It’s April 2, 2011, I’m here at at Movement Climbing & Fitness in Boulder, Colorado to watch nine women and 12 men (age 17 and over) compete for the title of National Sport Champion. 450 hyped spectators have filled the gym’s three floors and are spurred on by electronic beats.
The SCS (Sport Climbing Series) Open* National Championships — with a purse of $6,000 — for the first time, started early tonight. These are many of best climbers in the nation, however many of the most recognized — Chris Sharma, Dave Graham, Joe Kinder Jonathan Siegrest — were unable to attend. This is the event qualifier for the IFSC lead World Cup coming up this October at Movement, here in Boulder. (*Open means no pre-qualifier is required.)
Tonight’s event is in onsight format and climbers get 40 seconds to preview their line before getting one shot at it — there is no time limit. Whoever climbs highest wins. Men climb the orange holds on the right side of the wall, which cuts down and left at a bolt three before going back up via steep crimps to an areté and then to the top. Women climb the blue holds on the left, with a dyno at bolt three, then steep crimps and big pulls on rails to the top.
Since there are more men then women competitors, three men climb in succession before the women begin, these are Ben Spannuth, Kevin Macartney, Shane Puccio. The first female climber is Michaela Kiersch.
Ben completes the down climb, takes a big pause, heads into the crimps and falls. Kevin climbs fast as he gets off the ground, slows down at the first bolt, makes it to bolt three with a few shakes and also succumbs to gravity. Shane, strong-woman Alex Puccio’s younger brother, climbs effortlessly past Kevin’s highpoint, excellerates through two more moves, throws into a series of crimps and misses the next hold. Michaela hesitates at the first clip and falls before she reaches bolt two.
Now two climbers are competing at once. Ben Hoberg and Tiffany Hensley. Ben, climbing with no shirt, gets inverted in order to negotiate the down climb — the crowd is wowed and murmers as he regains his composure at the bottom of the down climb and moves int on the next sequence. Just then Tiffany — who usually wears a costume at comps like a wig or tutu — sticks the dyno located before clip three and astounds the crowd. Ben still climbing strong, falls right before the next clip. Tiffany climbs higher and higher, pausing once to blow chalk off one of her hands towards the crowd, keeping strong and composed as she moves upward. Now, past bolt five, the announcer is yelling “Allez!, Allez!” (french for Go!) as the crowd goes wild. She falls before bolt six.
Next up is longtime competitor Mike Doyle, and National Champion Alex “AJ” Johnson. They reach mid-height at the same time and shake out simultaneously. AJ moves up, maintaining control as she reaches near the highpoint. Mike also reaches near the highpoint.
Delaney Miller from Texas is the next female competitor. The is followed by Alex Johnson, the male competitor who has stood on the podium at the ABS (American Bouldering Series) Nationals and is known for climbing with socks between his feet and shoes. Delaney falls at bolt two. Alex keeps moving, reaches near the highpoint and falls off a big sloper on the areté.
Multi-time winner and 5.14 climber Emily Harrington, and Ryan Sewell, from Austin Texas are next. Emily climbs slowly, controlled and performs a rest in an inverted figure four position at a big triangle feature on the wall at bolt three. She takes a big fall at bolt four and receives a huge round of applause. Ryan climbs up, clips and falls at bolt five.
Chelsea Rude, from Atlanta, Georgia, sticks the dyno at bolt three, — “c’mon! Chelsea!” yells the announcer — then falls at bolt four.
Looking around I notice the crowd has grown substantially larger.
Paige Claassen, climbing in La Sportivas, a blue top and black pants is long, slim climber. She pauses at clip five, then keeps going up, past the thin rails and reaches the next triangle feature. She might’ve just made a new highpoint.
Joshua Levin, known for throwing wicked dynos, speed climbing and a strong all-around climber pauses for a long period after the down climb section. He falls at bolt five.
Dana Riddle, from Texas known for her speed and sport climbing is very powerful and flexible. She falls onto bolt four.
Jon “The Machine” Cardwell, an all-around climber who established or repeated hard lines in three continents, climbs strong. He reaches the highpoint sloper, dangles his feet, fights and finally releases.
Next up is the last female competitor and National Champion Sasha DiGuilian, from Washington D.C., climbing in Mad Rocks. Sasha, 18, has already climbed up to 5.14c at the Red River Gorge. She sticks the highpoint with ease, reaches within a body-length of the top, dynos from her perch and sticks the top. The crowd goes wild!
The top three male competitors are next. Carlo Traversi, from California, who two years ago was the National Champion, is here to get it back. He climbs smooth, controlled and from a solid kneebar he stretches his forearms out before engaging in the down climb. He moves confidently past bolt five, then smoothly into the series of steep crimps. Next he vigorously shakes out. “He wants to finish this !” yells the announcer. He reaches a body length from the top before falling.
Next up is Boulder local Matty Hong, son of legendary climber Steve Hong, who’s fired the V14 Esperanza. He moves fast and wows the audience to silence. He climbs past bolt five, clips bolt six and the crowd re-animates with cheers of “Go Matty!” He falls crossing to the second to last hold.
The final competitor, visiting Norwegian Magnus Mitboe, has been standing on the podium since he was 14. He climbs without flinching. Smooth, strong and with momentum. He waves to the crowd as he completes the down climb and doesn’t even pause before heading up the next series of crimps. The pounding electric music builds. He’s cruising. He’s dynamic. As he nears the top his legs shake. He throws his body into the splits as he cops a rests around the areté. H falls right before reaching into one of the final holds.
For the male competitors, this was the closest comp regarding first and second place in SCS history.
Alex Johnson, who won fourth in the women’s division, stated “It was super-duper fun. Bouldering is more my element. Route climbing is scary — you only get one chance!”
*1st Magnus Midtboe (not a US Citizen)
1st Matty Hong — US Team
2nd Carlo Traversi — US Team
3rd Jon Cardwell — US Team
4th Alex Johnson
1st Sasha DiGuilian — US Team
2nd Paige Claassen — US Team
3rd Dana Riddle — US Team
4th Alex Johnson — US Team