World Cup fever hits Mountain Games |

World Cup fever hits Mountain Games

Ian Cropp
Vail, CO Colorado
TMG Daniel Woods PU 6-6-08

VAIL ” For the past six years, Dustin Curtis has wanted to climb at the Teva Mountain Games. This year, there wasn’t an option: Curtis simply had to come to Vail.

“When I found out that the World Cup was here, I put myself in debt to get here,” said Curtis, who drove down from Canada with his teammates. “I’m so happy I did it. I’d do it again in a second.”

Friday, for the first time in almost two decades, competitors from across the world took part in a World Cup climbing event on American soil. In years past, the Mountain Games have hosted climbing events that drew top domestic competition, but were independent of international governing bodies. In April, the Mountain Games announced that the 2008 bouldering competition would be an International Federation of Sport Climbing-sanctioned World Cup; the event is the first bouldering World Cup to take place in America.

“It’s huge,” said Daniel Woods, a top American climber who has traveled to Europe for World Cup competitions, but rarely with the company of teammates or coaches. At Thursday’s qualifier at the base of Vail’s Golden Peak, however, there were more than 20 American climbers, along with coaches and plenty of USA Climbing staff.

“It’s kind of strange there’s never been a (bouldering) World Cup here before,” said Chris Sharma, a legendary American climber who has completed countless first ascents. “All the Europeans are here. It’s great we can all climb here together.”

Sharma, who lives in Spain and rarely competes in bouldering events, came back to the U.S. to be a part of this weekend’s historic competition.

Great Britain’s Gaz Parry wasn’t going to miss the event, either.

“As far as competition history, you want to be a part of it,” Parry said.

Curtis said last month’s Canadian Nationals were buzzing with talk of the Mountain Games.

“Everyone said they want to make the national team so they could go to Vail. And that’s it,” he said.

Along with the North American competitors ” 18 from Canada and three from Mexico ” who are happy to have an event close to home, the sport’s governing body is pleased to bring a World Cup to the U.S.

“The IFSC are really excited to be coming to America,” said Graeme Alderson, one of the IFSC officials overseeing this event. “The main motivation of the IFSC hierarchy right now is trying to attain full Olympic status. … We’re working to fill the criteria. Some of those criteria are, ‘Where are your events?’ If they are all in Europe, the International Olympic Committee says, ‘I’m not interested.’ They want to see a worldwide portfolio of events.”

And as some competitors admit, the event has to live up to its name.

“You have to make it international ” it’s the World Cup,” said Dutch climber Vera Zijlstra.

Along with the lower travel costs involved, the North Americans are excited to perform in front of a home crowd.

“It’s nice to share this opportunity with the fans,” Sharma said. “And it’s a chance for them to see World Cup climbers who wouldn’t come over here (otherwise).”

Thursday, close to 100 climbers moved up holds on the giant wall, attempting to solve “problems.” The men and women each had four problems, although very few were able to complete even one of the problems.

“It’s not good if nobody can get to the top of most climbs,” Woods said. “Hopefully for the semifinal round they can set it easy, so people can see more action go down.”

While the host nation provides the course setters, the chief setter must be from another nation, and an international climber test-runs the problems. In the qualifier, climbers had five minutes to solve each problem. After five minutes, competitors were given a break, while another climber was rotated in to solve a problem. While waiting for their next problem, the climbers sat with their backs to the wall, so they couldn’t see the problem until they start.

The top 20 men and women advanced to today’s semifinals, which start at 1 1 p.m.,, while the top six men and women advance to the finals, which start at 8 p.m. In the finals, the climbers are allowed to observe the problems for a limited amount of time before competing.

Most of the top-ranked climbers in the world were at Thursday’s qualifier, and not just for history’s sake. There are usually only seven World Cup bouldering events a year, and since you are only allowed to drop one of your low scores (or skip an event), climbers don’t want to miss any of the World Cups; some of the competitors are making their first trip to the United States

“I don’t think the Ukrainians and Russians are here, but apart from that, you’ve got the best in the world,” Alderson said.

Sunday, there will be a speed bouldering competition in Vail Village, with the finals at 1 p.m. Most climbers don’t normally compete in speed bouldering events, which are geared more toward spectators. There is also a citizen’s bouldering competition today from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Golden Peak.

The future of World Cup events at the Mountain Games are uncertain, as events are handed out on a yearly basis.

“They are very interested in having this as an annual event for the next five years,” Alderson said. “They need to make a few improvements, like put a cover on the wall, because if it rains, we’ve got problems. But we’ll write up a report and tell them that next time they need to do x, y and z.”

But the climbers don’t have their eyes set on next year just yet; they’re too busy soaking in the moment.

“It’s awesome,” Curtis said. “We’re so fortunate this happened.”

Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or

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