I recently had the pleasure of spending 3 weeks in Asia with a bunch of other extraordinary people. I began this journey on October 9th with 6 other athletes from the Austrian climbing team as well as one from the Netherlands. Our party start with the Austrian coach Heiko Wilhelm, their physio, and climbers Johanna Ernst, Magdalena Rock, Barbara Bacher, Katharina Posch, Mario Lechner and Jakob Schubert. The lone Dutchman on our trip was Jorg Verhoeven.
After a short flight from Toulouse, we all met up in Frankfurt and took the 9 hour flight to Beijing. It sucked as there was no TV in the headrest. I tried to sleep, read on my phone and listen to music, but it was probably one of the worst flights I’ve taken…. and I’ve taken quite a few in my life.
After another flight into Xining and a 3 hour bus ride, we were at the compound near Xining and another World Cup around the corner. We went into “town” on the first couple of days we had before the competition, but this is remote China, and really there was nothing. The highlight of our days spent around Xining was taking a random taxi to a brick making facility.
Now when I say facility, we’re not talking about North American factories or anything special like that. I’m talking about 100 people all with very specific jobs in making bricks… It was crazy. On top of it all, they didn’t seem to care that were only a few feet away watching them work and take pictures. That story might be for another time, but what I can say is that it was pretty cool.
The weekend of the competition arrived and I’ll summarize as I have another 2 to go after this. For some reason, I seemed to feel better and better as the days went on. I don’t know if it was the 2500m altitude that was hurting me in the morning or just the caffeine waiting to get into my bloodstream. My Q1 was crappy, my Q2 was alright, then the semi-finals were again in the morning which I felt bad, and I felt super good in finals.
During the semi-finals, I couldn’t seem to get a very good rhythm while climbing. I’d do a move, look to place my foot, and there wouldn’t be a foothold… I’d have to look around and re analyze how I would attack the move… This went on for 30 moves, and I got pumped way too fast. During finals, I might’ve previewed my feet better, but I think overall, it was just a better route. I climbed well, efficiently and rested when I needed. I was soon at the highpoint and stuck in a corner. I was too pumped to move my feet (which I should’ve done the move before) and I didn’t want to try and downclimb a bit and risk falling. I basically gave up and jumped for the next hold to make sure I got a plus.
I was first when I got down, and it was enough to hold on for my second victory in a lead world cup. I was lucky in the fact that Romain Desgranges climbed a bit poorly in the roof and missed a key foothold up and left. Jakob I was sure would also climb past me, but he said he just wasn’t feeling so good during the finals and finished 4th.
I got my second victory and I was over the moon. It sucks that when the last climber falls, in this case Jakob, I’m so happy, but not because he fell, only because it means that I win. I felt like the victory in China was a little bit better than the one in Kranj. I don’t really know why, but maybe it’s because I sort of proved even to myself that Kranj wasn’t a fluke so to say… Jakob fell, and I couldn’t help but shake my head, smile and realize what it meant. Jorg gave me a big hug and was the first to congratulate me. Following him were the rest of the competition climbers along with Jakob as well. As disappointed as he was about not being on the podium or winning himself, I know he’s happy for me, which goes a long way.
China was fun, but we were all pretty eager to get to Korea. There was no after party, as we all had another 2 competitions in as many weeks. We left Xining at 6am and had a perilous drive through the mountains and snow. Jorg got some on video if I ever come up with the courage to sit down and edit it together!
We left China and were onto Korea. After a whole day of traveling, a few flights and a nice bus, we were walking towards our next hotel in Seoul Korea. We spent the whole week before the next competition here, touring the city, climbing and just enjoying our vacation. (Yes, it’s a vacation when we’re not competing!)
We also got a chance to climb in the same gym that Jain Kim from Korea trains at. It’s nothing too special or big, but does the trick. It has a circular training wall with holds filling every t-nut. It also has a short 10m climbing wall. I didn’t climb on it, but the Austrian girls did and thought the grades were pretty stiff
Another cool thing about being in Korea is that it has pretty cheap camera equipment. I don’t know why, but I imagine it has something to do with the weak Korea currency at the moment and the proximity to where most of the camera equipment is made. (Japan I think…) We all took advantage of this and bought various things for our camera.
