Looking back on my season, the biggest takeaway point I’ve noticed is how much the competitions themselves have changed over the course of my climbing career. I started competing in national and international-level competitions in 2002, where I made it to finals at my first-ever Continental Championships in Berkeley, CA. The climbs at that point in time were very technical and rarely included showy or dynamic moves. Since then, competitions have moved steadily a more dynamic style, incorporating 3-dimensional movement and an abundance of features and volumes. Additionally, the next generation of climbers has continued to push standards in ways I’d never thought possible.
|Semifinals at the 2003 National Championships in Richmond, VA|
|Sydney Trinidad successfully completing "the move".|
Photo: Just Fab Photography
Another such bouldering event to include futuristic moves this year was the CCS National Championships, where I was able to top out all three climbs in finals for a 2nd-place finish. All three climbs were unique in some way, from a bat-hang finish on problem 1, to a thumbdercling traverse (Tommy Caldwell style) on problem 2, to a Dark Horse-esque double-clutch move on problem 3.
|Julian Barker on problem 1|
Photo: USA Climbing
Photo: Cole Alcock
|GG Mondet topping out problem 3 in Toronto|
The series was broken down into three competitions: two qualifying events and the championship round. The winner of each of the first two rounds received an automatic bye into the finals of the championship round. In round 1, I was pitted head-to-head with 14-year old superstar Kai Lightner in a speed-lead superfinal on the women’s final route. Kai destroyed the route, besting my time by a staggering 25 seconds (silly me for thinking I could climb fast). In the second round I was able to squeak out a victory, ensuring my spot in the championship round finals.
|Volume action in Round 1 finals|
Photo: Garrick Kwan
Looking into the future, it is difficult to discern where competition climbing will go. Sport climbing attempted (and failed) to become a sport in the 2020 Olympic Games, but is being included as a demonstration sport at the Youth Olympic Games later this year in Nanjing, China. I was fortunate to be selected by the IFSC as the sole US representative, which means I will have the unique opportunity to see and shape what direction the sport is headed.
With all of these major changes making waves in the future of competition climbing, we must ask ourselves what comes next. From what I’ve seen, climbing competitions are moving away from the static, technical climbing style to dynamic, explosive, and 3-dimensional movement that has come to define the next generation of competitions and the group of young crushers that excel at them.
What will climbing comps look like in 10 years? 15? 20? Will climbing competitions become so disjointed from the actual sport of rock climbing that athletes will never once need to set foot on outdoor rock to succeed in competition? It’s certainly a real possibility. The most extreme end of the spectrum here can be looked at as NBC’s American Ninja Warrior, an extreme obstacle course that climbers have started to thrive at in recent years. Many people devote their lives to training for this course, much to the same extent of dedication climbers have towards climbing. Is this a positive or negative for the climbing community at large? I can’t say I know for sure.
One thing does remain certain: no matter where the sport of competition climbing goes, we still will have our ancestry deeply rooted in the mountains. Beginning with the very first days of competition in Arco, the sport of competition climbing has evolved over time, bringing with it an explosive new style that utilizes 3-dimensional movement to challenge the next generation of climbers. However, climbing still holds the same intrinsic appeal from one generation to the next. Whether it be Lynn Hill gracefully ascending the limestone cliffs of Italy or 13-year old Ashima Shiraishi taking down male competitors twice her age at the Ring of Fire Championships, the spirit of climbing endures, one move at a time.