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    Notes and advice from Sean McColl.

Vail World Cup

Almost two weeks ago was the World Cup in Vail. I’ve failed to write a blog post because I have been moving constantly and I’ve finally had a few days to think for myself. The Vail weekend was that of June 7-9. [singlepic id=535 w=250 h=350 float=left] After a hard finals in Hamilton but a finals none-the-less I flew to Denver with my mom and dad. After a rest day on the Monday, I met up with the whole Austrian, German, and British, and Dutch teams along with a plethora of US climbers at “The Spot” for some much needing training. We didn’t actually need to train that much, but it makes sense to climb once between competitions to flush out our muscles and just do some sort of activity. I was still very sore from Hamilton which I felt right away. I still bouldered around with the various climbers for a good 2 hours. It was fun and the atmosphere was great. Just climbing with all my friends in a good session! I even got to catch up with my old friend Obe Carrion from back in the day! After a couple more days in Denver, we drove up to Vail in time for the registration and technical meeting. Sadly, the competitors weren’t given free goody bags which meant no free socks this year 🙁 [singlepic id=537 w=500 h=400 float=center]   Women’s qualifiers were the morning of the 8th. I went out, watched, and snapped a few pictures before feeling that the sun was quite hot that morning. After watching most of the round, I went back to the hotel rested for a couple of hours and then went to isolation myself. Nothing out of the ordinary happened and soon I was running out for my first qualification boulder. Of the 5 boulders, I flashed the three in the middle and fell once on each slab. The first one was a dumb mistake where I previewed one method and chose to climb and fall on it in another… The last boulder was very balancy and I missed a key thumb (or wrap) while going for the final hold and had to settle for 2nd try. Of the other Canadians competing, Elise Sethna and Stacey Weldon advanced to the semifinal round! [singlepic id=538 w=250 h=350 float=left] I went out last in semifinals after tying for first in qualification. Of the 4 problems, I managed to do them all but it was very scary. I miss-read the first SF boulder on my first attempt and spent over a minute trying to do it a certain way. I realized I was probably doing it wrong so I ended up jumping off. From there, I saw to try it another way but I was tired. I then fell off the last move because my left hand dry-fired off the arĂȘte. I got on the boulder for a 3rd time with only 40 seconds to go. I was too tired to do the third move the way I had done it on my second attempt which slowed me down even further. [singlepic id=539 w=250 h=350 float=right] By the 2nd to last move as seen to the right, I had 10 seconds left. I knew I had to take my time so I did; I took some deep breaths and topped the problem as the 5 seconds left timer started ticking down! I was very happy that I had completed the boulder and spent the rest time trying to recover as much as I could. When I came out and flashed the second boulder, I knew I had found my stride again and got a nice 8 minute rest before boulder 3. Boulder 3 was an interesting one, I read one sequence tried it and failed miserably. There was no way I was going to be doing it that way. At first I thought it was impossible for me, so I started thinking about creative ways to do the boulder. I thought of something that looked extremely weird from the ground, tried it and sent the boulder. It turns out that you HAD to do it that way if you weren’t named “Dimitrii Sharafutdinov”. I had a chance to watch a lot of other strong competitors that got “stuck” trying the same sequence and kept falling and falling because the move was incredibly hard. [singlepic id=540 w=500 h=400 float=center]   The 4th boulder in SF was a technical slab with the crux being the second foot movement. I fell once quickly and sent the boulder second go, crimping some t-nuts on the volume out left. For the record, you are allowed to use t-nuts with your hands on volumes but not on the plywood walls! You are always allowed to use your feet in t-nuts. After doing 4 boulders in 8, I was in 2nd place waiting for finals. You had to do 2 tops in 3 with 4 bonuses to make finals which is what Jorg Verhoeven from the Netherlands got. He slipped into finals in 6th place. For the women, it was disastrous semifinals with 2 bonuses flash being enough to advance to finals. Elise had gotten 2 bonuses in 3 tries which put her finishing in 9th place. This might be the first time a Canadian woman has placed in the top-10 at a world cup!? Finals started a few hours later and I did the same routine I had done in 2012. I got lunch with my parents then rested at the hotel. Warming up for finals took all of 10 minutes because of the short delay after the previous round. It was a bit colder than during the semifinals