I bought a sweet new tripod that has 3 adjustments for angles. I also bought a 35mm f1.8 lens for my Nikon. It’s wicked fast and sharp as ever. Mario bought a full Canon setup which included his body (forget which one, although I believe EOS5) and a nice 18-105mm. A funny story is that Heiko was handling Mario’s camera not 24 hours after he bought it, and dropped the lens… which subsequently shattered… ouch. Luckily the lens was only 200-300 euros which is much less than the lens Heiko had just bought. Heiko dented his wallet the biggest out of us 4 with the purchase of the 24-75mm f2.8 (I believe). It runs such a big price because it has a lot of glass inside to keep the f low. I’m keeping this camera jargon quick because it’s either really boring to read (because you don’t care), or you probably know more than me! (And are laughing because I wrote something wrong). Jorg also copied me and bought the 11-16 wide angle lens for his canon.
We also snuck onto the roof of our hotel and took this nice shot at night. It might have been through photoshop a little 😉
The day before we moved out to the competition venue, our Nordic friend Magnus Midboe from Norway joined our conglomeration to make us 11 traveling together.
Skipping ahead a couple of days, we were now in Korea getting ready for the next world cup. We were hosted at a National Football (soccer) training centre which had at least 8 full length fields scattered around the complex. There was transportation, accommodation and meals for the whole duration of the stay, it was awesome. When we went to opening ceremonies, we had all the standard stuff including presentation of athletes, federations and speeches, but then came something very very very different.
When we got there, there were around 500 high school people scattered around the complex. We figured they were just school groups getting ready for the opening ceremonies. I don’t know if it was a surprise, or if they were really there to watch climbing or something but near the end of the ceremony, we just heard lots of screaming and excitement. It turns out, they had hired one of the boy bands from Korea to perform live just after the opening ceremonies and it went down exactly like you would see it in a movie. There were girls jumping over chairs, security holding back dozens of girls between the age of 12-20 and most of the competition climbers trying to evacuate the “seating arrangement” or risk being trampled. I also got some video of this… and take my word for it, it was hilarious! I don’t even remember the name of the band, although I seem to remember it was a 3 letter acronym that Jorg looked up that made it all the more funny.
We did have a competition the next day which went well as well. The climbing wall in Mokpo was like a small version of Imst, or Puurs. It had a massive overhang in the middle and two less overhanged walls on the left and right. It was also cool because at the entrance to the complex, it gave the measurements of the wall. They were all 15m high and the middle wall overhung 13m while the sides only 8m. The centre went to almost a full roof, and then came back near the top. The side wall never made it close to a roof, but dangerously close to vertical on a couple panels as well.
My qualifiers went well and I managed to top both routes. It was good as well to get a feel for the wall. I hated climbing in the roof, and loved the sides. There two possibilities for the next day. One, that the semi-final would be on the side wall leaving the finals in the huge cave; this would mean I would probably do better in semi-finals as I preferred that wall and climbed much better on it. Then I “might” have a worse finals, but who knows. The other option was that they had semi-finals on the roof, which gave way to finals on the sides. This would mean that it would be harder to even get into finals, but I would be more in my element if I did make it through. It was the latter explanation and the semis were indeed harder for me than the finals. I barely made it through semi-finals tying with another 3 competitors but beating them in countback. I was 5th after the semi-finals, but it was much closer than I would’ve liked. If I wouldn’t have pulled through the last two moves, I’d be the 9th looking in. I was glad it didn’t happen, and looked forward to the finals.
The finals route was the hardest finals route I have ever had the honour of climbing on. Every move felt as if I might fall, including the first!! That being said, I still climbed the moves pretty well, and rested where I could. The biggest mistake I made in the finals were my clips. I could not for the life of me clip quickly. I don’t know if it was in my head, or just me fumbling with the draws, but they were not working in my favour. Of the 8 or so draws I clipped, 6 of them took me over 5 seconds. As dumb as it may seem, that’s 30 seconds of one arm hanging while fumbling with the other hand. As you’re climbing, you shake it off fast, even if you’re clipping poorly, but then after you have to ask yourself what you were doing…
I made it up just before the transfer in walls and fell being extremely pumped. There was also a draw in front of my face that I hadn’t clipped. As I was climbing, I thought about clipping it, but knew I’d fall if I tried. Just before falling, I decided to skip the draw, and hopefully clip from the next hold, but it was too late and I fell trying that move. I could guess that if would’ve just decided to skip the draw from 3-4 moves below, there was a much bigger chance I would’ve stuck the next move, and maybe clipped, climbed a few more and won? Who knows with these types of things, and what it comes down to is I did not. I looked at the draw for a second, and fell. I still climbed very well, and after I had climbed, I was in the lead. At a bare minimum, that should always make you happy.
