I recently had the pleasure of competing at the Adidas RockStars in Stuttgart, Germany. This was the 2nd year that they’ve put on this competition and it was quite spectacular. They invite the top-20 people in the world ranking and invite another 20 Adidas athletes to more or less compete in an International World Cup level competition. On top of all the world class athletes invited, the stage is amazing, there’s a live band playing all the time, and they go out of their way to make sure the athletes are getting everything they need.
I drove up from Switzerland on Thursday night for a briefing around 6pm. I checked into the hotel with amazing speed and headed to the meeting. We filled out some info for the live stream, got a little welcome package, and went through the technical meeting. They went over how the weekend was going to work. Overall, it was pretty easy and I just had to listen. We got clear wristbands to make sure we had VIP access everywhere. There was an athlete’s lounge that included the warm up walls, and there was food pretty much whenever we needed it. After the meeting, we took the official “Adidas” shuttle bus to a 5 star restaurant and had quite an amazing feast. It was buffet style, and I know I ate way more than was necessary.
Friday was reserved for qualifications and for the men there were 41 athletes and for the women only 24. It was similar to world cup where 20 people advance to semi-finals (lucky to be a girl at this one) and only 6 to finals. The finals format was a bit different, but more about that later. Qualifications started around 1pm. The format for these RockStars was also different than world cup because we could go preview all our boulders before the start of the round. There was still an “isolation” call an hour before they started, but before that, we could freely go check out the boulders. I found this quite intriguing and just made it a bit more relaxed. I previewed all the boulders with a few friends, and then headed towards the warm up wall. Through a random draw, I drew number 1 and started first in qualification. I did a standard warm-up, and didn’t know what to expect.
Qualification was only 4 boulders with 4 minutes per boulder. 1 minute less than world cup, although we had the preview… My strategy in qualification was to try the boulder straight away, as I already knew the sequence. If I fell, I’d do it just like any other world cup. Through the qualification round, only the 2nd boulder gave me a hard time. I got the zone with my right hand, and kind of messed up my feet. I tried to keep a far toe hook which was just too far for my height. I fell once, but did the boulder second try. I finished qualification with all 4 boulders in 5 attempts. By the end of the round, I finished tied for second with only the French climber Guillaume Glairon-Mondet ahead of me with 4 flashes.
After having a great qualification, I was psyched heading into semi-finals. We had another great dinner at a local restaurant called Palm Beach. It was another buffet style and after one cheeseburger and some other stuff, I was nicely satisfied. Semi-finals were Saturday mid-day with the start at noon. There was one wild card position which gave us 21 in semis. I was tied with 3 other competitors for 2nd and then through another random draw, I went 18th of 21.
Semi-final round for this competition was exactly the same as semi-finals in world cup. 4 boulders, 5 minutes each. I was a bit more anxious for this round than the previous. We know that semi-finals are the hardest round and as Kilian Fischhuber once told me “You have to want to win”. In finals, you’re already top 6 and there is less pressure. Semis are hard because if you screw up, you could come as low as 20th… So I was a bit stressed, and I knew the 1st boulder was pretty hard. From what I could understand of German and what the crowd’s reactions were, no one had completed the first boulder. I went out pretty determined. It took me 3 tries to stick the second move to the zone, but on my 4th try, I sent the problem. I fell once past the zone on my 3rd try, but mostly because I didn’t grab the hold I was throwing to in the right spot. Being the first person to complete the first boulder made me excited again.
From the speed of other people coming back from the last 3 boulders, I could feel that they were being sent. I knew that I had 1 more boulder, but I still had to complete another 2 or 3. One by one, I went out to boulder 2, 3, and 4. One by one, I ended up flashing the last 3. Boulder 2 was the easiest in the round which gave me a 9 minute rest for boulder 3. The 3rd was a compression style and when I flashed that one, I got another 8.5 minute rest. The last one was also hard, but all straight down pulling holds. As I was matching the final hold of problem 4, I knew I was in finals.
In between semis and finals, I tried to eat as much as I could handle. I had 4 egg rolls, a few chicken pieces and a bit of a sandwich. I sat on my computer for a couple of hours as I knew rest was very important in between these rounds. After another hour of waiting, I was marching back into isolation ready for the final round.
