Saturday, February 26, 2011

ABS Youth Nationals 2011

This past weekend I flew back to Boulder, Colorado for the Youth portion of the 2011 ABS National Championships. After the events from last week’s Open Championships, I felt mentally ready for the competition. However, my ankle was still a bit tweaked from landing awkwardly on the pads on qualifier problem 5 the weekend before and mildly spraining my left ankle. I did some minor training in the couple days of training I had between comps, but the thing I really needed to focus on was my mental preparation going into the competition.

I flew into Boulder on Thursday, February 17th, and had dinner with my family before meeting up with a bunch of my friends who flew in from around the country at the host hotel, where we hung out in one of the rooms and played a couple rounds of Jungle Speed. Considering how no one knew about the game before a year and a half ago, it’s really caught on the climbing community.

I got to sleep in the next morning, as the category I was competing in, Male A (16-17), wasn’t scheduled to compete in qualifiers until 4:30 that afternoon. It was nice getting to climb later in the day for a change, and I was able to eat a late breakfast and hang out with some of the kids on my team: Jacquelyn Wu, Eric Sanchez, Sera Busse, and Will Roderick.

The team at breakfast
Left to right: Will, Josh, Sera, Jacquelyn, Eric
Photo: George Roderick

I headed over to The Spot to warm up again like the weekend before. It was really nice climbing wherever you wanted to with the entire gym open to all the competitors. It was definitely the most laid back isolation area I’ve ever been in, compared to the jam-packed isolations in past bouldering competitions. No waiting for hours for your turn to sit in the chair, no crazed coaches frantically scanning the running order, no ten year old girls cutting you off on your warm up. It was pretty chill.

After getting decently warmed up, I headed over to the warehouse with one of the coaches and got ready to climb. By this point, I had gotten into my comp mindset and started my pre-comp routine, which included getting out my 5.10 hoodie, rubbing the chalk off the bottom of my shoes, and setting my iPod playlist to “Get Psyched”.

The qualifier problems turned out to be in the opposite order from Open Nationals, with problems starting on the left slightly overhanging wall and progressing to the right with the final problem on the slab. The major difference between the two was that there were only four problems versus the six we had in Open qualifiers.

The first problem had a pretty cool roof jug section to a slopey topout, but wasn’t too bad overall. Having flashed this one, I moved into the wave section of the wall for problems 2 and 3. Problem 2 was somewhat balancy in the beginning, but had some cool powerful moves at the top, which contrasted the bottom. Probably my favorite climb of qualifiers. Problem 3 consisted of technical crimp moves on the right side of the wave with a difficult cross at the top, but wasn’t overly hard in the long run.

Problem 3
photo: Eric Wang

After flashing 2 and 3, I moved on to problem 4. This problem was located on the right side of the gym on the slab, and had a desperately hard cross move to a horrible left hand pinch about halfway up. I couldn’t stick the cross, so I bumped my right hand up to the upper hold to get points for control. However, the judge didn’t see me the time I stuck it, so I ended up filing an appeal, owing mostly to the fact that other kids had done the same thing as I had and received points for it. The appeal passed, which was lucky, because two holds separated 7th place from 16th place, which was the cutoff for semifinals. I ended up 9th right behind my friend Charlie Andrews, which meant we would climb back to back the next day!

Already psyched just to be in semifinals, I took a bunch of pictures of my friends who climbed after I did and made plans to go out for dinner with Charlie and Jordan Bridgewater and a couple other parents. However, Jordan ended up falling on the last move on her first qualifier and rolling her left ankle in the exact same way I did the weekend before! No one expected her to even be able to walk after the fall, but she came back about half an hour later and completed all of her remaining climbs with a heavily bandaged ankle, even sending the first one. The fact that she actually came back and sent it demonstrated the true meaning of dedication to the sport and proved how much she was willing to go through to compete. Huge props for even having the courage to go back and try to climb again. Seriously.

Here's some pictures I took of some of the competitors:

Sam Wolff previewing problem 4

Charlie Andrews on problem 3

Alex Fritz on problem 2

Alex David Johnson on problem 4. A second later, he jumped for the finish hold. Send.

Jesse Youngwerth on final problem 3

Jordan Bridgewater on problem 1. It was inspiring to watch her come back and finish this climb.

After a quick dinner at Noodles and Company (which was actually founded in Boulder), I went back to my hotel to get ready for semifinals the next day. After placing 9th that day, I knew I had to really step my game up for semis, considering only the top 8 from the next day advanced to the final round.

The next day, I got to sleep in again and take my time eating breakfast since my climbing time was at around 5:30pm. Charlie and his mom picked me up from my hotel before lunch so we could tour the University of Colorado at Boulder, and we had a lot of fun walking around downtown boulder and the campus as well.

Heading into semis, I felt a lot more nervous than the day before. If I wanted a shot at making finals, I knew I would need to not hold anything back on any of the climbs, and climb much smarter to use fewer attempts. I got into my zone again, and warmed up with Charlie and Sam Wolff from Seattle, mostly focusing on slab climbs just in case we were stuck with another problem like the day before.

As I walked out into the comp, I knew immediately that it was a really good thing that we practiced slab in iso. The first semifinal problem was a really sick route in the middle of the wave that involved a Mission Impossible-like rose move to a powerful finish. When I sat down in the chair after sending, however, the judge pointed me to go over towards the slab area – where we had another two problems waiting for us.

