Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Cliffhanger 2013 and the British Bouldering Championships

Cliffhanger Logo Master

Another year, another Cliffhanger. But this one was the biggest and best one yet! Last year's was billed much the same, but the unfortunate turn of weather meant that vast swathes of water turned Graves Park into a quagmire and the event was cancelled. Except, that is, for the BMC British Bouldering Championships, which took place unhindered under the huge Big Top Tent.

Last year, Shauna Coxsey and Dave Barrans took the respective crowns, and they were back to defend their thrones in 2013. This year, however, it wasn't the water they had to contend with, but the heat. Blimey was it HOT! Into the high twenties it was. Sweltering for the UK - I'm sure you Americans reading this will be thinking "twenties... haha... I don't climb in anything less than 25C". Well us Brits aren't used to this kind of heat, I tell you.

Anyway, the climbers certainly didn't seem too adversely effected, and neither did the general British public come to think of it. They attended Cliffhanger in their thousands - as always! Maybe it was just me. Wandering around the grounds of the fenced off Cliffhanger area, I dived into stalls to get out of the sun - if only temporally; a short respite before another quick dash to shade.

During our wanderings, we came across Safari Catering, which served up a number of unusual meats. We went for the game burger - which contained the flesh of a four legged beast you couldn't normally find in the supermarket... I'd name it but I forgot what it was! - and a delicious prawn and chickpea concoction. All very good. Then came the obligatory icecream. On a day that warm, if you go without icecream there is something very clearly wrong with you. Seek help.

Also going on all around the place was bike riding, fell running, parkour, slack lining, jumps, climbing, pull up competitions, and more shopping than you could shake a stick at. Discounts galore, all over the place, from signing up to climbing walls to joining charities and other organisations, to much, much more.

Bike display at Cliffhanger Sheffield - courtesy of Heason Events

The reason I went, however, is that I'm a climbing nerd. So I was there to witness the British Bouldering Championships, in the aforementioned Big Top, which was placed right next to the HUGE fairground rides. Usually I'm a big fan of the fair, but I was feeling rather worse for wear, having drank more than my fair share, during an evening when I just did not care! In other (non-cheesy-rhyming) words, I went to a wedding and consumed a little too much gin. Just looking at the rides made me feel queasy, so I bypassed them and dived straight under the canopy of the Big Top.

Here, we waited, bided our time with a little tennis. You know? There was a little game on in London somewhere - something about some Brit who beat some dude from somewhere else. No... I'm just pulling your tennis racket. Andy Murray had started his demolition of the world number 1 Novak Djokovic. They were showing the BBC footage on a large plasma screen as we entered - which later magically turned into a scoreboard for the competition.

The competition

When it was finally time to bring out the climbers for their observation period, we first had a short "auction" of CAC T-shirts, worn and signed by each of the athletes. All in good humour, and slightly embarrassing for those who couldn't sell their garments. The ladies shirts all sold pretty fast, as you could imagine, followed slowly by the odd gent's sweaty wrag. Humorous as that was, when the climbing finally started I was mighty relieved, as the temperature continued to sore in the tent as each new spectator joined the back of the crowd.

Courtesy of Heason Events

And damn was their a good crowd. Everyone seemed in high spirits, having had their warm up act with a little Wimbledon, cheering like I haven't heard from Brits at a climbing competition, which helped the climbers overcome the heat with adrenaline, compensating for the climatic conditions with copious doses of naturally produced stimulants.

The blow by blow analysis

Problem 1 for the men thwarted everyone except the excessively powerful Dave Barrans - who came out first. He just squeezed the juice out of each and every hold, jumping between them like they were jugs. He made it look easy and I thought to myself, "oh, this will be the warm up problem before the next three", only to be proven wrong when everyone else failed at various points. One nil Barrans. The women's problem was a more technical, balancing fair, which was too tricky for most. Probably the most impressive send - barring Shauna Coxsey's waltzy flash - was Mina Leslie-Wujastyk narrowly sticking the last crimp, with footslipping, tendon popping tenacity - she crimped, held and matched. Determination.

