Wednesday 15 October 2014

2014 IFSC World Youth Championships (Noumea, New Caledonia)

It's taken me a while to write this post, and I don't really have a good reason why. It has been busy at school with exams drawing near, but I think it's mostly because I wasn't entirely sure what to say. I'm writing about an entirely different experience than I thought I would be. This year, for the first time, I have come home from the World Youth Championships proud of my achievement. For the first time I can safely say I climbed to the best of my abilities, and am looking forward to next year not as a chance to redeem myself, but an opportunity to better myself in a way I now see possible.
My trip began with a training camp held in Sydney for the Australian Youth Climbing Team. We were to spend a week here before heading off to New Caledonia where the WYCH would be held. I was just coming to the end of an almost two week break from climbing, due to a hand injury I had sustained for unknown reasons, that was preventing me from completing tasks as basic as tying my shoe laces. As such, I was somewhat anxious as to how I might feel pulling onto the wall. Fortunately my hand was good, but I felt I had lost some endurance, and was taking a couple sessions to feel like I was moving well again.

Our first point of order was the New South Wales State Bouldering Titles. I was not feeling in ideal shape for this comp, and it was recommended that I did not compete by my coaches. However, when the morning of the event came, my hand hadn't been giving me any trouble, and I thought it best that I take it as an opportunity to pull hard and get my body into gear.

It is fair to say I was not totally satisfied with my performance overall when compared to my past results. I managed to take 4th place in a highly contested Youth A Men's category. A good result, but the first Youth podium in Australia that I had missed in almost 5 years. As such I was a little disappointed, but I focussed on the fact that my hand wasn't hurting, and I could approach my training over the next few days optimistically.

Having a good ol' time in Sydney!!
After a rest day touring the Sydney CBD, myself and the rest of the Aussie team spent a couple of sessions trying to onsight hard routes in gyms around Sydney, where we met a number of members of Team USA. With every route I climbed I felt I was moving better, resting more efficiently, and generally climbing stronger as the days went by. I was getting back into the swing of things, and it felt great!!

Hanging out with U.S crushers Margo and Kai!!

And so off to Noumea we flew!! I was super excited, but so nervous!! An ever-so-slight feeling of dread was looming over me. Twice I had come home from the WYCH having under-performed, feeling like I could have done much better. I was hoping that with this trip I could prove to myself that that was true, that I was capable of more than peeling off the wall merely a few draws up.

The emphasis of myself and of those around me in previous years had been on positive affirmations, telling myself that I would achieve a certain result. Whilst the intention was to build up self belief within me, I felt more as if it was being forced down my throat, and so I made the decision to take a more laid back approach to my determination. This year I had only one goal: to climb to the best of my abilities and return home satisfied. This new approach left me far less stressed, taking pressure away from making the semi-finals, and onto simply enjoying my climbs.

Up and away!!... And then down again very shortly, for once!! ;P
The competition day came, and I was more than excited to get onto the wall. My route looked good - my style completely, and whilst warming up my body was primed and ready to fire! Things were looking up! Negativity still loomed overhead, but nevertheless I shook those feelings away and reminded myself of how much I want to be here, and this is what I dream of doing everyday.

There I was, tied in, warmed up, and as ready as I would ever be to climb my first qualifier. I had an ideal balance of nerves, excitement, and relaxation that all seemed to settle in the pit of my stomach. Taking my first steps onto the wall I moved with precision and meaning. Every movement felt accurate and efficient. Quick and easy. The holds remained fairly positive as I pushed further through the route. In the back of my mind I was waiting for the moment when I would lose my cool and make a soul-crushing mistake, but the moment never came! I was nearing the top of the route, and as I pulled through the roof and into the final face of the climb, I truly, genuinely believed for the first time that I belonged to be there. Each move was powerful, the holds were positive, but a burning in my forearms urged me to keep climbing. I took the third to last hold firmly in my left hand, bringing my right foot across my body and pulled, taking the second last hold in my grasp.... and watching it fall away as my foot blew from the wall!!
It took a couple of seconds for it to sink in how close I had come to topping a World Championship route.... I was ecstatic!! Over the moon!! My efforts had landed me in equal 11th place, making it my best placing on a WYCH route, having previously been equal 28th.

My second qualifier was later that night, and with little luck, I attempted to nap back in my hotel room. The little rest I did get helped me relax before taking to the wall for a second time. Whilst I had my theories, I was eager to know which route would be mine that evening. It turned out to be a funky little blue route that the Junior Males had climbed earlier that day. Having seen that this route was particularly cruxy, I knew that it could play to my strengths if I stayed switched on and maintained body awareness.

The route began in quite a technical fashion. In the past, I would have been totally defeated by these early sequences, but I managed to execute them perfectly and make it up to what I knew was the first crux. It consisted of an off-balance drive-by from a small edge to a sloper atop a volume. I caught the sloper confidently, and held tight to ensure I kept core tension. I continued to climb after realising I was not going to score a rest here. The next sequences were awkward, with strange feet and body positions. I worked my way through them, into a sloper at which I had intended to rest. With the beauty of hindsight, I see now that this was a terrible idea! I tried to shake away the pump very unsuccessfully before moving on to some harder sections, through a rad rose move to progress and then again to clip, and upward. I reached a number of extremely positive holds, but having wasted my energy I was in no position to rest, and simply resolved to keep moving. I had only a few moves in me before I was off. I had a good climb, not ideal, but good enough that I was satisfied knowing I had given it my all.

