The Moment

A funny thing happened this weekend at SCS Nationals.  After years of being a pretty big downer on the whole concept of speed climbing, including this post in 2012, I was instantly converted into a fan by an incredible moment that took place during the men’s final.

It all started when I was hanging out midday on Saturday during the speed climbing rounds so I could have some idea what to talk about when we played highlights of speed climbing during that evening’s difficulty live broadcast.  Josh Levin, who won numerous national championships in speed climbing during his youth competition days, was nice enough to entertain my questions about what speed climbing was all about1 after which I stepped back to watch finals.

The format of finals is such that competitors are paired off against each other based on their qualifying time with the two “slowest” qualifying climbers facing each other head-to-head and so on through the top 8 qualifiers until you get to the two fastest qualifiers.  Each pair then climbs twice with their fastest time determining their final overall placement.

The women went first, and as the round progressed to the fastest qualifying competitors you could really see the difference as the faster qualifying competitors made their runs up the wall.  Turns out that when speed climbing is done well it is pretty cool to watch.

The men’s competition was more of the same until the final pairing which saw visiting Russian climber Stanislav Kokorin face off against John Brosler.  Kokorin is one of the fastest climbers in the world having won the overall Speed World Cup multiple times, while Brosler came into the event as the U.S. record holder.  Their first run ended as one might have expected with Kokorin posting the fastest time.  Compared to the competitors who had come before him his movement and agility seemed on a whole other level.  He was that fast.  The crowd actually became deflated at that point as it seemed impossible that Brosler could match the blazing speed of Kokorin.

The competitors then switched sides and this happened (Kokorin on the left, Brosler on the right):

Unfortunately the video of what happened has been removed from the interenet for unknown reasons…

What ensued was one of the most memorable thing I’ve seen in years of attending national competitions.  As soon as Brosler saw his record-breaking time of 3.95 his mind was pretty much blown, and as soon as the crowd saw Kokorin’s time of 4.00 our collective minds were pretty much blown.  The seemingly impossible had just happened right in front of our eyes:  Brosler had set a new U.S. record and beaten one of the best speed climbers in the world.

This is the moment when I realized that I’ve been wrong about speed climbing all these years, and that I had been missing the point about speed climbing all along.  Speed climbing is not some random event where climbers who aren’t “good enough” at “real climbing” run up a random route.  It’s a specific challenge that, when done at a high level, is incredibly entertaining to watch.

Is what happened this past weekend going to make me take up speed climbing?  No.  Is it going to make myself or others start speed climbing outdoors?  No.  Does it mean that difficulty comps don’t matter anymore?  No2.  Does it change anything for you if you don’t care?  No.  Does it mean that speed climbing competitions are actually pretty entertaining for athletes and spectators alike?  Yes.  Does competitive speed climbing have a real future?  I’d have to say yes.

2014 SCS Nationals – Sender One – Santa Ana, CA
Men’s Speed Final Results Women’s Speed Final Results
  1. John Brosler – 3.95
  2. Stanislav Kokorin – 4.00
  3. Ryan Strickland – 4.85

Full Men’s Results

  1. Megan Carr – 6.47
  2. Danielle Rogan – 6.58
  3. Jacquelyn Wu – 6.65

Full Women’s Results

  1.  The main takeaway was how the fact that the route used in competitions does not change allows climbers to consistently attempt to improve their time against a fixed challenge
  2.  At least I hope not

Posted In: SCS Nationals, Speed Climbing
Climbers: ,


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