Wednesday 2 April 2014

Australian Youth Climbing Team Tryouts 2014

I have often heard people say that once you've made the National Team for the first time, it gets easier and less nerve-racking from then on out.... But I speak for both myself and numerous others when I stress that this is most certainly not the case! Having been to worlds twice, all of the time, all of the training, all of the early nights and cancelled plans and desserts forsaken, everything I do is  never done with the mindset of simply qualifying for the Australian Youth Climbing Team. My goals always exceed beyond simply doing what is immediately expected of me. Never once did I work to simply meet the standard of making the team. I pushed myself because I want to be beyond standard of the team. Beyond the standard set by my competitors. My eyes are always focused on setting a new standard for Australians on the international stage of the IFSC World Youth Championships, and in time, onward to the open circuit. The more that you make the team, the more that you realise you can always be better than you are, the more you feel you NEED to make the team again, as opposed to simply wanting. You need to step out and show what you can do, and Worlds is the ultimate stage on which you can give your all.

It is because of this both incredibly motivating and stressful mindset that the AYCT Tryouts is arguably the most intense competition of the year. The tryouts have a be-all-and-end-all vibe to them, and it is because of this that they evoke emotions within people that aren't witnessed at any other point in the season.

Sam Bowman looking determined. Photo: Eddie Fowke
The day began in a refreshing manner with a 12:00PM start to the climbing. Typically climbing is in the early hours of the morning for youth climbers, however there were no opens to contend with this time, leaving the schedule wide open. Climbers started walking through the door as early 10:00AM, however, out of both eagerness and shear boredom. I walked around the gym and said hi to all of the climbers, coaches, and parents I hadn't seen for months, and then stood below the walls to read the five routes that had been set for us. The Australian Team tryouts follow an unusual but effective format for selecting the strongest of young climbers, which is important when one looks at the relatively small category sizes at national and state competitions, in comparison to those of many other countries. Five routes are set within a pre-determined grade range, and of these five routes, the Youth B male category and all female categories are expected to top three, with the Youth A and Junior males expected to top four.

For the past two years the tryout routes have been more or less the same style. Steep and pumpy on positive holds. It has always been easy to pick which routes are the easiest 3 and which routes are there to really split the climbers. This year, however, I found myself gawking up at the routes utterly perplexed as to what could be in store for us. Two of the routes kept to the traditional style of steep and pumpy, however three of the routes had been set on near vertical terrain with technical moves and uncertain holds. My fellow competitors and I had no idea which climbs would provide easy tops and which we might have to fight for. A silly mindset, I realise now, but in past years gone by assuming the difficulty of each climb was a safe bet.

Photos: Naomi Benjamin and Eddie Fowke

Climbing began, the nerves were building at the base of the wall. Typically the first climb your category is placed on is a climb that you will be expected to top if you plan on making the cut. Some athletes felt their confidence rise as they clipped the final draws of their first routes in relief, whilst others withdrew into self doubt, second guessing themselves and all of the training they had put in prior to the event.
The most shocking case of this was when Roxy Perry, one of the top Australian Youth A female climbers and regular at the WYCH, made a mistake in her foot placement on her first climb and fell short of her next hold, falling face-in-hands into the rope. The utter disappointment was clearly evident on her face. The prospect of not being able to compete at worlds was heart-breaking to even consider, and I couldn't even begin to imagine going to New Caledonia without the person who's kept me psyched and trained with me and stood by me throughout my best and worst climbs over the past three years.

Emotions aside we pressed on to our second climbs. Considerably shaken, I worked my way through the sequence a little less efficiently than I would have liked, though still managing to top out, giving me two tops out of two routes. Roxy Stepped up and cruised her second qualifier as the only female of the day to top that particular route, with rival Youth A climber, Sarah McKenzie, taking a fall in the final face of the climb. She too was disappointed, knowing she could have made the move and that she had to give these next routes her all if she had any intention of making the cut.
Will Hammersla ensuring that no climbers were harmed in the making
of this team ;) Photo: Naomi Benjamin

Each category rotated through, with Sarah, Roxy, myself and a number of others all topping out our 3rd routes. Quite a large group of Junior and Youth A males were showing promise, and it was beginning to look like both categories would be full!

A further rotation, and the Youth A girls were given their turn on what was speculated to be the hardest of the five routes. Steep and pumpy with big moves, it was clearly set for the Youth A and Junior male categories in mind, however with two tops for three routes, the girls were low on options. I sat myself in a spot in which I could both watch my friends and my view my route. My heart in my throat, I saw both of them pull through the moves with confidence, power, and precision, to clip the final draws and know that they would again be able to represent Australia at the IFSC World Youth Championships. I cheered and clapped as loudly as I could merely seconds before stepping onto my own route. Knowing that topping this route would qualify me for the team, I moved slowly and with control, ensuring that I prepared correctly for each for movement before progressing for the next hold. Surely enough, I pulled the slopers on the final lip to the last draw, clipping my rope through the karabiner and securing my position on the team.

Roxy Perry pulling through the final moves on her way to the IFSC WYCH.
Photo: Eddie Fowke
I lowered down and could celebrate my victory knowing that my closest friends would be going to Noumea with me. Psyche levels were high already, and we approached our final routes with casual enthusiasm. I managed to top my fifth climb, leaving me five for five, which was the only result I would have been truly happy with.

After a taxing day, the team consisted of:

Junior M: Sam Bowman (5/5), Jarred Jordan (5/5), Matthew Tsang (5/5), James Davidson (5/5)
Youth A M: Sam Newton (5/5), Campbell Harrison (5/5), Alistair Earley (5/5), Bryson Klein (5/5)
Youth A F: Roxy Perry (3/5), Sarah McKenzie (3/5)
Youth B M: Rhys Brandon (4/5)
2014 Australian Youth Climbing Team :D
Photo: Eddie Fowke
I never thought I could learn so much from a comp where I didn't take a fall. I learned so much more about climbing under pressure. I found a new rhythm to my climbing that I very much intend to hold onto. I learned how to think past the adrenaline and effectively stave off pump. But most of all, whilst it does sound like a cheesy cliché (and perhaps it is), I learnt not to give up even when things look especially grim. There was a time at this comp where I let my emotions get the better of me, but I always have to remember that whatever happens there's always more to come. Another hold, another climb, another comp, another day. All I can do is hold onto how I feel right now, and I'll be more happy than ever, whatever happens at worlds. That said, I very much intend to give it all I've got and push through into a top 20 placing!!

Thanks again for all the support that you guys have given me, and thank you in advance for all the support that is yet to come. I'm super appreciative of all that I've gotten to experience over the last few years and of everything that I will experience in future, wherever I may go :)

Thanks for reading! See you at the gym ;)

A very special thank you from Sarah, Roxy, Emily and myself to Will Hammersla for being our moral support, training guide, coach, chauffeur and friend :) Keep up the good work, Will-Dawgg! :P