Tuesday 16 June 2015

2015 Australian Lead National Championships

I always knew it wasn't right or productive to fixate on past competitions. The most important thing is to accept your results and keep training harder for the next event. But despite the 2014 Australian Lead National Championships being what I consider my breakthrough performance in competitive climbing, I could never let go of the fact that I had come so close to winning the national title. I think at least once everyday since the Open Male final, my thoughts would linger back to the final moments of the route. I would watch the wall slip away from me again, and again, and again... To take second place was amazing, but since then all I have ever dreamed of was that one day I could take the title and stand at the top of the podium.

My 2015 season flew by, and I was super stoked with the results I had come away with. Aside from a third place in Junior Male due to a count-back, I had taken a clean-sweep of the competitions I had attended. Unfortunately I was unable to climb at one of the events, so I can't claim the grand-slam, but it really couldn't have gone that much better. By the end of the last event I realised that I was climbing beyond what I ever have before! This year Nationals was taking place in Brisbane at Urban Climb. Known for having the shortest walls on the Aus circuit, I was definitely worried that the routes would not suit my power-endurance style.

The Junior component ran entirely on the Saturday, with Opens on the Sunday. It was really nice to only have to focus on one competition at a time, and something that should DEFINITELY become a trend!!!! *WINK, WINK, NUDGE, NUDGE* ;). My first qualifier was steep and fairly straight-forward, and in typical Urban Climb fashion, the second qualifier was a tricky slab designed to split. I was very happy to have managed to top both, despite making the slab look much harder than it needed to be. Due to an unfortunate incident with a missed quickdraw, Jarred Jordan, who had also topped both routes, would be going into finals in fourth place, leaving me in first on my own.
Up-and-coming Bayside Rock crusher Maya Stasiuk wowing spectators
 with her amazing performance on the Youth D final, taking second! At only seven
years old, this girl could have a bright future in climbing ahead of her!!

We had a long break before finals, which was also appreciated, and were able to watch the Youth B, C, and D finals before heading into isolation for our own. It was really great to see so many climbers with such great potential. Dreams were realised and shattered, but overall it was highly entertaining.

Soon enough we were in isolation and getting ready for out own climbing. Everybody who comes to nationals does so with the intention of doing their best, but it was evident that there were a number of climbers who had eyes only for first. I did my best not to let this put me off. I knew what I had to do, and I knew I was capable of doing it. When viewing the route, we all noticed that it was exceptionally short - little more than twenty moves. And when it ramped up, it kicked in hard. It all made sense to me bar one sequence, in which a large brain-like hold sat above a small crimp, and pushed up high into another small piece. I moved around to find the best angle to view the brain from, but it looked horrendous no matter how I saw it. I made the decision that if I got there I would be able to skip it entirely and move through the crimps.

Australian Youth Climbing Team captain Jarred Jordan trying to unlock the sequence.
This guy is STRONG, and deserves the win that is definitely coming his way!

This turned out to be the winning sequence! I pressed high and hard into the crimp, out right into a small gaston, took the final holds with a small cross-over, and clipped the draw! This is my third consecutive time winning a National Title in Youth Lead, and every time I come back with more pressure on myself to succeed, so it was great that I could breathe easy again and look onto the next day with optimism. The Australian Team had a brilliant showing, of course, with titles being won by Mitchell Mullins, Roxy Perry, and Nanki Soin. Congratulations to Jarred Jordan and Alistair Earley for taking second and third respectively in Junior Male

The big day was really the Sunday. Of course we all want to give it our all in the Youth divisions, but the Open title is what every climber aged 16 and above is really gunning for. I was definitely happy with my form, and felt like I would carry it through to today's comp with no issues. This was certainly not the case. I came undone at the top of the Open Male first qualifier, and then moved much too fast for a pocket on my second qualifier, placing 5th on each. I was through to finals, but I think had some other climbers not made mistakes, my position would have been far less secure...

Lucy Stirling - Topping out the Male and Female shared qualifier.
Unraveling from this hold, I smacked the draw and missed the pocket, but such is life!
Claire Langmore showing that she's no one-trick-pony!

I was in a bad place. I had no idea how to feel. My climbing in competitions had been spot-on for months, yet somehow between Saturday and Sunday I felt like I had forgotten how to climb. My coach Will took me out for lunch and a coffee, and we managed to chat away my anxiety. By the time iso came around for finals, I was in exactly the right headspace again. It almost doesn't make sense, but I climb my best when I know I can lose. It's a balance between trusting in my abilities but accepting the possibility of failure that allows me to climb with the right level of caution and abandon.

