Australian Nationals 2019
Often I write blogs to process; sometimes it’s just to recount what happened for those following my journey. This blog is a bit of both. Part of it is being written seven weeks after the fact (oh my gosh how has the time gone by so quickly!?!?!), and some of it was written raw and in the moment of the emotion.
SIDE, BUT IMPORTANT, NOTE: I understand that my struggles aren’t the struggles of BIPOC (Black/Indigenous/People Of Colour). I understand that my struggles aren’t those of someone from a disadvantaged, at-risk, or LGBTQ background. They are only my struggles. They may not be much when held against the kind of real struggle experienced by those communities; AND because they are my struggles they are real to me. I can’t (and shouldn’t) write about what I don’t know. I can only write about my own experience, and add the disclaimer that I come from white privilege, so please take my lens as simply that.
I don’t want this blog to be ridiculously long, but I do want to share some of the context around the lead-up to the 2019 Australian National Lead, Speed and Boulder Championships.
After World Champs, I had been debating whether or not I needed to attend Nationals – every international competition that I have attended representing Australia in the past ten years has been through “Special Consideration”. What this means is that I don’t attend the qualifying competition (usually because it’s in Australia and do you know how expensive Canada-Australia flights are?!), but instead submit my results from other competitions and a committee of the National Federation, Sport Climbing Australia (SCA), decides whether I should be allowed to attend (and I have been successful every time). This National event was the qualifying competition for the Oceania Continental Climbing Championships – the qualifying competition for the Olympic Games spot for our region. OCCC is a ‘Combined’, or all three discipline, format. I was fairly confident that based on my bouldering and speed results during the 2019 international season I would be accepted, but since I was not able to attend the Lead World Cups (my weakest discipline) this season due to work issues, I wasn’t sure that I would be accepted for the Combined event under Special Consideration. I thought it was likely, but would you risk two years of work towards the goal on a “likely”?
So I decided to go back to Australia for Nationals. Even though I have competed for Australia multiple times, I still have to qualify for the National event, through the State body. Since returning to Australia for a State-level event was not within my budget, I had to apply for Special Consideration to join the Queensland team. Since you cannot apply for Special Consideration until after the qualifying event has taken place, my spot at Nationals was not confirmed until a month before the event. Suffice to say, that month between confirmation and leaving for Australia was a logistically busy one.
In August while I was in Japan for World Championships, my Grandma passed away. When I arrived in Australia in November, we drove directly from my arrival at Brisbane airport to the Redcliffe waterfront and the scattering of my Grandma’s ashes. By coincidence, all of my siblings and all of my cousins were also in the country at the same time. The seven of us had not been together in the same place in at least 15 years, and I met one of my cousins’ six year old daughter for the first time. A bittersweet gathering for sure, but Grandma would have loved that she brought us all together.
The following day, I had lunch with my immediate family (and the family of my sister’s fiance). My ‘must-do’ of the day was to get a photo with my mum and dad, brother and sister. The last photo we had all together was at my farewell lunch, before I left on my around-the-world trip in February 2006.
Then I had a day at the beach (my #1 special request for my trip to Oz), and my mum and I flew to Sydney, settled in, and awaited the start of the comp.
The first day was probably the easiest – one round of competition, not pre-fatigued, in the discipline and format that I am most confident in. The boulders themselves were fairly easy, which doesn’t suit my style – in hard rounds, whether or not you do the hard moves and get the boulder at all is what matters; in easy rounds most of the field can do the moves, so flashing or minimising the number of attempts is more important. Since I am not very confident on high risk (complex movement/dynamic/coordinated) probems, I ‘learn’ in my attempts – but that burns attempts which affects score and ranking. So I made it to semis ranked equal 7th.
My big takeaway from Qualis was to be more confident on my first attempt on high risk problems. I realised that I had been trying 100% on my first attempt to ‘learn’ the move. So instead, I adopted the mindset that I COULD do the move first attempt, and that if I didn’t and fell off then learning something was the bonus. This served me well on one problem, although seeing a dynamic move where it was actually a static move on another problem had the opposite effect. I moved to finals in 5th.
BOULDER FINALS: (written the night of)
I’m writing this to process. And sharing so that maybe it will help someone else in the future.
