Photo: Dane Cronin

This past weekend I competed in USA Climbing’s Sport Climbing Series Open National Championships.  I’ve competed in the event for the last four or so years and always have a good time.  In 2009, to my surprise, I also managed to win the event.  Bouldering has always been my favorite style of climbing, but I do like to to tie into a rope now and then.  Most years, I try to squeeze in at least a few rope climbing trips to either the Red River Gorge, Rifle, or other local areas.  These trips keep my base level of endurance at a decently high level throughout the year and it’s always nice to switch up the style of climbing.  This past year, I barely ever tied into a rope.  In fact, maybe never.  Needless to say my endurance felt like it had really gone down hill and I was extremely skeptical about having a decent performance at this years Nationals.  But the comp was in Boulder, so I figured why not make the best of it.  USA Climbing had also promised a stipend to attend the World Championships in Italy this summer to the highest ranking American male and female  competitors.  Having always wanted to compete in one of the World Championships, my goal for the competition was set.  2 weeks ago I started throwing some tread wall workouts into my normal bouldering sessions at The Spot.  I visited Movement once, and the BRC a few days before the competition.  Hardly a lot of preparation, but I did what I could.  Confidence in my fitness still wasn’t super high going into the competition, but it was certainly improved.


Myself on Qualifier #2 (Photo: Josh Levin)

The format was 2 routes back to back, 7 minutes per route, with a 1 minute transition in between.  Points were given per controlled hold as you progressed on the route and partial points were given for grabbing usable surface of a hold and movement to a hold.  I felt fairly strong and pumped out moving to the last hold on Qualifier #1.  I generally climb routes very quickly in comparison to others.  I get into a flow and go with it, unless I find a nice rest.  There weren’t really any good rests on Qualifier #1 and I finished the route with over 3 minutes to spare out of my 7.  I used this time, the 1 minute transition, and almost 4 minutes of my 7 for Qualifier #2 to recover.  There was no way I was going to be able to hang on the wall for more than 3 minutes, so waiting out some time seemed like a decent strategy.  Qualifier #2 went well and I hit usable surface on the first hold of the top panel of the wall, before taking the whip.  My performance landed me in 3rd Place going into finals behind Matty Hong in 2nd, and Magnus Midtboe in 1st.  Matty had grabbed the last hold on Q1 and fell at the same spot as I had on Q2.  Magnus topped Q1, and established the high point for the day on Q2.  I was psyched on my result, and was also happy to know that I wasn’t too far behind the front runners in terms of fitness.


The jug rest on the Final route(Photo: Adam Markert)

Felt much better in isolation than the day before.  Confidence was higher than normal.  Finals consisted of 1 route, 1 try, unlimited time, but you had 40 seconds to get on the wall.  We were also given a group preview of the route before the comp began.  Preview went well, the route seemed fairly straightforward and looked fun.  Soon enough I was working my way through the moves, with the spotlight from below highlighting my actions.  The climb for me was separated into 3 distinct sections.  The bottom to the 4th bolt, then a tricky middle section/down climb past a giant volume leading to a big jug.  Then straightforward climbing on progressively worse edges to a final boulder problem.  I climbed smoothly through the bottom and past the tricky middle section.  I took a bit of time to recover at the giant jug before climbing as quickly and efficiently as I could towards the top.  I clipped the 6th and final bolt and navigated the last volume.  The first right hand on the volume wasn’t too good, so I opted for the jib on the top before pouncing out left to a pinch.  Reaching total failure, I fell while touching the usable surface of the next hold after the pinch.  2nd hold from the top!  Not so bad, I thought.  I was lowered and the judges told me what score I was given.  The judges didn’t see me hit usable surface on the last hold, which I knew i hit, so I immediately requested an appeal.  I sat down in the crowd and watched Matty and Magnus take their burns.  Matty fell in the exact same place as me, however, he had his hand on the lower part of the volume.  Magnus also fell on the exact same move as I fell, but didn’t get usable surface of the next hold.  At that moment I knew it was a good thing that I had filed for an appeal, yet I was still very unsure about what the outcome of the comp was going to be.


