If you haven’t heard or have been living off the grid I managed to win my first IFSC Bouldering World Cup this past weekend in Log-Dragomer Slovenia. This was the 4th World Cup of the season and the 3rd one for me. In the first two I placed 9th and 7th respectively; with 6 going to finals, I was painfully close every time.
This past weekend in Slovenia, everything seemed to click at the right moments and it ended as perfectly as I could’ve imagined. I normally describe each boulder to some length but I’m going to skip over most of qualifiers and semifinals to save the reading for the final boulders. For those of you who are superstitious, I did change a few things in my routine which I’m sure some of you will find funny.
The competition started on Saturday morning with men’s qualifiers at 10am. I was up pretty early for breakfast and into isolation an hour after that. I was 2nd out in my group so warmed up pretty fast and go ready. One thing that was noticeably different than the previous competitions was that this one was outside under a tent and it was much cooler. I always feel better when it’s like this because I like climbing when it’s cold out. It was raining, wet and cold which kind of reminded me of growing up in Vancouver, Canada!
The first boulder in qualifiers is worth describing because I found it extremely annoying. You had to kind of run or step-up for the first move before grabbing the start hold. It wasn’t even a hold, rather a foot where you could only grab it with your thumbs as a small undercling. It was super annoying and it took me 7 tries to do the first move; I then flashed the rest of the problem. In the next 4 boulders I flashed 3 and did one second try. I finished the round with 5 tops in 12 which put me 5th place in my group.
At first, I thought the problems were going to be too easy but as it turned out, you need to do 3 tops in 5 tries or better to make it through.
Because the women were scheduled to start a few hours even after we were done, I went back to the hotel, ate lunch and watched the live stream of the women with the Austrian Men and Jorg Verhoeven.
This paragraph has nothing to do with climbing and more superstition, just skip it if it doesn’t interest you. So I was out for dinner with the Austrian team and was sitting near Kilian Fischhuber and Anna Stoehr. We were on the topic of funny things we do while competing or climbing. They aren’t really superstitious so a lot of the stuff was coming from me. One of the big things that encourage is routines in competition. I read an awesome article on Michael Phelps about how he prepares for every race, it’s exactly the same. It made me think about my routine and how engrained it is in my head. I don’t even have to think about what I’m doing and it’s always the same. Now border lining on superstition is what I wear during the competitions. Ever since I used a certain pair of jagermeister boxers during a bouldering competition, I did well. From that point onwards, I always wore those boxers in bouldering competitions. I have another pair that I wear for lead climbing as soon as I realized that loose fitting boxers don’t fit extremely well in Mammut’s Harness Shorts. I explained this to Anna and Kilian and being smart people they obviously pointed out that “maybe” I’m doing well but another pair would get me a win. As I am a man of habit, I’ve always just enjoyed doing things in my routine but thinking about it more, I thought I’d give something a try. I figured it would make the story that much more interesting so I switched into a brand new pair of boxers for the semi-final and final round…
Finals Problem #1
The next morning was semi-finals which were started a bit later. I was out 11th and was feeling good that morning. I did almost the identical warm-up as before the qualifiers and was excited to climb in the semifinals.
To sum up the semifinals, it went well enough that I passed through to finals, but it was close. I flashed boulder 1 and 3, did boulder 4 on my second go and couldn’t do the first move of boulder 2… Epic. If I would’ve had one more try in any of my boulders, I would’ve finished in 7th place yet again. Luckily this wasn’t the case and I squeaked into finals tied for 5th place with James Kassay of Australia.
In Finals with us were Cédric Lachat, Jan Hojer, Dimitrii Sharafutdinov and Thomas Tauporn.
I was already really excited to be in my first finals of the year. It’s a bit crushing to be close and yet never pass. There was a good 3 hour break before I even did anything. I ate some lunch then cruised back to the isolation zone where I read and drank from the free coffee machine for the better part of 2 hours. It was nice and relaxing. Slowly the other finalists filtered into isolation and began to warm-up.