Eric Sanchez on semifinal problem 1
photo: George Roderick

Problem #2 was insane. Just saying. When I turned around to look at the problem, I immediately noticed two things: there were only four or five real holds going up the almost blank 15-foot face. Also, I noticed that the moves were gigantic. I would definitely have to come up with something pretty good in order to do this climb. As I got on the first moves, I couldn’t help thinking to myself how Charlie, who is over 6 feet tall, would be able to reach each of the moves easily.

After several dismal attempts on the problem, I noticed a foot off to the right, which had gone unnoticed until then. I checked the clock, only to realize that I had less than 30 seconds left on the problem. As I began panicking inside my head, I ran to the base of the climb and pulled out to the foothold before the last hold before the finish. As I reached up, I heard the automated time warning of “10 seconds”, and I knew I had to go fast. I grabbed up at the huge feature – and found a small crimp on the side. Climbing as fast as I could, I bumped both hands on top of the feature and hesitated for a moment before jumping for the finish. I caught it, matched it as fast as I could, and looked at the clock. There were three whole seconds left!! With that send, I pulled off the wall and breathed a sigh of relief. I don’t think it could have come down to it any closer than that.

Semifinal problem 2
Video: Richard Levin

As I sat in the chair for problem #3, I saw out of the corner of my eye Charlie casually sending the last problem and heard the crowd cheer as he topped it out, and I couldn’t help smiling – that was totally his style of problem. Problem 3 turned out to be pretty similar to problem 4 from the day before, with a hard move going around the corner on desperate pinches. I got my farthest on my first go, and tried a bunch of different variations going around the corner, none of which worked. I knew I had tried my best, and all I could wait for were the results to see if I had made finals.

After a couple hours of waiting, the results were posted, and I came in 7th after semifinals! Charlie made it as well in 5th with his flash of problem 2, and we went and celebrated at Turley’s for dinner and prepared for finals that night by having an icing party with Jordan. Jordan and I iced our ankles and Charlie iced his shoulder, which was still recovering from his recent tendonitis. We all got pretty psyched for the next day and went to bed decently early to make sure we had a good night’s rest.

The next morning I didn’t get to sleep in like the two previous days, but that only meant that I got to climb at an earlier time. After a quick breakfast and warm up, I headed out of iso right behind my friend Zan Bode from Portland, who was probably the most psyched I’d ever seen him at a comp. We both got each other pumped up while sitting in the chairs for the finals problems.

The first problem started out on the far left side of the gym to the right of where our first qualifier was, and had some big moves on slopers before a big sideways deadpoint to a pinch rail and a jump to the finish jug. Pretty cool and powerful moves overall. I got it with some effort going to the pinch rail on my first try and moved on to problem 2.

Final Problem 1
Video: Richard Levin

The second climb was right next to it, a little to the right of where our first qualifier had been. The moves consisted of some interesting roof tension moves with a huge stalactite hold protruding just before the final face, then some technical sloper and crimpy moves up the face to the finish. Since Charlie and I placed 5th and 7th the day before, it meant we climbed at the same time on adjacent problems, which was pretty cool and got me psyched up to hear people cheering for both of us at the same time. The crux on this problem turned out to be the very last move, with a horrible left hand and a horizontal right hand crimp going to a huge cross to the finish, but I was able to pull it off on my first go and knew I only had one more problem to go as I went to sit in the final chair.

last move of final problem 2

Photos: George Roderick

Final problem 2
Video: Richard Levin

The third and final problem of the competition was probably one of the coolest problems I’ve ever climbed in a comp. It started out with a huge horizontal one-handed dyno out right to an upside-down jug on feature, then had a bunch of burly moves and a sick rose move to a pinch before a couple more giant moves to the finish. It took me at least five or six goes to stick the dyno, but I got to the second to last hold on that go. When the clock timed out about a minute later, I felt exhausted but excited that I had done my best.

Photo: Eric Wang

Photo: George Roderick

Photo: Eric Wang

Photo: Eric Wang

Photo: Eric Wang

Final Problem 3
Video: Rod Grossman

In the end, I finished in 3rd place behind Andy Lamb and Joe Gifford, who got one hold higher than me on the last problem. Coming from 7th place out of semifinals and 9th out of qualifiers, I didn’t really expect that much, but I’m definitely happy with how I placed. In addition to placing 3rd, I also made the 2011 US Youth National Team, which was a huge goal of mine this year, considering how tough the competition was this year.

left to right: Zan Bode, Charlie Andrews, Asher Shay-Nemirow, Michael O'Rourke, Joe Gifford, Andy Lamb, Josh Levin
Photo: Rod Grossman

Photo: Eric Wang

Looking back on the weekend, it was one of the best Nationals I’ve been to in a long time. Huge thanks to the guys at USA Climbing for putting on the event! It was really well run, other than a couple injuries from competitors falling from the top of the wall.

I would also like to congratulate Charlie Andrews, Alex Fritz, Nathan Hadley, Dana Riddle, and Francesca Metcalf for being nominated for the North Face Young Gun award, which is given out bi-annually to climbers in the community who demonstrate leadership, strength, dedication to the sport, and outstanding sportsmanship. This is probably the biggest honor in our sport, and to even be a finalist for the award is a prestigious accomplishment in itself. Congrats to Francesca for the win!

Young Gun Finalists: left to right:
Claudiu (Francesca), Alex, Charlie, Nathan, and Dana
Photo: Shannon Russell

Now it’s time to train sport climbing for the 2011 SCS Open Nationals in April. Thanks for reading! Get psyched.

I would also like to give a huge thanks to my sponsors, 5.10 and Friksn, and to my parents and brother for coming out as well! Thank you for all the support, I couldn't have done it without you guys!

For full results, click here.

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