rockmaster 2004

Rockmaster 2004

I am early, but it gives me a chance to sip lemon tea and take a stroll around town. I like Arco, it is clean, it is ordered and it is surrounded by just the best countryside. With very little to do until the afternoon I am just going to kick back and watch the final preparations for the show.

The route setters; Leonardo Di Marino and Donato Lella are putting the finishing touches to their creations. I have no doubt that they will push the competitors to the limit, whilst at the same time providing a spectacle for the crowd. Having seen them at work in Lecco I know something of the amount of work involved. The Russians are hanging around at the base of the speed wall, fooling around with the foot pad that registers the start of their sprint. Jacky Godoffe has just sat down under the shade of the overhang, and is munching a sandwich whilst the sound man is unloading some large speakers from his van. It is very tranquil and I am bronzing slowly in the sun.

I find the athletes chatting, slightly pensive, there is obviously a lot of tension. It's hot and everyone is sitting in the shade. Faithless plays in the background, no rock yet: it's not time for that.

High on the rocks above, the sun-drenched rocks, people climb. It seems improbable in this heat but there they are, climbing. The competitors look at them through their binoculars, they all have them for studying the routes they must climb. They seem happy to be distracted and I wonder if they would rather be up there.

rockmaster crowd

The crowd is arriving now. Carrying blankets, sleeping mats, sun-cream and hats they seek sun and shade, pausing only to applaud the competitors as they are brought forward to study the wall. They have just 5 minutes to work out the best way to climb it. The Rockmaster event features many disciplines, but the first is the on-sight difficulty event. Each competitor must climb a route without having practised it or having seen anyone else try it. But enough explanation, the women have already started and going strong. Having already reached 20m on this 30m overhanging wall I must admit they are making it look too easy, someone is bound to get to the top. Vidmar has slipped low down, I guess it's not quite a path after all. Jenny Lavarda steps out to loud applause, she is Italian, she will do well, but not well enough.

Angela Eiter; last years winner. She is up there now. Last year she took the event by storm, she won everything and at just 16 years of age. It puts her up there with the greats, the Hills, the Erbesfields and the Patissiers. She does not need to prove that last years victory wasn't a fluke, she is from a new generation. A particularly strange and one assumes incorrect series of movements have just taken her through the overhangs, her resistance is incredible. Pausing on the final headwall below the final hold you can see she is at the very limit, but she wants that hold so very bad. She lunges but her hand just brushes against it. What a fine effort, Levet is left in the shade, the only other competitor to climb past the roof.

The crowd is expecting much from the men, with 3 Italians in contention hopes are high and spirited. But, it's not to be. Gnerro and Brenna have both fallen, same place same time. At just 7 metres the absence of chalk signals the end of the route for now. The disappointment of the crowd is noticeable, have the route setters made an error? Is the route too difficult? No, these guys are pros and the next competitor Eugene Ovtchinikov climbs beyond. But now what's he doing?, he's off! He was going well until he forgot to clip, and now he's off!

waiting

At this point I should tell you about the commentators. One is excellent; the unstoppable Andrea Gennario Dennario, never short of a word or two, and he knows what he is talking about. The other, his sidekick and english translator is less impressive. She obviously knows little about climbing. Literally translating what Dennario is saying she just doesn't make sense. She is like a rather bad parrot.

Athletes come and athletes fall, but the tendency is that the chalky marks are getting higher. Now Chabot, Chabot who this year has not had things all his own way. Mr smooth climbs his way ahead of the field, he has been here many times before. A top out looks assured as he shows no signs of weakness. It's almost as if he expects to win and who could argue. A gust of wind catches him as he moves up under the final headwall and he is hanging in space. Perhaps he knew he had done enough. Victory goes to Chabot, the attempt of Mrazek ending as his trousers got stuck in a karabiner.

The night is clear and filled with stars. Attention has turned from controlled burning to speed. Dennario is bigging up Tomaz Olesky for a new record, he set it last year and he is the man to beat. The Russians are also strong and there are a lot of them. But superior numbers are no match for fleet footedness as Soubbotine trails behind Olesky in first, fast, but no new record. Whilst I reflect on the strangeness of the speed event I realise that the music is just so disappointing. It's loud, there is no disputing that but it could do so much more if it was orchestrated.

It is 10pm and the crowd migrates to the start of the womens bouldering final. I was here first, and I have a front row view. The blocs are set once again by Jacky Godoffe, they look both improbable and impressive. A slab stands like a monolith, it wouldn't look out of place in Kubricks Space Odyssey. A hanging wall is decorated with symmetrically arranged holds, and the two overhangs they are just plain overhanging. Perhaps it is just all too much for Olga Bibik who has just been eliminated from the first round. She is one of the strongest competitors in this discipline but to be honest tonight she just didn't get it. She is still sat there now silently, looking up at the holds with a mixture of anger and confusion.

