Ever had one of those moments that just hit you in the heart? Those moments that plant you to the spot, almost paralysed, by their power? That move you emotionally, often to tears? On my recent trip to Europe to do my first ever lead and speed world cups those moments weren't the ones I expected. There were some great moments in there - the present-ness in the deep breath I took before I stepped onto my first ever World Cup lead climb, the excitement of getting a personal best speed time, the pride of standing in my Australian Climbing Team uniform while holding the Aussie flag at the opening ceremony of the Chamonix World Cup, the disbelief in doing a training session alongside some of my climbing idols - but surprisingly, they weren't the ones that defined the trip for me.
I have competed in five bouldering World Cups - my specialist discipline - but now that I am training for the Olympic event, I need to be world class in all three. Which led me to earn a place on this year's lead and speed teams. Completely clueless as to where I might rank in the field, my intention for these competitions was simply to learn. I needed to know the style and the level of climbing, experience the environment and the mental aspects, and understand where my weaknesses are to be able to train effectively for the BIG goal. I certainly gained all of that; but I want to tell you about three 'other' moments that stand out for me about this trip.
1) Climbing greatness
I was watching the women's finals of the Villars Lead World Cup. Seven finalists had climbed, making their way ever higher on the route, each competitor giving their all and visibly pushing themselves to their limits. Then Janja Ganbret steps up. She cruises through the moves as if she is warming up. She rests where others fell. Mid-way up the route at a crux point, she campuses through a dynamic section and then does a one-arm lock-off to reach a hold where others struggled, many unsuccessfully. She tops the route in such style that it brings tears to my eyes - they overflow and roll down my cheeks. THAT is mastery of our sport. It was beautiful. Purportedly I am an elite climber, but that climb was in a league SO far above mine that my attempts on the qualifiers seem almost trivial in comparison. I was truly in the presence of greatness.
2) Gratitude for beauty
In Chamonix I was lucky to be able to be able to stay in an apartment that overlooked the river that runs through the main part of town. On the other side of the river, beyond the row of houses, shops, and restaurants, sits the side of the valley that leads up to the highly elevated Vallee Blanche and Mont Blanc itself. A small waterfall runs down the side of the mountain, through the luscious greenery. I could see this scene from my bed, hear the rushing of the glacial waters outside my window. The depth of my gratitude for being able to just 'be' in this special place, moved me to tears.
3) Celebration of our sport
Chamonix was one of the earliest venues for a climbing world cup, and they know how to do it right. Watching the finals of the Chamonix Lead World Cup along with 50,000 other people was incredible. The energy of the crowd, stretching back away from the wall as far as I could see in every direction, was electric and excited. I felt privileged to sit in the section reserved for athletes and their teams, for a front row view of the spectacular climbing performances. And once the finals were done, there was a 15 minute fireworks display, followed by a full public street dance party. I have never seen our little sport celebrated on such a huge and public level. The idea that so many people care about a climbing comp, makes me excited for what comes next after the Olympics introduces climbing to an even wider audience.
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