Out of the 4 climbers after me, 2 passed me, and 2 did not. Both Asian climbers, Hyunbin Min and Sachi Amma skipped the draw where I fell and clipped from the rest. They climbed a few moves further before falling in a heinous match. Hyunbin made it 1.5 moves further to secure his first Lead World Cup victory. Sachi, after missing the Chinese world cup due to federation issues, came in a strong 2nd and I luckily finished on the podium in 3rd. Ramonet had an awful finals route and got stuck on one move for almost 2 minutes. He climbed well after that but was just too tired to keep going. He missed a hold ever so slightly and didn’t have the juice to hand on with one arm anymore. Jakob, who looked the strongest of all the competitors, fell on a crazy just-off vertical move in the middle. It was a low percentage move up to an incut crimp, and he jumped just a little too hard. His body swung to the right too fast and he fell even though I’m sure he wasn’t pumped.
That was the end of the second world cup of three and I had two podiums! Wahoo! On another note, I also competed in Speed! I set my personal best at 9.87 seconds! It’s the first time I had a sub 10 time which is pretty awesome. I also think it’s the Canadian Speed Record for the moment because the timers weren’t “official” in the qualification round of the Speed World Championships in Paris. That being said, I know Robert Stewart-Patterson runs sub-10 in practice, so this is just a matter of time before he competes at an official event and “officially” takes this one away
It was the end of Korea and onto what I hoped to be the coolest country I hadn’t visited yet… Japan did not let down, and I spent the next 10 days in and around Tokyo. After we left Korea, we spent 4 nights in a traditional hotel in Hano, Japan. I thought the traditional style of the hotel was awesome. Firstly, the beds were on the ground, a few mats with a pillow that felt like it had rice inside. It was really confortable and your head didn’t move around as you slept being stuck between rice… Secondly, there was no “showers” as there are in NA. There were toilets in one room where you could also brush your teeth, but where you bathed yourself was in a completely different place in the hotel, even on a different floor. The “showers” were there, just beside a gigantic bathtub of water. This bathtub was surrounded by Japanese style decor. On the sides were shower heads and little stools that you could sit on while you bathed yourself. Being the traditional Japanese style, no shoes were to be worn in the hotel, only slippers, all the doors opened by sliding and clothing was strictly prohibited in the “showers”.
The bathtub was rectangular and long. You could easily fit 10 people around the edges with everyone having comfortable moving space. It was also at least 40 degrees hot. It was a big strange at first, having a bath with everyone else, but hey how often are you in Japan, competing for your country in a sport you love and the privilege of doing it with your friends…
After our traditional Japanese experience, we took another hour long train ride to Inzai where the competition was being held. The competition in Japan was the last on our list and it was still awesome. The wall was a lot “smaller” than the one in Korea, although they did a really good job with what they had. There were two walls which were identical and the second half could change in angle to almost a roof. Throughout the competition they kept changing the angle so it was like climbing on a new wall every route.
I flashed both my qualifiers which were hard, and struggled in the semi-finals. The semi-finals climbed back and forth up the right wall and I climbed the top section just awfully. I made it around the corner, rested just barely enough to do 5 or so moves back to the right. I fell coming into an undercling hold on the top volume. Again, I was tied for last place going into finals… I think I just need to be more focused in semi-finals. At this competition it would’ve paid off to be more focused as well, because the finals were a complete waste of time, for everybody. It’s not that I’m not focused in semi-finals, it is just that I’m so much MORE focused in finals. I care more, and that makes me strive. Semi-finals are the hardest round, similar to that of bouldering world cups. Finals is hard to make on the podium and win, but once you’re in finals, you tend to just climb well… the same can’t be said for the semi-final round.
Anyways, onto finals which was a waste of time. The finals route for the men started on the left wall, transferred in the middle and finished up the right wall after down climbing and coming back to the left at the top. It was around 50 moves long which was a good length for the wall. We thought that it wouldn’t be too too hard until the change of wall, but the ending had to be hard. We also though that the last 5-6 moves would be nearly impossible. I was second out to climb and I knew Romain had fallen somewhere near the end of the route. I imagined it was in the last 10 moves, but I keep my music loud enough that I don’t hear anything. I just knew that he hadn’t topped.