The final round was a bit different than most. 6 climbers advance to finals, but not all 6 would climb the 4 boulders in finals. All 6 climbers would climb the first 2 boulders, and only 3 would advance to the 3rd boulder. The climbers in 4, 5, and 6 would remain in those positions. After the 3 climbers climb the 3rd boulder, their rankings on the first 3 boulders would decide who advances to the final boulder battle. Only 2 get to advance to the final boulder. Once there are only two climbers, an identical boulder was set on the RockStars boulder and it was a race. The first person to press their buzzer after the mantle of the boulder would win.
After a presentation of the 6 athletes, we had our 2 minute observation time. All of us previewed all 4 boulders, although we knew that for the moment, only 2 boulders really mattered. For the men, in finals were:
- Jeremy Bonder (FRA)
- Jan Hojer (GER)
- Guillaume Glairon-Mondet (FRA)
- Rustam Gelmanov (RUS)
- Jon Cardwell (USA)
- Sean McColl (CAN)
For the women, there were:
- Therese Johansen (NOR)
- Juliane Wurm (GER)
- Mina Leslie-Wujastyk (GBR)
- Katha Saurwein (AUT)
- Alex Puccio (USA)
- Akiyo Noguchi (JPN)
For the first two boulders, the men and women would climb simultaneously. Our first boulder was a small jump start to an “obvious” looking mantle. The zone was a hold that wasn’t even used as a part of the route. You did the jump start, and then had to awkwardly touch the zone hold before going back to the start holds to jump to the rail. We could of course skip the bonus, but if we fall, we get nothing… Jeremy went out first and sent it in 1 or 2 goes.
After one person does it in 1 or 2 goes, we all know we have to do the problem, especially with elimination after 2 boulders. One after another the men were going out, and coming back within a minute. I could also tell that 2-4 of the flashed it. I knew the problem was possible, but still makes it hard. They called my name and I came running out. I knew the boulder, how it went, and that I should hopefully flash it. I was super stressed before jumping for the first holds. There’s always something that can happen. I jump too far, I don’t jump far enough… I luckily jumped perfect enough to secure the start holds. In my head, I told myself I wouldn’t tag the zone hold as I really needed a flash. I touched it anyways… I went back to the start holds and start pressing up on my right arm. I didn’t think I could span it which meant I was probably going to go left then right straight away. I jumped for the top, and it was a super good edge. Once I had two hands on, I knew I had flashed the boulder. I did a quick mantle and was happy. Onto problem two.
Problem two was pretty straight forward as well. You jumped into a pocket, did a 360 campus while grabbing another pocket, then made two moves up an arête with no feet. After that, just a quick mantle and finish. We figured that since the first problem was so easy, the second was going to be hard. The first climber for the men couldn’t do the problem so we figured it was quite hard. The second climber out however flashed the problem in under 30 seconds… After that, we started getting nervous again. Of the last 3 climbers before me, they all flashed it. I knew that I would have to at least complete the problem to advance to the 3rd boulder. I went out, and knew what I had to do again. The first few moves while campusing were painfully easy with all the adrenalin flooding through my veins. Once I got to the corner however, it was quite hard. The corner was a lot further than I had anticipated which meant that coming in with the other hand was going to be hard as well. I managed to get my right hand in with a violent swing which meant only one more move and then home free. It was a big move, but the hold we were throwing for was much better than I thought which made me top the problem shortly after. After 2 problems, I had a perfect score of 2 for 2.
Me, Guillaume and Jon had flashed the first two while Jan had 2 in 4 Rustam had 2 in 5. Jeremy didn’t complete the 2nd boulder to finish 6th. I was over the moon to be in the top 3 and felt great to keep advancing. On the women’s side, something weird happened. The first two girls were Akiyo and Alex, but there was a 3 way tie for 3rd place. Because they said they wouldn’t do countbacks, 5 of the girls advanced to the 3rd problem. After the 3rd problem, it managed to break their tie and Alex and Akiyo advanced to the super boulder and the end.