The rest of the girls seem in form this evening, is it possible Jacky has under estimated the fairer sex?

womens bouldering

Possible yes, Melanie Son looks rightly chuffed with a perfect score, four attempts, four tops, snatching victory from a beaming Anna Stöhr. From behind me the screams of a maniac break the post-comp analysis, T-shirts fill the air as the local radio station turns on its disco machine. They seem enthusiastic but perhaps too enthusiastic. It is late, and after a day under the sun it is too much to face. I'm going now, leaving the arena to set up camp amongst the boulders. It's a nice spot, I love sleeping outdoors. That disco is loud.

The morning is clear, warm and I am immediately at the foot of a boulder, how perfect is that? I bag a couple of routes before breakfast, it stretches out my limbs. I am a bit smelly, that's the problem with bivouacs.

Craning my neck back I check out the route for the mens worked difficulty competition. Graded 8C+ it will surely be a stiff test. The competitors have attempted the route once already, this is their second and final attempt. The height from this and yesterdays route will be combined to give a total height. The crowd is already excited from some early and impressive falls, they just love that sort of thing. Bindhammer however didn't want any of that and has taken the initiative, climbing through the technical roof far exceeding all other efforts. Now Sylvian Millet is at it. He should have been off by now, he looks like he is going to fall at any moment but he is getting higher. The crowd love it, it's like rooting for the underdog. Oh the uncertainty of it all. But in reality there are just two guys who are going to count; Chabot and Mrazek. Chabot in contrast to yesterday looks tired, his movements are laboured and I am not surprised to see him fall way below the line drawn by Bindhammer. Mrazek looks more the champion, he is fired up and explodes on to the route. There is no one stronger, he's going to pull the god damn wall down. Unfortunately for him the gods must have been taking a coffee break. An invisible hand reaches out and plucks him from the wall, his efforts ending a few centimetres below Chabot, perhaps sat with a voodoo doll in hand.

The women also play this game albeit on a different route. A roof at mid height is stopping all, all but the incredible Eiter who just won't let go. How does she hold on for so long, just where is she resting? It is hard to appreciate the difficulty, she seems impossibly slow. Whilst I am sitting here looking at the sky and trying to work it out she continues on her vertical pilgrimage. Some clouds drift past, it is quite breathtaking. She has turned the final overhang, can she really do it? Yes, yes she can. The crowd is euphoric, hundreds of sweaty palms are brought together in celebration. We wanted to see a top and now we have one.

jacky

Attention turns once more to Jackys boulders. He loves it and the crowd love what he has done. The atheletes could be seen earlier, working the routes. It was very interesting to watch because these are desperate routes. It is high tension and narrow margins that separate success from failure; this is bouldering and there is no mercy for the Italians knocked out in the very first round. Matthias Müller is really hyped up, he takes the prize for the biggest 'I can't believe it, I've got the top hold' expression, he really looked like the cat who got the cream. But to back track slightly, I was saying that the atheletes have had a chance to practice these problems, they have had the opportunity to watch each other, try different things and help each other. In the competition proper they each attempt to climb the first problem, he who does least well is eliminated, and we move onto the next problem. But hold on, the Kubrick monolith is creating some amusing moments. The second hold is proving illusive, one by one each competitor slides down to the first to try again. Another two bite the dust. The final problems are impressive exercises in strength, no one can do them. Rakhmetov laughs at the futility of it all, Jacky has raised the game again.

There is no time for the Italians to lament, it's back over to the main wall for the duel: two climbers climbing side by side on identical routes. Unlike the speed competition this is not all about speed, the routes are difficult and require care. This leads to an interesting gamble between climbing fast to reach the top first, or climbing slower and hoping your competitor will fall. First the women, and the difference between Eiter and Eyer is easier to see in their climbing than in their names. Eiter scurries like a little mouse, making twice the number of moves needed by Eyer who is smooth and deliberate; but it is Eiter who goes through to the final. Eiter and Saurwein have pulled off an Austrian clean sweep, both are in the final, both are fast but it is the turn of Eiter to fumble a clip leaving the podium vacant for Saurwein.

the rockmaster structure

Alexander Chabot not normally know for taking risks took one to qualify for the mens final. He's up against big Tomaz Mrazek, the strongest from the heats. There they go and once again Chabot is in trouble. He checks the progress of Mrazek, seems indecisive and jumps again. The race is still on but Mrazek still looks the man to beat. It's neck and neck, first Chabot then Mrazek. Chabot steals the lead passing the roof in one very sweet move, but the height of Mrazek comes to his rescue and baam! they clip together. No one knows who has won, the crowd call for a tie, the judges say they want to review the video, the crowd demands a tie. It's inseparable, the spirit, the competition and the passion of the crowd.

And finally, as the sun sets over the Rockmaster arena for another year our translator is catching on. Someone has told her that the 'trackers' are in fact 'route setters'. We are making grand progress.