Climbers come for show, for dough
Vail CO, Colorado
VAIL ” Aside from a star-laden bib list, not much is typical when it comes to bouldering at the Teva Games.
And that’s the reason why the competitors head to Vail for a weekend of climbing.
“There’s a lot of money,” said Alex Puccio, who recently won the 2007 American Bouldering Series Nationals.
With $11,000 to divvy out for Saturday’s pro bouldering competition and $3,000 for Sunday’s speed bouldering competition, the purse alone is a great incentive.
“It’s the biggest climbing competition, as far as money,” said Nick Sherman, one of the top men’s climbers in the country.
Even with the large chunk of cash on the line, the event is structured in a more relaxed atmosphere. On Friday, the competitors got to practice on the giant, multi-faced wall set up in the Vail parking structure.
“You get the practice round the day before so you get to hang out with the people you’re competing against,” Sherman said. “In other competitions, you’re in an isolation room, and they take you one by one, and you really don’t get to talk to anyone. You climb, and that’s it.”
At competitions like the ABS nationals, the people designing the bouldering problems (set paths up the wall) don’t consult with the athletes. But at the Teva Games, the designers seek immediate feedback.
“They changed the problems a couple of times … to make them easier, then harder, then easier again,” Puccio said. “And they definitely asked us to get back on there right after they change it again.”
Even those who may not love bouldering on a set wall still come to the Teva Games.
“I definitely prefer climbing outdoors and with a rope,” said Emily Harrington, who among many top finishes has a silver from the 2005 World Championships and won the last Serre Chevalier competition. “I don’t even know if I’ll be in the money (here).
I’m just doing it to hang out with my friends ” a lot of these girls I haven’t seen because they live in different parts of the country.”
For Harrington, the trip from Boulder, where she lives, isn’t that far.
Another draw for the athletes is that it’s more than just a bouldering event.
“It’s involved with other sports. You get to hang out with other people from the other events, and you get more people spectating,” Sherman said.
After Saturday’s problem-solving session, the competitors will get a chance to take part in the unique speed bouldering event.
“I’ve never heard of anywhere else that has speed bouldering,” Puccio said. “Most of the girls don’t really practice for speed bouldering, they just come out here and threw themselves at it.”
In the speed event, the competitors start at the same time next to each other and navigate horizontally around half of the wall on a set course. After they are done, the climbers switch courses and the climber with the lower combined time moves on to the next round.
“It’s fun. Nobody wanted to do it last year, and we had fun. And we’re looking forward to it this year,” Sherman said. “We have a chance to win some money, too.”
The climbers understand that at a venue where spectators range from avid bouldering fans to people who have no idea about the sport, speed bouldering is a crowd-friendly event.
“I think it’s kind of fun for the people to see,” Harrington said.
One drawback for the climbers is that they are a lot more prone to tearing flaps of skin on their hands in the speed bouldering.
“There have only been two times when I’ve got flappers in my whole life,” Puccio said. “My first Teva Games and my second Teva Games.”
“Last year, I was out for a week after (speed) bouldering because I had flappers all over my hand,” Sherman said.
But the flappers aren’t too much of a problem for Sherman.
“We do the speed round after everything is done and just have fun,” Sherman said.
Harrington, however, won’t be competing in the speed event as she’s heading to Spain to climb next week and doesn’t want to risk injury.
One thing all the climbers will be looking forward to this year is cooler weather.
“Last year it was so hot, you couldn’t even stand on the mats,” Harrington said. “And the holds were really greasy (from sweat). I’m hoping it stays (cool) tomorrow. It will make a big difference.”
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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