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    Notes and advice from Sean McColl.

ABS Nationals, 2011

Semis I’ve just finished the first two rounds at the ABS Nationals and so far, I’ve managed to climb at the top of my game. In qualifiers yesterday, I managed to flash all 6 qualification boulders. Another 3 competitors also flashed all 6 qualifications so there were ties going into semis. Qualification was 6 problems with 4 minutes on/off and semi finals was a big jump down to 3 problems with 5 minutes on/off. I came out for the first semi problem and was feeling good. As I was running out, I noticed that our first problem was going to be on the slab wall. I can’t tell you if I was excited or nervous because I actually like climbing on slab walls during competition. It kind of takes all the competitors out of their element which is something that competition climbing is great for. When it was finally my turn, I turned around and saw lots of slopers. I also saw lots of feet which was nice as well. Semis- Problem 1 I tried to step on the wall with two slopers and slopy feet and kind of just fell off right away. I then stepped back on and did the problem! They were super cool moves up a kind of dihedral and finished with a sort of press up on two massive holds. Of the 3 semi final problems, it was definitely the easiest, although still a challenging boulder. A funny thing about the US rules is that they don’t actually mark an attempt until you’re established on the 2 starting holds and 2 feet (if they’re specified) so even though I kind of stepped on and fell immediately, they didn’t mark it as an attempt! Better for me I guess! Semis-Problem 2 The second problem straight up looked hard. I was straight away confused about the sequence because there were holds in every direction I looked. I “guessed” that I was supposed to move right before moving left, but when I tried it the first time, a cross under move was so hard for me. I rested and just convinced myself I had to pull harder. On my second try, I got past that hold and made it to the bonus. I then did a massive cross under and for some reason, when I went to match on the cross-under, I just fell. I thought I was going to stick it, and I didn’t. I was pissed, but at the same time, I was pretty sure that no one else or not many had topped the problem. Even though I still 2:30 left on my clock, I felt like I was too tired to give it a good third burn and I decided to save myself for the final problem. Semis-Problem 3 The third problem looked do-able for sure. It started with a couple big moves on bomber pockets and I sequenced it to do a 360 spin, face the crowd, and do a big bicepy move. I managed to stick the zone and kept climbing. At first, I thought I wouldn’t be able to reach the next move off the zone without my hand super high on the hold, so I was trying to do the move like that. I finally decided that it was just too hard like that, so I matched near the bottom of the hold and did a big press up. I got the next hold, moved my heel to a toe, and jumped to the second to last hold. After putting my foot back on the sloper, I knew I had to get my foot to the bonus hold in the divot. I tried to put my toe there, and quickly threw my foot back down to the lower foothold. On my second attempt to get my foot up, I aimed my heel for the divot and got it there. After a minor re-adjustment of my right hand to an undercling, and a big step up, I was holding the victory jug with both hands. From the reaction of the crowd, I knew I was the first to top the problem, which also meant a spot in the finals. I was ecstatic. I had in fact qualified in first place going into finals. A very strange turn of events was that Daniel Woods (the 5+ ABS National Champion) miss read the last problem and couldn’t make the zone hold, thus landing him in 10th, one place out of the finals. I had a handful of hours before I had to be isolation and many people tend to ask me what I do. Some people take a nap, others watch a movie. I decided to go out for lunch, and then play video games. I find playing video games very relaxing. It takes my mind off the competition which I find is very important. I headed back to the gym for finals at around 630. Many of the competitors headed to isolation at the same time. One big thing to note is that the Americans have very very funny way of letting people into finals. This is obviously the American Bouldering Series Nationals, and so it seems fair that they want to have 6 Americans in the final, I’m totally down with that. The one big problem I have with their selection for finals is that they “skip” over international competitors, which is a blatant disregard for competition ethics in my opinion. Let me lay this out for you. I qualified in first place (I’m Canadian FYI), then there were a handful of Americans from 2nd – 5th, and then in 6th place was Nicholas Sherman (Columbia Citizenship) so they were like oh we need to let two more Americans into finals. So they kept going down the list, and found that in 7th place was an American, then in 8th place was Magnus Midboe (Norwegian Citizenship). They then proceeded to “skip” Magnus to let the 9th place competitor (who was another American) into finals. WAIT, WAIT, WAIT. So you’re telling me that even though Magnus clearly BEAT whoever placed in 9th place, that person advances to finals, and Magnus is just S.O.L? Something about that just doesn’t make sense. So based on that paragraph, Magnus came 8th after semi finals, but because they’re going to take 9th place into finals, Magnus is going to finish 9th place at ABS Nationals… without