but still hot enough to wear shorts. [singlepic id=536 w=550 h=300 float=center]   The presentation started so quickly when we got there that I was still playing around with my stuff. They called out my name and I rushed to put on my jacket and run out, zipping up my jacket once standing out there 🙂 The final boulder problems went: slab, dihedral, power, power. On the first boulder, Jorg and Paul didn’t complete it where the two Russians did. I knew the boulder was possible so I went out with that in my mind. I don’t know what happened but I got very frustrated not being able to do the first move. I knew you had to step up and put in a left toe hook, and I thought that it was a dynamic move. Because I was so close to sticking the zone on my first try, I tried it the same way a few more times before changing anything. This is one of those problems that is extremely frustrating because the smallest changes can change your world. This is a perfect example of a problem that is not very hard if you’re told the sequence but having to onsight the boulder in under minutes is very hard. I spent 3 minutes trying it a few different ways and getting extremely rattled. Finally with 40 seconds left, I tuned into the fact that I had to place my toe hook before leaving the start holds, AHHHH! I was disgusted. I rested 35 seconds, effortlessly did the first move but was too exhausted to do anything else. So disappointing. [singlepic id=532 w=500 h=400 float=center]   I took the 20 minutes before the second boulder to compose myself. By the time I was coming out to try it, I was confident again and had brushed off the first one. I knew that I should only look forward and believe that I would do well on the last 3. Of the first 4 climbers, none had done the dihedral. I got bonus on my first try and spend another couple of tries figuring it out. My last try was the best and I even tickled the final hold but it was too hard. I was in the corner for almost a minute and I started to feel like I was going to just slip because my body was fatigued. I turned my body and starting jumping for the finish hold all in one motion but as soon as I turned around I realized the final hold was much further than I thought. I still went for it, but it wasn’t a jug so I wasn’t very close to sticking it. I got the highest of all the finalists but had to settle for zone. The 3rd boulder was a longer one with a straight forward sequence and hard moves. I knew that 3 people before me had done it so I was determined to flash it. I came out and executed perfectly. I only had a moment hesitation near the top when I was deciding whether to match a volume or go again. I matched it, tightened my body and finished the boulder! [singlepic id=533 w=500 h=400 float=center]   The last boulder was another powerful problem with a small jump in the middle but we didn’t think it looked very hard. The first two finalists couldn’t do it, which meant it wasn’t easy. When Rustam did the boulder second try, we knew he had secured 1st or 2nd with only Dimitrii able to pass him. When Dimitrii went out and flashed the boulder, there was only room for 3rd place now. I knew I was probably in 4th place and if I did the last boulder I’d move up to 3rd. I tried hard on the last boulder but I felt tired and the moves were not my style. I knew how to do the move as the setter set it, but I wasn’t quite tall enough to keep a left toe hook on the start hold. I found a different method which included a re-clutch to undercling wrap on my right hand but I wasn’t focused enough on the next move and my heel slipped. On my last attempt, I tried to get extra motivation from the crowd, but I was tired and couldn’t even do the second move anymore 🙁 When Kilian Fischhuber didn’t flash the boulder, I secured 4th place in Vail. He did it second go, giving him 5th place. The podium for the men went Dimitrii, Rustam then Jorg. For the women, 3 of them did 4 tops in 9 and it came to attempts to bonus! At the end, Anna Stohr had won her 6th World cup of the year with Akiyo Noguchi in 2nd and Alex Puccio completing the podium. Full results for MEN HERE and WOMEN HERE. Overall, my finals performance was about 50%. I felt like I had tanked the first boulder, done well on the second and third then was not motivated enough for the 4th. I still gave my best every time but I wasn’t a fan of the final boulders. I know sometimes it’s like that, and I guess I just try to look forward to those finals where everything fits, like in Slovenia. I’m also super happy that I made my 4th finals in a row where it feels like the caliber of the bouldering athletes is much higher and harder to even make finals, let alone a podium or a victory! After a couple days in Dallas, Texas touring the gyms and athletes down there, I’ve returned to Europe and started my lead training. It’s the hardest part because I get pumped after 30 moves, but it is supposed to only get easier and easier until the first competition when I will be able to do 50-60 extremely hard moves!  