I had very little idea as to where my efforts would place me... whether I had earned myself a semi-final placing or not! But, as it turns out I had managed 16th place on that route (not too shabby as far as I was concerned!), adding up to a 14th place overall going into the semi-finals!


Well, turns out third time's the charm!! I was in, and I couldn't have been happier! I had hoped and dreamed of this for three years, and as silly as it may sound to some, I was stoked to climb a third time at this year's WYCH.

But it was there that I learned something new, something I had not expected to learn. I had always envisioned myself in total elation when making the semis, and that I would attain a state in which my placing going forward wouldn't concern me.... But that was when I had expected to creep into semis around 26th place, not 14th! All of a sudden having simply made the semis was irrelevant. I wanted to place as highly as I could. I wanted to make finals! I had re-awoken a long lost drive within myself, and without positive self-talk, or scrawling my hopes into a diary, my sense of self belief was back :)

I was not the only Australian to have placed in the top 26th! Jarred Jordan, Sam Bowman, Matt Tsang, and Roxy Perry had all gone through after a long time coming, and newcomer Rhys Brandon managed to do so at his first ever World Youth Championship!

Isolation was a new, exciting, and incredibly daunting experience that I had been looking forward to for a long time! I looked around me and saw climbers from various parts of the world that I had respected since first watching them climb in Singapore, and could now appreciate this aspect of the event as one of them, and not simply a spectator.

The time came to view our route. It looked fairly straight forward. Not too difficult to start, moving into a dynamic roof, and then a pumpy run to the finish. Very little of the sequence eluded me, and that of it that did I quickly sorted out with those around me. I returned to isolation confident that this was a route I could perform well on.
Viewing the Youth A semi-final.
The wait for my turn to climb did not take nearly as long as I had expected, leading me to believe that maybe the route was much harder than I initially thought. I simply did what I would always do in isolation - talk about the route, get warmed up, keep somewhat to myself and try not to get overly amped. Before I knew it, I was tied in, facing the wall, and ready to climb...

Similar to my first route, every hold felt positive, and I didn't get too pumped through the first face of the climb. It wasn't long before I made the transfer into the roof and things started to change. I knew I had a number of committing moves ahead of me, but couldn't quite find any positions to rest. I pulled up into a shallow edge in the roof... it was tiny, and I did not feel confident putting my weight into it. The next hold was hidden amongst a formation of volumes, and I lunged toward it hoping to catch it just right. I hit the side of the box, just short of the hold. And as my feet slid from beneath me, I made one final push, and it was just enough to catch the jug one hand. I squeezed as tightly as I could, bringing my body back up to the roof. My left hand was solid, but I just couldn't find anything good to rest on with my right, so I made the next big move over the lip. I caught the hold with my right, following shortly with my left. By this stage, I was pumped. Accidently missing a crucial foothold and a potential knee-bar, I pressed on for every point I could score. Shortly after, I fell, fairly pleased with the height at which I did so.

My efforts were enough for me to land 15th place, and I was stoked! It seems that I accomplish my WYCH goals a year after I set them ;P With my goal for Singapore being top 40, and I took 46th, my goal for Canada being top 15, and falling into 33rd. I learnt some valuable lessons about efficiency and route awareness watching the following athletes climb the route. I also saw how close I was to finals, only 4 movements away, and I was hungrier than ever to resume training and work even harder for next year!!
Cutting loose on the Youth A Mens semi-final.
This year, the Australian Youth Climbing Team did our country proud. But more than that, we were proud of ourselves and proud of each other!

The rest of the competition was absolutely amazing! The finalists in each category put on a spectacular show that was entertaining for all. I just know that very soon, we'll be seeing our own athletes in the top 8, climbing for a podium finish. And if all goes to plan, I'll be one of them!!

Thanks to everybody again for all of the support and encouragement you have given me over the past year, and in the lead up to the competition. Special mentions go to my parents, who I love very much and put up with me in some of my most unbearable pre and post competition states! Thank you also to Rob LeBreton, who did an extraordinary job coaching us throughout the trip, especially in isolation where we were all feeling a bit daunted!

Thank you to my sponsor, La Sportiva Australia, who provided me with the gear I competed in and have been training in the lead-up to this comp!! You guys are awesome, and I'm ever-grateful to be a part of the team!!
Now there's only one more competition until the end of the season: The Australian National Bouldering Championships and the Australian Climbing Festival in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales. I'm super excited after coming home and taking a 1st in Youth A and a 3rd in Open men's at the Victorian State Bouldering Titles, and I'm hoping I can take another podium, or even a title, at this event!

I'm so thankful everyday that I get to be a part of something as special as sport climbing! Here's to years more of incredible experiences and friendships to come!!