. I have a lot of thoughts on this comp, and I would happy to try and answer questions or listen to reasonable critiques! All in all it was a great event and now I am happy to get back on the rocks!

“The problems were great throughout the whole competition, and the new wall that John Stack and Vertical Solutions built was a perfect setting. Keep it up!”– Sean McColl, Men’s ABS 2011 Champion

Check out a great critique of the competition from winner Sean McColl here.
Look for more media to come out on ubcprotour.com all week!

19 Responses to “ABS Nationals 2011”

  1. Nietzsche

    15. Feb, 2011

    Could you speak more to how the integration of a European style of setting worked with the American style? Is this an influence to make the US comps more like the Euro’s World Cups? Do you think this is a move to gain more credence in the American comp circuit (with an eye on the Olympics)? How do you think this strategy will influence comp setting in the future?

    There was much talk in the online stream of the “Triple Jump” on Men’s Finals #2. While a few climbers executed the sequence as intended, many other climbers seemed incapable or unwilling of executing what could be considered a “comp move” (that has little practical crossover use to outdoor rock climbing/any outdoor problems that you know of that have a “triple jump” as accepted standard beta?). Is this another shift in indoor climbing that moves away from an outdoor-centric simulations to moves that can essentially only be set in a indoor scenario? If so doesn’t the chasm between outdoor/indoor climbing appear to be separating even more?

    Lastly, any other “indoor-centric” moves that you can think of? (figure four?)

  2. Nietzsche

    15. Feb, 2011

    Sorry, one last question.

    Why were competitors allowed to do some of the forerunning on problems (i.e. Flan)?

  3. B3

    15. Feb, 2011

    Flann graciously offered to forerun only after she had been
    Eliminated in the qualifying round.

  4. Adam M

    15. Feb, 2011

    setting hear totally changed the game! Euro always has technical, America has all this power.

    This comp was technical power. That’s hard to set fella’s. Really creative stuff. Hard? Sure, it’s Nationals. what else were they training for. The triple jump move was freakin sexy (even if you did it Dory way).

    Sets a new stage for competitors to adapt their “beast” style of campusing and find some footwork, while still squeezing the blue coloring out of the bubble wrap.

    Sweet show. Keep it up.

    (p.s. of course the indoor/outdoor chasm is separating. you can have a huge blank canvas indoors and setters can make those puppets dance!)

  5. B3

    15. Feb, 2011

    Also, in think this is a move that Chris and I have been trying to make for a while now. I would like to try and set a mix of technical and power. it’s boring to have all of the problems just huge moves and campusing on pinches. I also think it forces the climbers to simply be more athletic, which is in turn more interesting.
    Indoor climbing is becoming its own thing, far different from outdoor climbing. Given the good pads and wild shapes and features, we can push the boundaries of human movement in a controlled environment and this is a good thing. I would hope the chasm continues to grow. I also think we will see and are already beginning to see climbers who excel in the gym exclusively and those who excel outdoors exclusively.

  6. B3

    15. Feb, 2011

    thanks for the kind words Adam!

  7. Cat

    15. Feb, 2011

    Can you speak a bit more about the integration of this “bonus” hold into the setting process and its effect on scoring? I am still a little confused about this elusive “bonus hold” element of ABS Nationals and I was wondering how it is perceived from the setter’s point of view. Thanks!

  8. Nic

    15. Feb, 2011

    I have to start off by saying I think you and the routesetting team did a excellent job. I do have a few questions for you about setting that may sound loaded but I can assure you they are not. I am very interested in your opinion.

    What do you think about repetition of moves or sequences in competitions? Do they occur? Can and will they effect the outcome?


    The Triple Jump.

    I thought that the comp was very interesting to watch but I felt at a few points that I was watching a re-run.

    I would also like to ask, what the future of comp climbing is to you, in terms of setting? Do you think climbers from USAC can be successful on the word cup stage (outside the US)? Or do you think the style of setting here (and the way the comp is run) will set them back (The comp/cometary was vastly different than the live feeds of the world cup comps in Euro).