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Atlanta World Cup

My trip to Atlanta was one of many that I’ve made back to North America this year. In February, I went to ABS Nationals as well as the Hueco Rock Rodeo; In June, I went to Vail for the bouldering world cup and now I was in Atlanta for the lead world cup. Last year, in Boulder, I made it all the way to finals only to slip off on a very stretchy dyno of sorts. I stuck the initial span, but when I tried to bring my hand up to match, my foot popped, and down I fell. I had my hopes high for Atlanta even though the 60 foot wall. Qualifiers were the Saturday morning and although the wall was 60 feet, I still managed to top both my qualifiers. There were no huge surprises, only a couple of very strong climbers fell on one or the other. I felt good, which was important. After making finals in Puurs and finishing 5th, I was pretty psyched by that as well. The Puurs wall is bad for my climbing style as all the moves are kind of the same difficulty, and it comes down to the recovery and long term fitness of the climber… Here is similar, but I was hoping that with the explosive and bouldery style of setting that we usually get in the states, it might not be a problem. Semi-finals were Sunday morning and I went out 3rd last based on world ranking. I felt good in semis, and popped off on the 3rd to last move. The route was good, fairly easy at the beginning and about half way through was a very hard crux to change walls. You had to grab a bad pinch (of which we thought was a jug) and get out left onto a volume. From there, you have to move up and left before tackling a compression type prow. Then you got up into the final headwall where I ended up falling on massive moves on big pinches. When I came down, I was in 2nd place which meant I was advancing to finals. After the dust had settled, I was tied for 3rd place heading to finals. Because I was tied with Sachi Amma and Jakob Schubert, I would climb first of us 3 and 5th last. After heading back to my hotel, getting something to eat and mostly just resting, I was back in isolation waiting for finals. We already knew more or less the path of our finals route, and we knew it was going to be long. When we went out to preview, the route seemed painfully easy to sequence with the exception of a downclimb part near the end. The start looked easy, then you changed walls, made a long downclimb while moving left, then tackled another hard headwall finish. They decided to alternate men and women with men starting. I was 7th, and warmed up nicely before getting ready to climb. I came out excited and ready. I did all my usual preparations, looking at the climb, sequencing a bit, swinging my arms and taking some deep breaths. The first third of the route went well, and then I started to feel not so good. I was barely over one third of the way up when I felt the pump start to come to my arms. I usually like to only feel this well over halfway through the route. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I tried not to think about it and kept going. Move after move, they weren’t especially hard, but I was still climbing moves which meant I was slowly getting tired. I made it to the change in the walls and found a decent rest. I took the opportunity and shook out. Then I went into the down climbing section and devastation occurred. I had previewed going to a bit pinch with my right hand, and getting my thumb on the screw-on chip that we could see from the ground. When I got there, the hold was too weird to grab as a straight pinch, so my mind started thinking of other possibilities. I grabbed reverse undercling, I tried matching, I tried reaching the next crimp, all seemed like I would have a high % chance of falling if I committed. I was at that move for 30-40 seconds and in my head I still didn’t know what to do. I knew I had to make a decision. If I fell, so be it, but I didn’t have a hope of doing any other move if I spent much longer here. I decided to go down with my left hand and match onto the rail while getting the thumb with my right hand. It worked… but it was too hard, and I could feel my arms were pumped. As I did the next couple of moves, the crowd was pleased to see me get through my struggling downclimb and I was given some loud cheers. As I moved out left, I found a small rest which I shook a couple times back and forth. By now, I was very pumped and I knew there were quite a lot of moves left. I reached up into a big crack type hold and tried to shake, it wasn’t doing much. As I matched, I