After the judges reviewed the video, which confirmed my recollection of where I got on the route, they also told me that I was the only climber to grab the high hold on the volume which gave me an extra point on everyone.  Had I not appealed the initial situation, this fine detail would have surely been missed.  Regardless, high point on the finals route meant that I had won, right?  Not the case.  Final results announced me in 3rd Place behind Matty (2nd) and Magnus (1st).  After stepping off the podium, I immediately began questioning the odd results.  Was I missing something?  I filed another appeal with USA Climbing and asked them to look into the situation.  They said that the results were final, but they would check the following day.

I woke up the next morning and immediately went to work researching the rules and regulations described in USA Climbing’s Rule Book and comparing them to the way the comp had been run the night before.

The Issues I Found:

1. The System:  For this comp, USA Climbing decided to use a weighted scoring system to come up with the final results.  In all previous Open SCS National competitions, the final ranking was based purely on placement on the final route.  This is the rule in the IFSC Rule Book and in an effort to follow their lead, USA Climbing comps have been run the same.  In the past, weighted scoring was only used in determining the USA National Team.  This was the case, at least due to my understanding, of the desire to have more consistent (in all rounds) competitors as members of the Team.  This year was different.  85% of your final route score and 15% of your qualifying score was to be used in both the final results and team placement.  This is why I had ended up in 3rd as opposed to 1st Place with the old scoring.  Mention of this new scoring system is hardly present in the current USA Climbing Rule Book , particularly in regards to Open SCS Nationals.  I was unaware of these changes as were many of my fellow competitors.  I completely disagree with this new system and most certainly believe it needs to be changed.  I also believe that the Rule Book should be more clear about rules such as these, particularly when they go into effect, because they can have an extreme effect on the end results.

2. The Actual Scoring/Judging: While considering the obvious faults with the system, I received a text from a friend, pointing out another mistake that had occurred at the event effecting the end results.  Matty Hong’s score from Qualifier #2 had been incorrectly recorded into the results spreadsheet.  This mistake was brought up during the final round of the comp, but was not addressed, and was presumed to not have any effect on the final results.  This wasn’t the case.  Matty’s score for Q2 had been recorded as higher than both Magnus and myself.  This scoring was deemed false after confirming with both Matty and the judge for the route.  I placed the actual results back into the weighted scoring system, and it put me in 2nd Place.  This type of mistake was something that I wasn’t willing to stand for, particularly when a paid trip to the World Championships was on the line.  I paid a competition entrance fee to be scored accurately and fairly in comparison to the rest of the field, and in this regard, I had gotten ripped off.  I notified USA Climbing once again, and waited to hear back.

The End Result:

Today, USA Climbing contacted me and offered a formal apology in regards to the situation.  I was offered the stipend for the WC in Italy, 2nd Place prize money, and the National Champion title.  I was told that though the results couldn’t be fixed, a public statement would be made.  Nothing has been released yet, but I feel like certain things need to be said to make the situation clear to the public.  I believe that the results NEED to be fixed to properly represent the effort given by each of the climbers in the comp.  We’ll see what the final outcome looks like, and whether or not it’s handled appropriately.

Hopefully this sheds some light on the situation.  Any questions or comments, shoot them my way.  I don’t mean to complain, but I do believe organizations such as USA Climbing need to be held accountable for their actions.  Overall, I had a great time at the comp.  The route setting, thanks to head setter Chris Danielson, was phenomenal.  I’m feel lucky to be able to compete with such talented and amazing people as Magnus Mitboe and Matty Hong, as well as the rest of the competitors involved.  The event was otherwise well organized and Movement did a great job hosting.  Looks like it’s back to training for the next big thing…

Oh, and here are the highlight reels from the comp: