About a year ago this video of Rich Simpson’s “obsession” with the famous Wolfgang Güllich Frankenjura testpiece Action Directe (5.14d) made the rounds on the internet amassing an impressive 46K+ hits to date. The video chronicled Simpson’s impressive training regimen and showed him doing most, if not all, of the moves on Action Directe, a route which he was reported to have redpointed late in 2005. I say “reported” because in recent months there has been a growing question as to whether or not Simpson ever sent the route or achieved several other of his high-end sporting claims.
I first became aware of this story about a month ago when a reader sent me a link to this thread on the UK’s UKBouldering forum which noted that Simpson had been dropped by one of his climbing sponsors. The UKB thread (and apparently at least two other threads on UKClimbing) began to question not only Simpson’s claims in the climbing world but also his claims to have run both a sub 4 minute mile and a sub 2:30:00 marathon in addition to owning an undefeated amateur boxing record.
Forum accusations are one thing, but the story really reached its crescendo last week when UKC posted an editorial about the situation. They outlined the allegations against Simpson and noted that while he was apparently aware of the situation he did not want to offer even the most basic level of proof like who belayed him which could help corroborate some of his claims. Simpson apparently also “requested that we [UKC] do not contact him again.”
UKC also has statements from two of Simpson’s now former sponsors, Wild Country and Scarpa. Simpson resigned voluntarily from Scarpa when faced with questions and was summarily dropped by Wild Country when he refused to provide any substantiation for his claims. As a result of this UKC has taken the drastic step of removing any news briefs about Simpson from their archives with this caveat about their general reporting policy which I agree with strongly:
Our general policy is to have faith in reported climbs and climbers and to not seek ‘proof’ of ascents. However if world class performances have been claimed, especially from a fully sponsored and well knownathlete who is publishing these achievements on his sponsor’s websites, we would expect some cooperationfrom that athlete if basic details are requested.
Where does this leave us? It’s really quite impossible for anyone but Simpson himself to reveal the truth, and in the grand scheme of things the veracity of one climber’s claims is of little importance to you or I individually. Obviously everyone should strive to be honest about what they’ve climbed and “do what you say you’ve done” as Jamie Emerson likes to put it, but beyond that do climbers, especially sponsored ones, owe something to the community as a whole when it comes to “proving” they’ve climbed a given climb?
Simpson himself argues in interviews like this old one with sponsor MoonClimbing that crowded crags and competing in public make him “uneasy” and that he has “nothing to prove to any one” about his climbing, sentiments about climbing for oneself that I agree with in a general sense. However, I would argue that with a sponsorship relationship comes an added responsibility for a climber to be more forthcoming with details if asked. I don’t think it’s necessary for a climber to have uncut video footage for each of their ascents, but providing the most basic details about who belayed you or who was there to witness the ascent doesn’t seem like it’s asking a whole lot.
What do you think?