looked over at the next hold and it was too far with my current feet setup. I knew if I tried to pull, I’d fall. I saw a further foothold out right and stretched my foot out there. As I was reaching up into the crimp, in my head I was saying “I really hope this next hold is good”… and it wasn’t. A little bit disgusted, I tried to bring up my left foot. As I had stretched my right foot further out right, the hand foot match was now impossible for me. As I raced to find a foothold, the only thing I could do was match feet. I brought my right foot up hoping to find an imaginary foothold. My left hand was in a press, but I was going any further. Without my feet properly setup, I knew it, I was falling. My arms were too pumped to do anything else now, and I could let go to shake. I jumped up towards the next hold, with the wrong hand no doubt, to get the plus. A video of my climb can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDI1AntoGD8 As I sailed down, I was already disappointed. In a route that it this long, I have to climb pretty perfectly to get a decent result. I made so many mistakes, especially in the downclimb. I looked up, looking for a foot for the move, but just didn’t care anymore. My route was over, and it is what it is. I waved at the crowd with a big smile, clapped my hands in thanks and layed down. I was in 3rd after the first 3 climbers, but I knew the next 4 would pass me as well. After lying by myself to gather my thoughts, I joined my climbing friends to cheer on the rest. I watched most of the girl’s finals which were pretty interesting and the rest of the men’s. All the men passed me although for a couple of them, they struggled a bit in the downclimb. Once they passed it, they were mostly good with all 4 getting up into the last two moves and two finishing the route. Another competition over and I finished 7th place. I’m glad to have been in finals, but disappointed with the final result. I remain positive and say that mistakes happen, and they cost me dearly this time… Sometimes I can make a mistake and still get a favourable result. Also, I am a firm believer that you must fail sometimes in order to succeed. You must fail so that you see your own flaws and work on them. I’m looking forward to a very short week long break from world cups, then off to Asia for another 3 weekends!

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Briançon World Cup

It’s been a couple of days now since the Lead World Cup in Briancon. I managed to walk away with the second silver medal of my career in lead. I’m now climbing in Ceuse France for a couple of days with my girlfriend Mathilde Becerra. I think that lots of climbers after competing at the Briançon world cup tend to go climbing in Ceuse as it is only an hour and a half away. The competition was pretty crazy and the wall was much different than Chamonix. The wall was shorter than in Chamonix with much harder routes. Initially, I thought this would be a good thing, but I found the qualifiers and semi-finals very hard. I managed to get to the last move of each qualifier route which secured me in semi-finals near the top or the athletes. In semi-finals, I had a much harder time climbing the route although still managed to get through to finals in 5th spot. [singlepic id=419 w=500 h=360 float=center]   After not feeling so good in my semi-finals, my superstitious side of my mentality kicked into full gear and I started changing things up. I changed my boxers, t-shirt, took a nap, and ate red meat (Chinese style beef noodles) for lunch. I convinced myself that finals were on a completely different day, and I guess it really paid off. I even sat on a different side of isolation so that even in the back of my mind, it was like a new experience. I do all these things just to help the mental of the competition. [singlepic id=414 w=320 h=480 float=left] At 7:30pm, the women’s finals started and our isolation didn’t close until 9pm. I found it nice to have a chance to watch the other athletes because in semi-finals and qualifications, you’re so worried about getting warmed up, that you really don’t have a chance to watch anyone else. I got to relax, eat dinner at a normal time, and watch the women’s final in peace. It was nice, although the route was too easy and by the end of the finals, there were 5 tops… With the new scoring system, ties in finals are calculated in this explicit order:
  1. By countback to Semi-finals and if needed to Qualifications
  2. (if still tied) – By Time (mm:ss) on the finals route taken to fall or clip the final quickdraw.