  9. andy

    15. Feb, 2011

    How do you get around people doing a mono on the bolt holes during the climbs? Is it something that doesn’t come-up much?

    Otherwise the finals video is really cool. Digging the walls/problems: http://vimeo.com/19962834

  10. Scott

    15. Feb, 2011

    Great setting overall. Collectively one of the best I have seen. However, I am wondering if the setting suited the world cup zone hold scoring format. It was obvious to anyone watching who was stronger than who from 1st to 20th placing. The scorecards don’t seem to show this as clearly though. I understand that this is due to the zone hold scoring but do you think that the setters need to focus more on setting problems that separate the field more clearly with regard to world cup scoring. The problems were great but some seemed to still be set in a way that reflects the American style of scoring based on points for every hold. . . Meaning moves get progressively harder for every move you make. This shows visually who is stronger but doesn’t translate to the scorecards. Should the competitors who are strong enough to get to the bonus also be able to able to be strong to get into a position to top? Meaning should the next crux revolve around getting the final hold? It appeared that sometimes throughout all rounds of the comp the moves after the zone hold separated the field without anyone being able to attain the final hold which didn’t translate to separation on paper.

    I thought mens final problem 2 was perfectly set for the world cup format. Tough crux to the zone hold but everyone who got the zone also got a shot at the tough move to the top. The scores for this problem reflected exactly what we all saw.

    Any thoughts?

  11. Seth

    16. Feb, 2011


    Having set the comp with Jamie I’ve been thinking a lot about the zone hold dilemma. I agree that the format doesn’t always seem to reward the climber with the best performance on the problem.

    I think that on a short problem like mens final 2 it makes sense to do what you suggested and make the move to the finishing hold one of the more difficult moves. However, on a longer problem where you are trying to divide the field it seems like a waste to put a bunch of fluff between the bonus and a difficult last move.

    I think bottom line is that the world cup format was developed for 2 main reasons: 1.) to emphasize the importance of completing a boulder problem 2.) to make the climbers progress easier to understand by the crowd with only two holds that matter; the bonus and the top. However, in reality the easiest thing for the crowd to understand is who got the highest and how many tries it took them to get there. I don’t know that the old points per hold format is perfect, but I personally think it makes more sense.

    This is especially the case because USAC has changed the scoring to emphasize progress on a problem rather than tops (one of the primary goals of the world cup format).

    For example, USAC uses 1.# of Tops 2.# of Bonus 3. Attempts to top 4. Attempts to bonus.

    Changed from the world cup where the format is…
    1. # of tops 2.Attempts to top 3.# of Bonus 4.Attempts to bonus.

    I think that the change in the scoring makes sense. A climber should be rewarded for climbing higher on a problem and getting to the zone. To follow that logic it would make sense for a climber to be rewarded even more for climbing 3 moves past the zone.

    Ultimately, the zone format worked out well at nationals even if it was hard to follow. Maybe the strongest climber (Daniel) didn’t win, but competitions aren’t always about who’s the strongest they’re about who climbs the best and who has the best strategy on a given day. I think the results of nationals were fair in that regard.

    What do you think about adding a second zone hold? It seems like it might make more sense to count holds at that point.

  12. B3

    16. Feb, 2011

    @Nic Interesting that you should pic out the triple jump as a move repetition. The is one of the most difficult moves to set, and I have seen it only one other time in the 8 years I have set these comps. It is extremely difficult to set something that hasn’t been done before in some form or another. Two years ago Chris had the idea for a rose dyno, which is something we set together and it worked well. In the end no matter how complex the movement gets, it still maintains the left right left. If you feel like a triple jump is a rerun, then basic dynamic moves, figure 4s, mantels, double dynos, most be awfully boring for you. I am very open to the idea of new moves, but they are so hard to come up with. I think large volumes could assist in creating somewhat new movement. Often it’s a matter of getting the girls to do something new that we haven’t done with them before.
    It’s my hope that the Europeans will get psyched about the American style and will set more such problems at European World Cups. It is also my hope that American climbers will learn to read routes and learn some technique and this will help them succeed at European Comps.

