Photography by John Botting.
I’ve just got back from three days in Sydney for the Clifbar National Youth Climbing Championships. This was probably one of the most physically exhausting competitions I have attended.
Held at Sydney Indoor Climbing Gym in Villawood, the comp was three long days of physical and mental challenges. This is the second year now that the youth championships have been held in a combined format with bouldering, lead and speed all taking place in one weekend. While this format better reflects international changes to competition structure, I have found it difficult to train for such a broad event at times.
Queensland had a solid representation across all age categories. I was competing in my first year of Youth A, a really strong category including some of the best female climbers in Australia of any age.
Our first day was bouldering. This year has seen changes to bouldering scoring which changed the competition experience significantly. Without getting too deeply into a VERY complicated soring system, boulders used to be scored with a focus on attempts and has now changed to focus more on tops and “zones”. What this translates to is in previous comps where I could expect to top most boulders but needed to aim for flash attempts, this comp saw far fewer tops which gave a far less satisfying feeling to the competitors. Qualifications were boulderjam format with 5 problems. I was surprised to find that the bouldering comp was being held at Villawood, which has a comparatively small boulder area with very limited spectator viewing. What this meant was that spectators were not allowed into the boulder area, only competitors, judges and team officials. Many of the kids in my category found this quite beneficial for focus and ease of movement but it certainly was challenging for the younger kids, who needed more support and their parents who were forced to hold back.
The boulder setting was HARD. The amazing Oceana Mackenzie managed to flash every problem, once again reinforcing her position at the top of this sport while the rest of us battled on for two hours. I was struggling with back pain and only managed two tops and three zones. Like I said, deeply dissatisfying but this result thankfully qualified me for finals in fifth place. I have been working hard on my mental game with fellow Pinnacle athlete Tiffany Melious so I felt confident that I could use the break time to reset myself and come out into finals ready for anything. However I was really struggling with pain from my back and I had lost plenty of skin in the boulderjam.
Isolation was an interesting experience. The area was very open plan and very
exposed to the public requiring focus to maintain isolation and prepare for the finals ahead. Finals was 5 on 5 off format. I managed an easy flash of the first problem, which was a great confidence boost but also strained my already injured back. I was grateful of the rest time before the second boulder. My second boulder was extremely difficult, of course. I felt that I had got the zone but was told by the judge afterwards that it wasn’t going to be awarded because I didn’t hold it in the intended way. Third boulder felt impossible. I tried several different techniques but couldn’t seem to get past the first couple of moves. Fourth boulder was not traditionally my style, cave roof then over a lip to the zone then top. I flashed the zone and after a few attempts I got up past the lip and got a hand securely on the top but slipped before I could match. Looking at the time I had one minute to go, after rest I had 20 seconds. I knew I didn’t have the power to complete it in that time.
I finished sixth. Not what I had come to nationals hoping to achieve but also feeling like I had given it everything I had for the full day. I had a long talk to Queensland coach Kim Kamo about my disputed zone on the second problem and ultimately decided that while I felt fairly confident that I had controlled it, an appeal cost $100 and I wasn’t certain that video footage would show it convincingly. Ultimately had the appeal been upheld, it would have changed the overall results by only one placing and I decided it wasn’t worth it. I only realised later that night that had I managed the top that I got so close to on the fourth problem, I would have bumped my position up to third place.
Oh well, that is the nature of these competitions, unfortunately. I was super proud to see my friends podium who had also fought hard and deserved their places. It was only a short nights rest of less than 12 hours before we were back the next day for lead. I have always found Villawood an intimidating lead gym with high, brutally overhanging walls. My first qualifying climb looked really hard and I was next to last in the running order. Girls were getting high on the wall and I was feeling nervous as my turn came. I got pumped really early but battled through the pump and made it up and across the roof section only falling at the lip getting a couple of holds further than most others.
My second qualifier looked more my style, slabby and requiring lots of balance. I was about halfway up the wall when I momentarily panicked and fell victim to a stupid foot error which has been a problem for me in the past but I had really thought I had overcome. I fell far lower than I had anticipated and suddenly wasn’t even sure if I was going to make finals. I was physically so exhausted and emotionally overwhelmed and I was finding it really hard to hold it all together. Results were posted and I had luckily pulled into finals in fifth! I knew that I could pull myself back together again in iso and wipe the slate clean to do my best in the finals climb.
However, my exhaustion made it really hard to shift a cloud of negativity and on
viewing the finals route, I didn’t see a fun climb that I was looking forward to getting on. Instead I saw a really hard, dirty route that I didn’t anticipate with enthusiasm. I was struggling with a headache and I just wanted a coffee and a rest.
The climb began steep and crimpy. The first main crux was low and I fell before I felt that I had been able to give it a really good shot. I finished in sixth place again. Falling short of my hopes for this comp but still happy to have made finals and be given the opportunity to climb.
I have to admit, I shed a few tears of frustration and wanted to crawl into bed but I had already made plans for dinner with a friend who I didn’t want to disappoint so I had to pull myself back together for what felt like the tenth time that weekend.
After what felt like another very short night the final day was speed climbing. Always an interesting day. As there are only two speed walls in Australia currently, in Sydney and Melbourne, many kids don’t train speed at all and the competition tends to take on a fun vibe with a strong spirit of “just having a go”. I felt no pressure to achieve anything from speed other than participating.
I false started my first run, getting confused by the starters words and actions and my second run put me narrowly outside of finals time. Unbothered by this, I settled back to cheer on my teammates. Overall, I didn’t place as well as I had hoped at this competition but my consistency saw me finish fourth in the combined results, which I am ultimately proud of. I flew home on Sunday evening with a clear plan for the coming months of how to adjust my training and hopefully come back stronger and ready to challenge that podium.
I want to give a massive shout out to the parents who volunteer tirelessly to make this comp and many like it run smoothly, who mop up our tears, tolerate our competition moodiness and still show up to cheer us on. To all the amazing young women in my category who make these competitions so fierce yet are also such great friends. To my gym, Urban Climb and my coaches who work me hard and mostly to Pinnacle Sports who support me in so many ways to get to this level. I’m so proud to wear your brand.