I started confidently and the start was pretty hard but I got a good rhythm. Just before the change in the walls came the hardest move on the route. You reached far out right to a red shoulder hold and had to cut your feet and put them really high and just under your left hand. You just had to lock off your right arm, but I’m really not a fan of moves like these. In the back of my mind, I saw myself falling, but I quickly got that out and stuck the move. From there, I made it safely to the rest, and it was a REST. After getting onto the resting hold, I managed to put my feet behind me on the other wall and rest in what could’ve been the “perfect” resting position barring any heel-hooks, toe-hooks or knee bars. I could’ve stayed there for 10 minutes although I didn’t. When I got to the rest, I had been climbing for 2 minutes, and when I glanced at the clock just finishing my rest, it was 15 second to 3 minutes. I left 10 seconds later near the 3 minutes mark and was finished climbing 45 seconds later.
I left the rest confident and not pumped at all. I climbed quickly like I always do and was finished the traverse right pretty quickly. The big moves were over and it was onto the more technical moves. I made a clutch decision to skip 3 moves. The moves might’ve been harder but less moves meant less time on the wall and for me, that was everything. I was into the final moves leaning left and felt good. The holds felt good under my fingers which meant I wasn’t pumped yet. I was accelerating as I went into the last few moves. The last 3 moves were hard, but I wasn’t pumped and I knew I could boulder anything for 3 moves. I lept towards the finish jug and topped the route. I had finished my first finals route and I was exhilarated. I screamed and jumped from the wall waving to the crowd. I was also the first person to top so the crowd was going crazy.
When I talked to the IFSC TV, of course I was happy. About the grade of the route, I think I said it was probably too easy. I can’t really tell how hard a route is while climbing it because I don’t think about that. After thinking about the route a bit more, I figured no one would fall after reaching the rest in the middle barring the last 3 moves. The last 3 moves were hard, but not hard enough. I watched the next 6 climbers after me top as well… I also believe that if one of the first climbers just after me would’ve fallen, more might’ve fallen as well. After so many people top, the rest of the climbers know they should top as well, and just to keep it together. If one of them were by chance to fall, they the rest of the climbers would know the route is actually very hard, and might take too long at the beginning. Anyways, in this finals 7 climbers topped, which I think is a World Cup Record, even including women’s! It’s also very strange that the route setters let 7 men top the route… a huge error on their part. The route wasn’t harder than 8b (5.13d) and in comp mode, that’s pretty easy for a finals when they’re usually 8c (5.14b) routes.
So in the third world cup of my trip, I finished a disappointing 7th after having topped my first finals route. This just drives home the fact that I should be more focused in semi-finals. These finals were completely useless as the first one out fell on the last move, and 7 topped thus nullifying the final round and counting to semi-final results. This also meant that the semi-finals were basically the finals… which again sucks for me. I accept my mistake and hope not to repeat it again. Next world cup is the finals stage in Kranj, Slovenia. As for the world cup 2012 rankings go, Sachi and Ramon have basically secured 1st and 2nd but are in a heated battle for the victory. To round out the podium will most likely be me or Jakob, who are also in a close battle for 3rd. It will come down to who beats who in Kranj!
I care about the rankings enough to look at the numbers, but not enough to keep training hard for these two weeks leading to it. I took a 5 day rest after the world cup in Japan while touring around Tokyo, climbed for 2 days, and I’m now on the way to Venezuela for the PanAm championships. Kranj was an amazing competition last year and if I’m in the finals, a smile should come across my face. After that, you just hope for the best.
This trip was also made possible mainly due to Heiko Wilhelm who also took the majority of the pictures to go along with this post. Without him, and the Austrian federation, I wouldn’t have had the guts to try and plan a 3 week trip to Asia. We took 9 flights, and more busses and trains than I can remember. Heiko booked all the hotels, planned most of the meals and quarter-backed pretty much the whole trip. It’s because of him and the support of my main sponsor Mammut that I was able to go on this trip. Without either of them, it wouldn’t have been possible. Thank you!
I’m now on the way to Venezuela and I’ll be putting together a day to day recap of that competition as well as pictures to go along. I’ll be releasing those through a special media program that specializes in tablet and mobile media. You have to download the program, but it’s not just for climbing. More to come on that…
This once was a long one, so thanks for reading. I hope you liked it!