even getting a chance to compete in finals. In my opinion this is just wrong, and unfair. In my opnion, they should’ve let Magnus into finals for finishing 8th, and then realizing that there still wasn’t 6 Americans in finals, let the 9th place as well. Again, my opnion, so think what you like on how they select for finals. Getting back to the competition, finals… Finals They decided to implement the finals format from the World Cup with a few tweaks. Firstly, the scoring. In World Cups, and according to the IFSC, the scoring of boulders with zone format goes 1) Number of Tops 2) Attempts for those Tops 3) Number of Bonuses 4) Attempt for those Bonuses At this competition, they tweaked it a bit by switching the #2 and #3, making it a bit more important to gain as many bonuses as you can over flashing a problem. I’ve competed in both the formats, and I am on the fence in which scoring system is better. Another small tweak they had was they allowed 5+ minutes instead of the 4+ minutes to climb each problem. The reason that there is a ‘+’ after the numbers is because with a 5+ system, you may step on the wall at 4:59, and you’re allowed to finish that attempt. So realistically, every competitor takes about 5 and a half minutes. After a brief warm up, we had the presentation of the athletes. Because of the International athletes, and another reserved spot for the “continental champion” or the “pan-am champion or something” there were 8 finalists for the men and 7 for the women. We went out to preview the first problem, and it looked pretty fun. It started with a sort of mantle under a roof, then a big move off a pocket to an obvious jug in the roof, then a HUGE cross over move to another pocket. As soon as I saw that and the lack of feet in the roof, my mind was shouting “figure 4”. After you got the pocket, there were two giant slopers, and then a big move to the finish. Finals-Problem 1 Because I qualified in first, I was last to try the problem. The competitors made the way out one at a time, like any other World Cup finals although no-one could do the problem. By the time it got to me, I was pretty sure (from the reaction of the crowd) that no-one had completed the problem. I was also pretty certain that everyone was getting to bonus as well. I went out and the first couple of moves were super fun, and actually easier than I had originally though. I got to the jug in the roof, threw my leg over my arm and did a big lock off to the next pocket. It was a lot bigger than I thought, but I managed to stick it on the first try. I then pulled up into the slopers and had a little decision to make. I either go up with my left hand and match on the second sloper, or I match on the first sloper and cross up into the second. I decided to try and match the second sloper so I went up with my left hand first. The holds were pretty bad, and I had only matched for a couple of seconds before I slipped off. On my second try, I tried it the other method I had thought up, but it was an even worse attempt. I had another minute and half on the clock, but I was pretty sure I wasn’t able to do the problem so I just called it there and decided to move onto problem two. Finals-Problem 2 The second finals problem was on the far right wall and it consisted of mostly features. I thought that this problem would suit me, as it involved kind of mingling your way through the massive features. I thought that it was just a problem that you’d have to do slowly and I noticed there was skateboard grip tape on some of the features to give them that extra, much needed, grip for the hands. When we were done preview, the first climber went out, and did it! I wasn’t sure if he had fallen or not, but I thought I heard him fall once on the last move before doing it on his second. All I knew now was the problem was doable, and I was probably going to have to do it as well. As the finals continued through the 8 male competitors, 4 out of the 7 ahead of me topped the problem, and the other couple I could feel were falling at the last move. When it finally got to my turn, I was pretty nervous. I ran out and got on the problem straight away although I quickly fell on the third move as I realized I was doing it wrong. On my second try, I quickly realized that it was going to be a sort of dyno because I was smaller than some of the other competitors. After a few failed attempts and 3 minutes off my time, I finally stuck the dyno and got the bonus. I threw my foot on and struggled to do the next few moves just because the holds were just so far away from one another. The last move was a sort of jump and the finish hold was a giant feature. I knew I couldn’t keep my foot on for the move, and the only question left was “do I dyno with 1 or 2 hands”, I chose 2, and I was wrong. I jumped too far, grabbed the hold with both hands, but my hips were coming outwards from the wall at an amazing pace. I managed to stick the hold for about 9/10ths of the swing, but sadly fell on the last portion of the in swing. Because I was trying so hard, my momentum kept my body spinning and I realized I was going to land on my back. I figured I’ve landed on my back many times in climbing, and just waited for impact. When I finally hit the pads, I felt a big lump hit my tailbone, and I quickly realized I had bottomed out the mat. I guess there was one spot in the mat that just didn’t have enough foam in it, and I managed to hit it. It hurt, but the adrenalin was climbing probably helped me overcome to sudden pain. I tried to walk it off for a while waiting for my last try on the problem. When the judge then said “your time’s up”, I