  13. Mark Mercer

    16. Feb, 2011

    Excellent job on the comp and this write-up, Jamie!

  14. […] B3Bouldering’s Jamie Emerson has an excellent blog entry up from the route setter’s poin… […]

  15. sidepull

    16. Feb, 2011

    Excellent write up and critique – looks like it was a great comp.

    I agree with Jamie’s point about the growing specialization between indoor and outdoor climbers. I can see how this is a good thing because it allows climbers to decide what elements of climbing they enjoy the most and then choose to climb in a venue that emphasizes those elements. That said – and I realize this is a tangent – I think it’s critical that gyms still see themselves as the main bridge between people trying climbing and people that want to become climbers. This is important because it’s true: most people nowadays climb for their first time indoors. This was true for me almost 13 years ago, it was true for Chris Sharma, and it’s true for an increasing number of young climbers: your first climbing experience is inside. So, even though their is a chasm in terms of the physical moves that can be applied indoors and outdoors, I think it’s critical that gyms do more to prepare young climbers to climb outside just in case. Now, by prepare, I don’t mean how to clip, or even how to read non-taped routes. By prepare I mean that current gym culture does not translate to outdoor ethics – cleaning up, not being too loud, not over-chalking, not creating too much erosion with padding, etc. In other words, even though some climbers might decide to specialize on gym climbing because they prefer the movement or simply because they prefer the gym environment, the gyms should be the forerunners in teaching new climbers how to act appropriately in an outdoor environment. To date, I think gyms have failed massively in this regard and the talk of a growing “chasm” only intensifies my fear that this lapse in education will continue.

    Again, sorry for the tangent, but it seems like the sort of meaty topic appropriate to the blog.


  16. Scott

    16. Feb, 2011


    Thanks for the reply. Again, great setting at nationals. I agree with your comments.

    My problems lie completely with zone hold scoring, and assume that since we want to continue to host World Cup competitions on American soil that the scoring system will not change. . . although I wish it would. Adding another zone hold would be a great improvement. . . but as you say, why not just go back to our traditional scoring at the point.

    Another issue I have with the zone hold scoring is that it promotes giving up. . . or a “good enough” attitude. The aggressiveness to get one move farther is completely lacking in zone scoring. This was one of the first comps I have watched where multiple climbers obviously don’t even give an effort to reach the next hold. This is a horrendous attribute in any competition format. One of the best things about climbing comps is watching each competitor dig deep and pull out one more move when it appears they have nothing left to give. . . this also clearly separates best climbers.

    With all that said, my basic question is still. . . if we can’t change the scoring system then are we going to have to creatively change the way we set for this format. . . and I guess, is this even possible? This is not a bash on the setters or setting. . . again, it was a very well set comp and I do believe the best climber won with this format but from 2nd to last place can be a mess. I stated my basic idea regarding this question in my earlier post but wonder if anyone else has any ideas. Thanks

  17. peter beal

    17. Feb, 2011

    Great comment from SP. I wonder what gyms will say in this regard. While I agree it would be a great idea, to what extent do gyms feel this obligation? I agree with the suggestions for appropriate behavior in the outdoors

  18. […] B3Bouldering’s Jamie Emerson has an excellent blog entry up from the route setter’s poin… […]

  19. mark

    18. Feb, 2011

    I think the setting was excellent. The variety of problems exposed weakness mostly on the mens side. Just pulling really hard is what most male climbers do when things are tough and that obviously does not get you up some problems. On the womens side, the various females have different strengths, but Alex P is just so much stronger than everyone else, its not even close.
    The zone scoring I am not sure about. I know they are complying with world cup rules but does the world cup really have it figured out? Most problems are high pointed in the first 2 attempts, so guys like Sean stopping and resting is smart after 2 attempts, not just because of zone scoring.

    Nice job on the setting!

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