Alex Puccio on Problem 1 - courtesy of Heason Events

Problem 2 was the total opposite for the men, with an awkward high foot, opposing sidepulls, dyno from a slab type fair. Barrans, first out again, made it look hard and seemingly split his right finger tip before his time was done, having not got passed the first move. The rest of the field walked it - most in only one or two tries. The women's problem was a more interesting watch (at least, it was for me because it was nearer, and the men's problem went out of view for the final mantle). Half the female competitors couldn't get past the first move and the other half sent the problem. Leah Crane was the first to top, using the most incredible, flexible beta I have ever seen from a climber. She twisted in directions previously thought impossible - slight exaggeration, but only slight. She also took an impressive fall from the last dyno move, tumbling through the air sideways before crunching down on the mat hard. Second go send for Ms Crane. Alex Puccio used her considerable strength to destroy each and every hold, making it look easier than it was, even managing to take a hand off in the upper crux to chalk in an improbable situation. Shauna, typically, flashed the problem.

Problem 3 for the fellas looked ridiculous before anyone even pulled on. It wasn't to disappoint. From the start, the climbers were required to used two opposing, half circular volumes, a tibia and fibia length apart. For those anatomy students out there, you'll realise the setters were looking for kneebars. And kneebars is what they got. Lots and lots of kneebars. In fact, the climbers had to get one set of knee bars, turn the other way, somehow, and then kneebar from the other direction, before making the upwards moves. It looked hideous, and more than one bloodied thigh walked away in failure. Those that did make it through were defeated by a gigantic red sloping monstrosity of a volume just before the final hold. It was too warm to get any grip and no one topped. The women's 3rd problem looked straight forward and, really, it was. It saw three flashes, from Mina, Alex and Shauna, and that was that. Really, one of the most straightforward finals boulder problems I've seen. Not saying it was easy, of course, because it wasn't, but it was a straight up involving two slopers and a huge jug undercut. Simple.

Dave Barrans on Problem 4 - courtesy of Heason Events

And then it was to the final problem. Problem 4. The men's problem had looked hard before I saw anyone pull on - well, they didn't make it look any easier. But most of them did it. The drama came in that Barrans had sent second go and was clinging onto first place with a thin, slimy crimp of hope. He stood and watched as each new face came through the gap between the walls for their 4 minutes in the spotlight. Reach from a squat sloping volume into two opposing volumes before dynoing to a huge jug. Set yourself for a big span to a sloping pinch, put your heel where you hand is and rock out like Led Zeppelin to a two finger jug pocket. Then jump off and exude hot breath into the air with a scream of victory or sigh of relief. One by one, each climber did just that. Was Barrans to retain his crown?

The women's final problem was a roof affair. Again with the volumes, this time stalactite wannabes. Core strength a must, the climbers squeezed between the holds, using their whole bodies to traverse the horizontal. Those that got that far then had to contend with a sloping rail that led into two sloping volumes with what looked like no grip whatsoever. Those who got that far (and there were few) were thwarted. The one and only person to get through? You guessed it, Shauna Coxsey reached for the next crimp, latched and then wrapped her legs around the volumes and stuck her feet under the roof below. Here she sat, both hands off, much to the crowd's delight, before making a push for the last hold. Yet another flash. It's easy to figure out who won the women's event, if you've read the above.

Shauna Coxsey topping Problem 4 - courtesy of Heason Events

When it came to crowns, one had retained hers in emphatic fashion, flashing all four finals problems, when the other competitors had only climbed two a piece at most. She came, she climbed, she conquered. The women's British Bouldering Champion is, of course, Shauna Coxsey. The men's was a much closer match, as I mentioned, but Barrans narrowly retained his title on tries alone, with three other competitors matching his two sends.

And that, as they say, is that. Another year, another Cliffhanger. I can't wait for next year!!

The full results