Among the 8 finalists, there were only a couple of ties. Momoka Oda from Japan was tied with Mina Markovic from Slovenija in 5th place. Helene Janicot from France was tied with Johanna Ernst from Austria in 1st place. After ALL those girls topped the route, first place was calculated between Helene and Johanna, with the “slower” climber being in second. Charlotte Durif from France came 3rd by topping the finals route (in her 8 minutes, but was irrelevant). Mina beat Momoka in time and claimed 4th, with Momoka in 5th. It’s a pretty weird way to score things, and I was in lengthy discussions on how to improve it. At the end, I’d welcome any comments, but I think that the way it is scored right now is a bit strange. [singlepic id=420 w=500 h=360 float=center]   Take Charlotte for example, who wasn’t tied with ANYONE going into finals. She could climb her finals route within her 8 minutes WITHOUT any stress. If she topped in 2 minutes, or 7:50 (as she did), there was no different. Now take Helene and Johanna, who know they must not only TOP the route, they must beat the other in time… So Helene has to climb quickly, but not TOO quickly, or else she may not complete the climb. There are numerous arguments for all this, but this is the clear disadvantage to people that are tied vs. people that aren’t going into finals. I know that the only reason they approved time in case of ties was to get rid of the superfinals. If climbing can get rid of superfinals, then there is a much better chance of making the Olympics and everything because if the TV station says climbing ends at 10:00pm sharp, if there isn’t a winner by 10:00pm because of a tie in finals… it looks AWFUL. That’s my little rant on this predicament, and I find the new system “works”. It’s far from being perfect, but it does make the finals quite entertaining… [singlepic id=422 w=500 h=360 float=center]   After watching all this unfold, I was already ready to climb my finals route. There were no ties in men, so it was just going to be the height of the route, and because I’ve never even seen 5 people top a men’s final, I wasn’t too worried. For the presentation of the men, they decided to do something a bit out of the ordinary. Just before the presentation, they took us up to the 3rd floor of an abandoned building just to the right of the courtyard where the climbing wall was. When they started presenting the athletes, each one of us 8 were behind a different window in the abandoned building. We would step forward with a big spotlight on us, wave our arms for a few seconds, and then step back with the light going out. I think it was pretty cool, although it may have taken them a bit longer than “organized”. After that, we still came down to the wall for our 8 minute preview anyways! After our preview of the finals route, I was sooooo excited to climb the route. It looked very long (at least 50 moves), but it looked like a good show, and a few rests that looked not bad. The start looked delicate, but not as hard as semis. From the middle, it was mostly big moves, with hand foot matches, a sideways dyno and lots of heelhooks. I was 4th out, so my turn came up pretty quick. I made sure to have my iPod playing as loud as I could so I couldn’t hear anything from while Jakob was climbing 2 before me. As the Korean climbing Hyunbin Min was climbing, I got my shoes on and finished preparing. Only a couple of minutes after he started, I could feel some commotion coming from the wall, and just as I asked “is he still climbing”, I saw him walking across my looking disappointed. There’s only one reason to have that look, and I was pretty sure he slipped on the route before the first roof. [singlepic id=413 w=480 h=320 float=center]   I put on my liquid chalk and got into my mode. I walked out to the route, looked up for a while, and felt like it was time to go. The first 1/3 of the route went exactly according to plan. I climbed well, quickly, and got all the draws pretty well. Before I knew it, I was just starting the roof. Out the roof, I came slowly; with a big move to what we thought was a big egg sloper. We were wrong; it was a massive jug… With no feet to help the rest, my bouldering logic came streaming forward. I knew it I went into the Figure4 position; I would be completely safe on the rest. I put my leg over my arm, and then hooked my toe hook over the underside of the volume. I wasn’t moving, and I couldn’t even move my arm, it was prefect. I could just lean back, and not really use any force in my arms. After a good 40 seconds or so, I knew it was time to leave the rest, and I started out right. What I thought was going to be 5-6 moves with the same heelhook turned into something quite different. When I grabbed the first undercling off the rest and put my heel hook in, it seemed exactly like a move I would do while bouldering, so I just mantled up on my leg, and skipped 4 moves quite easily. Inside my head, I was grinning because I absolutely love skipping moves in world cups but only if it’s easier than the original method. I perched up on my leg and rested my right arm. I matched feet with my left hand over the lip, and it felt exactly like another bouldering mantle I’ve come so used to. I sat down on my right leg, and grabbed the bottom side of the volume as an undercling. I guessed