Sunday 3 August 2014

2014 Australian Lead National Championships

Bringing the Australian Lead season to a close was the 2014 Australian National Lead Climbing Championships. I was going into this competition incredibly confident and motivated. I had won every Youth A Lead competition I had competed in so far, and had no intention of losing out at Nationals. This did, however, put a heavy load of pressure on my shoulders... Self-inflicted, but intense none the less. I had a couple of mates staying over as well from Queensland, which gave me to something else to look forward to, the comp aside. My favourite part of competing is getting to hang out with friends from all around the country that I don't usually see!

First qualifiers led into the event nicely. The Youth A Male climb proved a degree easier than a typical qualifier at Nationals,
with about 12 tops in total, but put everybody into a confident mindset that would prove useful on our second route.

Photo: Chris Hampton

The second qualifier moved up a techy, but not particularly taxing corner, into a dynamic cut that proved tricky for many. The route then continued up through a technical vertical section and through a steep, powerful lip that managed to split the Youth A Men's perfectly. After finding what proved to be the most effective beta through what was set as a cruxy cross into a one-finger-pocket, I had an unfortunate slip that saw me fall short of a top, but land me in first place going into finals. I was a little disappointed, having had massive improvements in my footwork recently that clearly didn't come into play, but I found comfort in knowing that time would not become a factor in the final.

The Youth A final looked RAD! The start was fairly steep and juggy, with some cool sequency moves, up into a sustained, crimpy stretch, through a volume onto some slopers, and a techy manoeuvre around a volume before the finish. I was out last, and with no clue how the others had gone, I stepped onto the wall with every intention of topping the route. I felt solid moving up the wall. All my sequences were working out, and I nutted out some rests that managed to keep me from getting too pumped. After a powerful lock from a slopey pinch to find a small hidden nub on the side of a volume, I decided to take a solid rest to consider my options. I had the feeling from the crowd that I had taken the high point, but my own personal drive kept me pushing to the top. I rested here for a good period, a little stumped. I swung my foot to a nice hold far out right, tried to rock as much of my weight as I could over the positive foothold, bumping my right hand out. I brought my left hand in close to a gaston on the volume, pushed my knee ever-further out left, and bumped again. From here it was smooth sailing! I took the last hold and (after a brief search for the final draw ;P) clipped!

Oceana Mackenzie taking her first National Title in her nice, new, shiny team singlet!!
I was over the moon with a second consecutive National Title! Alistair Earley and Sam Newton rounded off the podium in second and third respectively!

After a rather long day of climbing already, there were still two more climbs to go for those of us who qualified to compete in Open under the organisers' new wildcard rule, with AYCT members and podium placers from Youth A, B, and Junior moving through. For myself and seven other Open Males, the qualifiers proved not too challenging, creating wide tie going into the next morning's semi-final.
Ally Driessen on the Masters Female Semi-Final (Photo: Joanne Blair)
Another early start the next morning had us straight into isolation. I was out fairly late in the piece, so I held off for a while on my warm up. The crowd was impossible to read for this route! The women's route hailed screams and cheers as new high points were acquired early on, with one young female clearly setting the bar above the others, but then fell 'silent' after a while, as did the crowd for the men's.

Photo: Mike Davis

Keeping in style with the comp so far, the route began on very positive holds, and kicked in quite suddenly. I moved through a number of disc shaped holds that became very high, awkward feet as I moved on. The crowed started to scream about mid way up the route after a powerful move to a small edge, and I was feeling confident in my progression thus far. When things felt dire, I would correct my feet or find a rest, and everything would click. I fell just short of a top, which would put me into finals in.... first place!?

I was always appropriately optimistic about the possibility of winning the title, but it hadn't really occurred to me that I possessed the potential to actually win the title. There was still a final to come, but I was ecstatic about the climb I had just put in. I had already far exceeded my perception of my own abilities.

Me taking the (particularly nasty) winning holds on the Open Semi-Final route. (Photo: Chris Hampton )
Both the men's and women's routes saw a clear division between the top placing 3-4 climbers and the rest of the field. One unfortunate characteristic of the men's climb was a rather poorly placed piece of black tape over an arĂȘte that saw a number of climbers called from the wall, and some, including myself, barely getting away with very debatable 'use' of the feature. This was the only section of the arĂȘte that was deemed unusable from a feature that ran the full length of the wall, and I felt it unnecessary to call it out.

 Photo: Mike Davis
Never the less, it was an absolutely amazing route! One of the best I've climbed in an Aussie comp, and it was looking to be a tremendous final!

2014's Open finalists!! (Photo: Chris Hampton

As the finals progressed, I watched the athletes leave isolation climber by climber, hearing the cheers of the crowd grow louder and louder. More time passed, and I was alone. I felt the bass of the heavy speakers pulse through me, and I sat in solitude, preparing myself to climb the best that I could.

The route was fairly long, with 50 hand-holds in total. It started off fairly easy through a lengthy roof section, and as the angle of the wall decreased, the moves became larger, and the holds began to shrink, their in-cuts rounding off to some smooth edges. After a big, crowd-pleasing power-fest in the middle of the route, I was still feeling good and took a rest on a nicely angled volume. I felt like I was on my way to the top. I knew I could do it. The title was in my hands... before I dropped it, watching it shatter on the floor.

Pulling the rest before the final stretch! (Photo: Chris Hampton
I was pumped, but recovering well and truly enough on each hold to climb further. I came to a clip, and with my foot placements certainly not ideal, I tried to make quick work of the second last draw. I felt it slip and slide in my fingers, going for a great big swing before I caught it again and managed to put the rope through. My right forearm was flamed! My mind completely lost in the burn, I threw any kind of logical thought out the window, and made a stupid attempt to just move that little bit further forward... And before I knew it, I was off the wall!

Working at the clip, nearing the top of the final route.
I was in an absolute blur of mixed emotions. This was my best competition result ever! But I was so close and so capable of taking the title of Australian National Champion that it didn't feel that way at all.

All in all, I absolutely cannot complain with how I climbed at nationals. I felt smooth and powerful the whole time, and put in exactly the climb I had been aiming for in the semi final. I'm looking towards Worlds with confidence, but also with the experience from last year that I must keep tabs on that feeling so that it doesn't become overwhelming pressure. I have to approach the WYCH like any other comp, and just try to climb my best :)

Congratulations to James Kassay and Lucy Stirling, who climbed solidly and very deservedly took the titles in male and female respectively.

James Kassay, ensuring that the photographer gets his good side ;P (Photo: Chris Hampton

Lucy Stirling, crushing hard in perfect style! (Photo: Chris Hampton

This was only my fourth nationals, but in my opinion, it set a new standard for national competition in Australia. The routes were incredible, and the atmosphere was absolutely electric. The organisers should be very proud of what they have achieved! Congratulations also to everybody who climbed. It's always so much fun to hang out with everybody, and you all climbed so well! And again, thank you for all the support that everybody gave me in the lead up to and during the comp. It really is invaluable to my climbing!
I hope of the climbers in Australia are looking forward to the bouldering season, and everybody else, I'll see you at the World Youth Championships in Noumea :D
(If you liked some of the photos from this post, check out Climb Media's website at Chris puts in a lot of hard hours to put these great shots out there, so show your support by purchasing a few!!!)