Isolation was very long.... Which wasn't an issue when we saw what the routesetters had put together, but it would have been nice if officials had kept us better informed of how much time we really had. This was my only real criticism of the event, though.

Viewing was full of surprises. I read the route through to where I thought it finished for most of time, only to find out with a minute thirty left that it continued across two pinnacle features onto the next wall... and then to realise that the climb continued for another several draws. A series of volumes built the final bouldery slab that was to finish the route. I wasn't sure if it was necessary, but I admired the creativity.

Always an honour to climb with this guy! James Kassay making his way into the crux, taking second place.

 With nine climbers in each final due to ties for
eighth place, I was to come out bang-on in the middle of the final. The route was punchy from the word go, easing off through a pair of cubic volumes, then ramping right up again, building a fierce burn in my forearms. I was pumped much more quickly than I would have liked to have been, but the crowd cheered my high point early, so I knew I was doing well. I fought to make it to the pinnacle, but when I was there I scored a really great rest that allowed me to recover significantly. I sat there for what might have been two minutes before I began to worry about my time. I had passed the six minute mark, which I have never done before. I wasn't sure how long it might take me to climb the rest of the route, so I pushed on, but made some mistakes through a hard drop-down sequence and slid down the volumes like a fireman's pole :P

When I came off I was really happy with my climbing! A few of us had doubted that anyone would make it through to the other side of the wall, and I knew that it had been hard for me to do it. I went and found my coach and watched anxiously. Someone had obviously decided that I looked like death and handed me a stress ball, but it really wasn't hard enough for the amount of stress I was trying to squeeze out of it. My heart was in my throat. I struggled to think about anything other than how badly I wanted to win this title.

The next male finalist to climb was my friend and training buddy James Kassay. James and I really make no secret of our competitiveness, and so climbing with him in a competition is always fun. I basically watched through the gaps between my fingers as he made his way higher and higher, looking strong the whole way. It was only at the final crux before the features that the pump got to him and he was off! It was all a blur from there as it hit me that I was on the podium. It wasn't over yet, though, and I think watching the next two climbers was harder than climbing the route itself!

Jarred Jordan came out next and took a shocking fall just below the first major crux. It was heart-breaking to see him fall that way, and its something you would never wish on any of your competitors. But ultimately I was one step closer. Alistair Earley came out next. Al has been pushing new limits in his climbing over the past couple years, and he had certainly out-climbed me in the qualifiers. He made his way into the steep section of the route, into the crux.... and he was off!

In an instant I was in the arms of my coach, overcome with emotion. All of my time, effort, and training and been for THIS, and it tasted sweeter than any victory before!! I honestly couldn't believe that I had done it.

Earlier in the day I had accepted that my time was yet to come.  No matter how dramatic or even cheesy it may sound, standing on that podium, holding the trophy high above my head, was one of the greatest moments of my life so far.

Thank you to so many people for all of your support!! Thank you to the organisers of the competition, thank you to my family, thank you to the people that put up with me in training, and thank you to my sponsors, ICP, TRI-Climbing, and La Sportiva Australia. Words cannot describe what it means to me the encouragement I have received before and after the event. This community really is something else :)

 Congratulations to Mae Mackenzie, and Alistair Earley for both taking third place, Lucy Stirling and James Kassay for second, and to Claire Langmore, 2014 Australian Bouldering Champion, for winning her first ever lead competition and taking the female title. I think she's discovered her true passion in climbing, and I will have a route training partner in no time ;)

Lucy Stirling was the only female to top the women's final, but was unfortunately called for dabbing on a neighbouring climb, putting her down into second place... I wasn't in a position to make a call, but I know that you're a winner in the eyes of everyone who was there! Good luck in Europe Lucy, we couldn't be more proud of you!!

A special mention also goes out to the above climbers, Jarred Jordan and Roxy Perry, who similarly made unforeseeable mistakes early in their routes and were robbed of their chance to show us what they were really made of... Both of you are without a doubt two of the strongest climbers in the country, and I can't wait to travel and compete with you overseas!!

Anyway, this post is long enough as it is! I'm really enjoying a couple days or relaxation whilst I recover from this cold that has hit me since the comp, but I can't wait to get back into training. I really know what I need to work on from here, and I'm amped to do it!