Because of semi-finals earlier that day, I was warming up for under 15 minutes before I was warm. I decorated my jacket with a few stickers, put on my competition clothes and packed the rest of my bag.
We were shuttled to the competition venue and it was raining, I was happy. We had our presentation followed by observation and I was pretty excited. All the problems looked doable. They had pretty basic looking sequences with a few complex looking starts. We didn’t really know how to start problem 2 or 3, but after the start the moves looked more obvious.
The first problem was a hard corner start with a dyno finish. James was first and I was pretty sure he sent it with his last attempt. I therefore knew the problem was doable. I ran out and checked out the problem. I now take my time before starting the problem even with the preview. It makes sure that my body doesn’t forget any of the moves I find. I stepped on and did the first few moves easily. I lined up for the dyno and looked up, it was pretty far. Now was the moment that I got to decide whether to dyno left hand, right hand, a quick double clutch or both hands at the same time. I knew the last hold was a mega jug so I decided right hand only. I also knew I just needed to get up high enough and I could probably control the swing. I leap and had the brief sensation of flying. I stuck the final hold extremely well and controlled my swing. First problem flash couldn’t have gone better! From behind the wall where we would wait, it was pretty obvious to guess how many tries we were taking. On top of that, we openly discussed where we got in how many tries so I knew I was the only one to flash the boulder. What was also good is that all the finalists completed this boulder in a varying amount of tries.
The second boulder was one with a bunch of triangle volumes. Of all the boulders, after the first move which was strange, I thought I’d feel in my element. The first move had no feet and a big iron cross type of move. You had to hike your feet up really high and then do a big move. From there, it was just volume climbing on the triangles. As it turns out, none of us could complete the problem with almost everyone getting the zone. I felt kind of close on my first and last try but the stickiness of the volumes felt so bad and I couldn’t complete it.
Going into the third problem, I knew I was still in the lead with 1 flash. I also could feel like this was going to be quite a deciding problem because the 4th was compression in which I feel in my element once again.
It sounded like James did well in the boulder but he was unable to complete it. I ran out and stared at a cryptic problem. It was a “choose your own adventure” boulder as I put it because they set the problem to mirror each other so you could choose to go left or right. I stepped on, looked up tried to move and pretty much did nothing. The little thumb holds were a bit too far for me to get to. I spent a second try trying to generate a bit of momentum but failed. On my third try, I randomly switched start feet on the volume and put my left leg up instead of the right. It pushed my weight towards the right and I felt it natural to reach down and palm the volume. It felt like it was working so I crossed over and slowly mantled up onto the eye volume. From there I could stand up and grab a micro undercling. I put my left foot on the start hold and started to solve the next part of the puzzle. It was a weird cross over that I thought I’d fall if I just lept at the hold. Weighing my options for a brief moment before dismissing them is a complex battle in the mind. You don’t want to make any decisions too fast in case they are the wrong ones, but if you take too long, you might be too tired to do ANY sequence if you are too tired. I shook my left hand quickly and re grabbed the undercling. I re adjusted my foot well on the start hold and decided to hand foot match. With a little push from my right hand it was working and I got my foot on without opening the barn door…
I got up onto the zone hold and felt confident. I brought up my feet and reached for the final hold. I hand foot matched slowly and was soon matching the finish. I was exhilarated; I knew this was a super important problem. It had only taken me 3 tries as well which put me at 2 tops in 4. Of the other 4 competitors behind me, 2 completed it Dimitrii and Jan.
Because of how many tries they took, I anticipated that Dimitrii had 2 tops in at least 8 and Jan 2 tops in at least 6. Going into the last problem, I kept repeating in my head “If you flash this problem, you will win”. I was thinking flash, second try, or maybe third but I knew I was only to be able to try the last hard boulder a maximum of 3 tries.