kind of didn’t believe him. I knew my time was going to be running out, but I also know that in World Cups, there is a sort of beeping sound at the 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 second marker, in which every competitor runs to the start to get that last attempt. So to wrap up this problem, I took 5 attempts to hit zone, fell on the last move, didn’t complete the problem, bottomed out the pad and bruised my tailbone, and then failed at getting that last attempt for the problem at -1 seconds. To say that I was mad would be a huge understatement. I knew that a bunch of the other competitors had done the problem, and with only one problem remaining, I was devastated. I felt like destroying something… The rage going through me was unbearable so I decided to take a walk to the bathrooms which were outside. After a few seconds to myself, I came back into the gym and waited to preview problem 3. Finals-Problem 3 When we went to preview problem 3, there was nothing too tricky about the problem. The sequence was pretty obvious, and I knew it was just going to be hard. Even after the preview, I was in a terrible mood. Even after the competitors started trying the problem, I think it took me another 15-20 minutes to let the second problem go. As the competitors tried the problem, I realized that no one was getting to the top. If any of the competitors that did problem 2, also did problem 3, there was a 0% chance that I could win. I threw the numbers around my head a bit, and came to the conclusion that if one of the competitors did the second problem on the second attempt, they probably got all 3 bonuses as well, which meant that it was going to come down to either attempts to top, or attempts to bonus. I knew that it had taken me 5 tries to get the bonus on number 2, which meant if I didn’t flash the third problem and if I wasn’t the only person to do it, I couldn’t win. It’s not the first time I’ve been in this situation. Last year at the Canadian Boulder Nationals, I needed to flash the last problem to have a chance of winning and I pulled through. When there were only a couple of competitors before me, I started to get psyched up again. In reality, there was only one problem left, and I just couldn’t do the second problem. I knew I had a chance of winning, and although it involved flashing the hardest problem in finals, I knew that problem suited me. When the competitor before me was climbing, I put my shoes on and stood up to wait. I could hear the announcer telling the crowd that I was getting ready and I let out a pretty weak smile. “One more boulder” was the only thing going through my head. My turn came, and I looked up at the problem. The crowd went silent or maybe I just shut everyone out, but all I could feel was my own heart beating. I stepped on the wall and felt great. Move after move, I kept climbing the problem and was quickly at the bonus hold. I climbed a few more moves, and got to a place near the top where I had scoped out a possible all-out dyno to the finish jug. I set up, looked up, and quickly decided that it would be a very bad decision if I were to blow my shot at flashing this problem to try and skip 3 moves of unknown difficulty. I put my heel on the bonus and fell in to the next hold. I knew that releasing that heel was going to be very difficult. I put my right foot up on the hold, and slowly tried to switch the heel to a toe scum to transfer my weight towards the right. It came out and I hadn’t fallen, so I jumped to the second to last hold. I grabbed it and it felt super good. I realized that I was probably going to do the problem if I didn’t blow it on the last move. I put my foot out right, set up to jump, and flung myself for the final jug. I hit it and stuck. I was 99% sure that I had won the competition and I was the only person to complete problem 3. On top of that, Alex Puccio had already won for the women, so I was the only person on the wall. I couldn’t help but screen “YYYEEEEESSSSSSSSS” for as long and as loud as my lungs would allow. Some would say it might’ve been a bit over the top, but then again, I came back from not completing the second problem, and to know you have to flash to win isn’t something you can take lightly. As I matched the final hold again, to make sure I actually matched it, I heard the announcer saying that I won ABS Nationals by flashing the last boulder. Victory… Words can’t really explain how happy I felt, or maybe my English vocabulary just isn’t varied enough but I felt like I was walking on the moon. I knew that after Daniel didn’t make finals, I was one of the favoured to win the competition, but after failing so hard on the second problem, any of the competitors could’ve won on the last problem. That’s perfect. When it comes down to the last problem like that, it doesn’t get much better for the crowd. I found out later that quite a few of my friends were watching the live stream, and I guess because it was around the time last year when the Canadians beat the Americans in the Olympic gold medal hockey game, it kind of felt like a similar situation. There were awards shortly after followed by an after party at a local Golf resort. The next day, I slept in I’m very tired from the competition. 2 days of competition is very hard on your body and your mind. It’s nice to just relax. I guess my relaxation comes from flying back home, but at least it’s nice. I’m looking forward to my next competition which is the Canadian Nationals in Burlington, Ontario. Final results for the competition can be found at UBC Bouldering Page. Congratulations to Alex Puccio for another ABS win!