For the men, it was a different story which kept the crowd on edge. Guillaume was the first now out and we all had 2 for 2 which meant that advancing to the super boulder was based on one boulder. Guillaume went out and flashed the boulder… Oh my. Jon was next, ran out and also flashed the boulder. I’m now sitting in isolation knowing that if I DON’T flash the boulder, I’m out. If I slip, mis-read, or am just unable to do the 3rd boulder, I will finish 3rd… I was nervous. I went out and took a lot longer than I usually do. I knew I had 1 try. I almost fell on the first move after taking a huge swing, but once I got my feet back on the wall, I was psyched.
Every move wasn’t too hard and the second to last move was the hardest, when I had to bump my right hand up to the top of the volume. As I looked up at the last hold, I was confident I was going to do it, and moments later, I was matching the final hold smiling. We knew that because we were now all 3 for 3, they wouldn’t count back to semi-finals (quite yet).
They explained a few minutes later that they were going to set another tie breaker boulder to advance only 2 to the final boulder. If there were ties in this tie breaker boulder, they would be counting back to semi-finals. To speed things along, they also decided to not hold an observation round. Guillaume was first again. From what we could tell standing behind the wall, he got zone in what we thought was 1st try, but was unable to complete the boulder. This meant that if either Jon or I flashed just zone, we would advance. Jon was second and after a small double hand dyno, he flashed zone but didn’t top the problem. I was third and knew I had to get zone. Out I went, and checked out the problem. Looked like a hard press into a volume, followed by a couple good holds, then a massive move up over the lip.
As I started the problem, I crimped the left hand start crimp much harder than I needed to. It psyched me up a bit to start the boulder. The first move was easy, and the second move was hard. The hard press up into the volume was hard, but my body shifted into position and I stuck my right foot back on the start hold. I crossed up into a good pinch and cut free to the zone. I stuck the zone, and knew I was advancing. Now to try and top the boulder. I looked up and the next hold was very very far away. I put my right foot on the volume, and started getting ready to jump when I changed my mind and put my left foot on the volume. I jumped at the hold and knew my right hand had to stay on. In mid-flight, my feet naturally matched feet so that as I grabbed the hold over the lip, I was in a better body position to hold it. My fingers hit in a split grip, but I didn’t fall. After a small re-adjust, I was completely the last move and flashing yet another problem.
Jon and me in the super-finals, a battle of North America. After advancing this far, especially at this big of a competition was baffling. I didn’t care if I came 1st or 2nd. On top of that, I was competing against someone I’ve known for at least 10 years. The girls went first, and were much quicker than I thought it would be. Alex flashed the problem in around 30 seconds with Akiyo topping out around 10 seconds later… Jon and I were called out with our backs to the boulder. After a few moments of hesitation, the countdown began and I was getting psyched. The first move of our boulder was a dyno. After controlling the swing, there was one hold for the left hand, then just the mantle. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… Begin. I jogged to the start of the boulder and jumped on the start hold, tagging up my feet. The jump was much bigger than I thought now that I was on the wall. I took my right hand off the wall and fist pump dynoed for the first move. It was a huge swing, and I didn’t get my feet on the first swing back, but after swinging out again I campused up to the left hand hold. As I brought my heel up and re positioned my hand on the volume, I saw a flash out the right side of my eye, and knew Jon had fallen on the problem which meant I was in no hurry. I grabbed the edge of the volume and knew I would win. I did the mantle a bit slower than predicted as I didn’t want to make any errors. I stood up and scurried up the last few meters of slab.
I slapped the buzzer and barely heard what sound it made. I had won the Adidas RockStars. I turned around and just started waving to the cheering crowd. I looked down and to the left to see if Jon was going to come up, but he wasn’t on the problem and was clapping himself. Overjoyed, I stood up there for a bit waving before jumping down. The announcer started by interviewing Jon and followed with me. I was obviously over the moon that I had just won, and on top of it, I had flashed every boulder in finals.
After a few interviews, followed by the awards ceremony, I was still in shock from what had really happened. They presented us with a trophy and big sized cheques followed by a volley of confetti to top it off.