right, and I wasn’t holding onto any holds with my arms, and I was resting again. [singlepic id=418 w=320 h=480 float=right] I was over halfway up the route now, and I knew there was a sideways jump coming up. I couldn’t stay here too long, or my muscles wouldn’t be able to engage on the jump. The move coming out of the roof was hard, but I felt good from the rest. I went up and right past 3 beige holds and set up for the dyno. When I got there, we had all previewed a two hand jump, but from how the feet were positioned, I was pretty sure I was only going one hand, I just hoped I could span the gap. I put my left foot on, crimped hard with the right hand and stabbed out to the mini death ball. I stuck the hold, and it was much better than I had thought. With the good feet at max extension, I was in yet another rest and feeling great. As soon as I got to the “rest”, I knew I had been climbing for a while, and although I never come close to the 8 minute timer, if I was in another rest, I could have climbed for a long time. I looked down at the clock, and I was pretty sure it said 5:02 minutes had gone by. This meant I had tons of time. The volume was big enough to match back and forth as in the picture, and when I left, I felt pretty good again. The next sequence of moves were very basic. Hand up, hand foot match, hand up. I did the first 3 moves pretty easily, and then got to a weird left hand banana hold, and it was BAD… I looked down and left for a foothold, but there was none. I instinctively went back to the method I previewed, hand foot match heel hook. The heel was high, but as I was setting it in and lowering my hips onto it, I felt the move come into place. I grabbed the next pinch sloper and straight away into the next volume. Another “jug”. It was kind of a jug, but with bad feet, and I had to get the clip. I clipped as fast as I could and crossed into the other part of the volume. I was staring at the next long draw and the moment of truth set in. Do I skip the draw, and try to clip from the obviously worse next hold, but not risk falling here; or do I clip the draw and risk falling after clipping (worse thing). I felt good, so I decided to clip, and it turned out to be the good decision. I did the clip, and got the crimp with my left hand. I threw my feet way out left onto the volume and was getting very pumped, and fast. I tried to rest a few times back and forth just to stay on the wall. I rested my left hand long enough to do the match move, and then was kind of in a corner. While perched on my foot, I could slowly reach out left to the next hold, fighting the pump in my arm. I grabbed the next hold and it felt so good, but I couldn’t really rest on it. [singlepic id=421 w=320 h=480 float=left] I was resting back and forth on my arms, but wasn’t recovering much. I could let go long enough to de pump, but then when I grabbed the hold to rest the other arm, the pump would come back too fast. I couldn’t stay here any longer. I looked up over my left arm and saw the 3rd to last hold. I was still 8-9 moves (and a downclimb) away from the move, but I thought about trying to do the massive skip. The downside was that the cross was big, and if the hold wasn’t good, I’d fall, and only get my left hand + as my score. I knew that if I fresh and it was just a bouldering problem, I would’ve been able to do the cross easily. That wasn’t the case, and I brought my feet off the volume and started down climbing. I brought my right hand down to the right hand sloper, and I was hoping it was better than it looked, but it looked impossible to hold on to. I grabbed it, and the hold confirmed my first impression. I knew I was going to fall on the next move, so I set my hips up to make sure I tagged the next hold. I flailed blindly for the hold around the volume to make sure I got the + off the right hand. As I was falling, I was already laughing, out of joy. I was within the last 5-10 moves of the route, and was absolutely destroyed. As I fell, the crowd came back into focus and I looked down at my time. 7:31, the longest climb of my competition career. On the way down from the route, I had a huge grin on my face. For me to climb for 7 and a half minutes is ridiculous by my standards… I had climbed great, and when I got down, I was told I was in first place. With 4 climbers to go, I knew I was at worst 5th place. After watching Magnus Midtboe and Romain Desgranges fall below me, I was for sure on the podium. The world cup winning from Chamonix, Sachi Amma seemingly cruised by where I fell to make a few more moves and fall himself. The last climber of the night was Ramon Julian Puigblanque who fell on the big move in the middle of the route. A silver medal for me, and another podium. Such a crazy start to the lead season. Full results for women can be found here, and men can be found here. Now that I’m in Ceuse, I’m trying to convert my training to outdoor accomplishments. I’ve already done a few hard routes here in Ceuse, and with only one more day of climbing here, the chances are grim that I’ll actually do anything new… That being said, I hopped on one line that I might be able to do tomorrow! All the photos in this post were taken by Heiko Wilhelm of the Austrian Climbing Team. Thanks!  

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