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Comments (18)

  • Avatar

    Denise aka Fritz's mom

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    Nice job Sean! You crushed that 3rd problem, it was fun to watch!

    Say hi to your mom for me.

    Reply

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    John Meget

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    Congratulaons on the victory, and another excellent description of what took place.

    What grade do you think the boulders were in the finals?

    Reply

  • Avatar

    Alex Fritz

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    Congrats man! You looked really strong whether you felt like it or not! Good to see some international competitors stepping it up at our events.

    Reply

  • Gripped.com » Feb 14, 2011 - McColl Crushes At The ABS 12 Nationals

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    […] Canadian Sean McColl has once again demonstrated the form that has put him on the podium at numerous international climbing competitions. Competing in Boulder at the American Bouldering Series National Championships, McColl beat out a strong field of American competitors by finishing first in the qualifiers and finals.  Read more about McColl’s victory at his blog. […]

    Reply

  • Avatar

    Jamie Emerson

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    Sean, congratulations. You climbed very well. Thanks for sharing some insight as to what was going on inside your head and your thoughts on the problems. I was part of the setting team and we were all impressed by your ability to read routes and the evident thought behind your climbing. Well done.

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Sean McColl

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      Thanks Jamie!

      The problems were great throughout the whole competition, and the new wall that John Stack built was a perfect setting. Keep it up!

      Sean

      Reply

  • Avatar

    Tm Hatch

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    Congrats. Shoddy treatment of Magnus though.

    Reply

  • Avatar

    Barb King

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    Congratulations on the exciting ABS win Sean! I was on the edge of my seat during the live stream of the finals. You make Canada proud. Thank you also for your reflective and thoughtful blog post.

    Reply

  • Latest Update – 15 Feb 2011 « SINGAPORE BOULDERING LEAGUE

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    […] Sean Mccoll just finished first in the American Bouldering Series (ABS) 2011 –  Sean is a competitive athlete, and his edge lies not just in strength, but also in his mental skills, route-reading abilities, and definitely in his will to succeed.  Check out his blog to get an insight into his mind when he competes amongst the best climbers out th… […]

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