Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Finals: ABS Nationals Boulder Colorado

I decided last minute to attend the ABS Nationals and was very glad I did. I picked up a media pass on Friday and nabbed a ticket for my wife (thanks to AIM Media), and we were at the venue off east Pearl at 7:45, 4-year old in tow. The USA climbing staff were super helpful setting me up with a pass at the last minute and giving good photo access throughout the venue.

I had followed the semi-finals earlier in the day on the web. There had been a concern expressed about a scoring system that had, in part, ensured that Daniel Woods would not be in the finals. Despite a stellar performance on the second semi-final problem, Woods failed to to gain and control the bonus hold on the third one. His frustration was evident, as was that of a number of competitors on that wall.

The night of finals, the first set of problems was on the left-most wall, which was split by a fairly large horizontal roof, a feature that in my view should be avoided in competitions. Roof features have a tendency to create bottlenecks, especially at the lip. The routesetters did a good job working around this but the lip area of both the men's and women's first problem stopped a number of competitors. After a number of good efforts, especially from Francesca Metcalf, Alex Puccio stomped all over the problem. Two favorites, Angie Payne and Alex Johnson struggled with this problem, especially Angie. Surprisingly no men topped out their first problem, that I recall, though Sean McColl was very close.

The second set of problems was on a much lower angle feature and the momentum of the evening lagged somewhat on these problems, especially on the women's which was very slabby, allowing protracted times up on the wall. Sasha DiGiulian did well on this wall but I sensed overall a lack of real engagement with this problem from both the climbers' and spectators' viewpoints. The men's problem was a bit more dynamic and possibly too easy as a number of competitors finished it.

The story picked up speed with the final problems. I had a great vantage point for photos, right under the wall at the edge of the mats. Here the best wall was saved for last, a mammoth curving swelling shape, by far the most appealing of the three. Both men's and women's problems were steep and powerful and the routesetters had done an excellent job of sorting out the field. The moves were long but not obviously reachy and the overall pace was sustained and powerful. For the women, both Francesca Metcalf and Alex Johnson made great progress but when Alex Puccio stood beneath the wall there was a certain sense that the problem was going down, right away. Alex took a risky approach by setting a right hand where most had gone left and then throwing a sequential dyno to two decent pinches. Sticking this, she charged to the top.

For the men, the finals problem presented very powerful moves to get to the lip of the first swell and then a series of throws out right. Alex Johnson in a very impressive display of audacity attempted to skip the last three moves with a long dyno to the finishing hold. He came close but didn't connect. Most of the other athletes were stymied by the traverse back right or the lower moves. There was a sense of waiting for the last climber to finally seal the deal, which is exactly what happened. Sean McColl, with no hesitation or error, almost literally ran up the problem and there was no doubt who was winning the comp for both men and women.

I didn't see any real problems with the event. Scott Mechler was MCing and overall I think he kept the pace going well. The crowd was smaller than I would have expected but I really think the publicity could have been more prominent locally. I talked briefly with Daniel Woods about his not making finals and he thought that it may have just been one of those comps where motivation wasn't high. He sounded psyched for the rest of the year though. While he was missed, I think the show went well regardless. In the women's field, as mentioned Alex J and Angie were not on their top game but Alex P and Francesca Metcalf gave really good performances.

I think the scoring system ought be rethought. A scoring system that seems to reward competitors for calling it quits halfway through a problem is not going to bring out the best from the athletes. Given the small number of holds, a point system that rewards real effort and close efforts up high on the problem should be workable. The bonus hold system appears to treat all efforts between the bonus hold and the top as the same and that doesn't seem right. We shall see.

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