As I walked to the on-deck position, I could feel the nerves building. I put my shoes on just like I had all weekend and started to get ready. As nervous as I was, I was also very calm. I love competing and I live for moments like these. During the whole competition, your ultimate goal is to win. Not everyone has a chance like this to win; 1 boulder. There was now 1 boulder standing in the way of my first boulder victory, if I flash it I win… I knew this, the crowd knew this and I’m sure everyone watching the live stream had figured it out as well.
It even briefly crossed my mind that if no one did the last boulder, I could also still win. I quickly stopped thinking about that and focused on doing the boulder. From what I heard James didn’t complete the boulder; I didn’t really have time to think whether that was good or bad at the time. If you’d ask me now, I still don’t really know. All I knew is that it was my turn and I was running out to my boulder.
I gave my scorecard to the judge and turned around to the beast. It had what seemed like simple moves; 8 of them, perfect. I took a good extra amount of time to get psyched up. I knew every move by heard and roughly where my feet had to be as well. Stepping onto the wall, I couldn’t hear anything. I was once again completely inside my own head, right where I wanted to be.
First move was with the left hand followed by a quick foot match and a clutch with the right. I felt like the swing out was really hard but my hands stuck to the volumes and I stayed on. I quickly matched the start hold and placed my left foot out left. I turned in my knees to match and rotated the other way to reach up left. I was really happy that my right foot could stay on the start hold for the move up over the volume. I matched feet and knew a hard move was coming. I looked at the next hold and swung my leg for momentum. I stuck it pretty well but re adjusted without putting my feet on to get it well.
Immediately my right leg came up onto the volume and my left was hand foot matching. I did it slow to make sure I did it right and came in with my left hand. It was a grip that I love; 3 fingers in one divot, thumb around the corner and pointer finger in another random divot. I got it good then released the heel hook and had both feet on the volume. I threw as hard as I could around the right to the second to last hold. It stuck and it felt good. I pulled up a bit and looked at my feet. Last decision of the boulder; we had previewed foot on the volume and jump as a drive by, but then I saw a potential heel hook… As I brought my left heel onto the orange hold, it felt bomber and I could feel my heart flutter. I brought my right foot as far right as I could to counter balance and committed to the cross. I did it well as I could and grabbed it exactly where I wanted to before releasing the heel. I knew before releasing my heel that I had sent the problem. The heel came out and I made sure I matched as quickly as possible.
Words can’t describe how I felt.
In my head I was saying “you won one, you did it”. At the top of the boulder I just started screaming. “YES”, “YES” is all that came out while fist pumping with one hand and locking off with the other. People tell me it’s moments like that in which I’ll remember forever. I can tell you that I won’t be forgetting that moment in many years to come. I can still remember how it felt to win my first Lead world cup. (photo left by Jensen Walker)
Everything that followed was a bit surreal. I jumped down, waved at the crowd and felt on top of the world. Knowing that when you top one last problem you win the competition is a feeling that not all world cup winners will get.
Sometimes no one does the last problem and the winner was actually decided after 3, or 2, or sometimes 1… I was lucky enough to have this moment and am thankful for it. I stepped off to the side to let the other climbers come out. There was still 2nd and 3rd to be decided and a winner for the women. I went back behind the wall to pack up my stuff and they all knew I had already won, most of them congratulating me even before they had started the 4th boulder.
At the end of that round, I had won my first bouldering world cup, Jan Hojer got his best World Cup result with 2nd and Dimitrii completed the podium in 3rd. Maybe a bit strange that I won my first lead world cup in Slovenia as well! Something about the weather reminding me of home?
I also owe a huge thanks to so many people for helping me train and always encouraging me. These things are not possible to obtain all by oneself. A special thanks to my Mathilde Becerra for being there the most for me and most notably at every training session!
I know I’ve just typed up a storm, I can only hope you enjoyed reading my adventure. The day finished with the podium ceremony, some interviews, autographs and an anti-doping drug test. Anna Stoehr won her 4th World Cup of the year (all 4 for that matter) followed by Melissa Le-Neve in 2nd and Shauna Coxsey in 3rd.
I am now in Innsbruck happily awaiting the next World Cup which will be here on Friday and Saturday.