I work my butt off in pursuit of my goal. I give everything I have, and sometimes too much at times, to being the best I can possibly be in all that I do and in who I am. So when things don’t work out, it hurts.
Today I was awarded a (flash) top on the third problem in the finals of the Australian National Boulder Championships, which was taken away on appeal. It was a quick match, sure, but controlled (I thought), and when I came down the boulder judges had awarded the top. I waited out in the competition zone for the remainder of the 4mins for the male competitor to finish, as is customary. Noone said a word. Then I went back to the isolation zone and the head judge tells me that the Jury President overruled the boulder judge, but (who knows why) they didn’t tell me during my round.
So with this information, that my seemingly awesome round which has me sitting in second place is now in question, I have to go do the 4th boulder. That alone is enough to throw your head game off. But I try hard and do well – and then I have to go try problem 3 again. And I am just too tired. I threw for the last hold but just didn’t have the necessary strength in my left lat to do it the static way I needed to. I appealed the ruling to make them look at the video, but they didn’t uphold the appeal. So instead of 2nd, I ended up in 5th.
In the big picture, this isn’t a big deal. I still make the Australian Boulder Team, it’s a good enough placing that if the other two disciplines go to plan I will likely be top 8 and qualify in combined for Continentals – which is what this comp is all about, and the only reason I am competing in it. But I am a competitor. I want to do my best in everything, and I want my hard work to be recognised and rewarded. In a circumstance like this where even the head judge acknowledged that I had been put at a disadvantage, that doesn’t feel like recognition or reward.
But being a competitor I also have to respect the process and the rules of the game. Due process was followed, and I have to be satisfied with that, otherwise (our) sport doesn’t exist. So that’s how I will let this go. There has been enough stress and drama today already, and I feel drained (this was my second appeal of the day). I have to regroup for the remaining two disciplines happening the next two days, and if I can’t move past it it will affect my performance. So time to sleep and hope the next couple of days are far less eventful.
December post-script: I have thought long and hard about whether or not to post the video of this problem – about the possible judgement for or against me, or the judges. And so in the spirit of respecting the judges’ decision, and in letting things go, I have decided not to post it. If you are very curious, DM me and I will send it to you.
The night before Lead Qualis, I thought I had processed the disappointment of my Boulder finals, but when I arrived at the gym, I realised that was not the case. I was on the verge of tears the whole morning through warm-up, and was putting on as much of a smile as I could whenever anyone asked how I was. I was trying to ‘fake it til I make it’, but I was failing. Then the mum of another competitor asked me how I was doing and I burst into tears. Yep, an experienced competitor of over 22 years still cries at comps. 😛 The mum hadn’t known anything about the happenings of the day before, so just listened, and when I was done, I was finally able to re-centre (thanks Yvette!).
My first route was nothing special (performance-wise for me, it was a great route by the setters), I did OK and was tied for 5th after that route. My second route however, was the highlight of my weekend. After the first move where I felt like I might come off, I pushed through 13 more moves – thinking I was going to come off on each and every one. This is a tribute also to the routesetters – had the moves been a tiny bit harder I (and others) would have come off earlier; had they been easier, we would have been able to go much further without having to fight for it.
My coach, Charlie, had said going into Q2, “Don’t hold back now.”, and it made me realise that my inner child had still been pouting about the day before – “If you won’t recognise me for trying hard and doing my best, then why would I bother?”. But that serves nobody. Nobody other than me loses if I don’t try my best. So I metaphorically hugged my inner child, and let her go, and my Lead Q2 was what resulted. I was tied for 3rd on the route, and for 4th after both qualis.
SPEED – ALL ROUNDS:
This was absolutely the most fun I had at Nationals. The quick, excited, communal format of the discipline (and the smaller number of competitors) means connecting in a high energy way with people that you wouldn’t necessarily in isolation or warm-up for any of the other disciplines. My first few runs were OK but not super fast. My semi-final run was sub-12 seconds so that was reassuring, and then my small final run (to decide 3rd and 4th) was… terrible. I got flustered by a last minute change in running orders, didn’t take the time to re-group myself, and then ended up doing the run racing against the other person on the wall, rather than doing the best possible run that I could do and not worrying about the other person. It was my slowest time of the day, and I made so many mistakes. Essentially I cracked under the pressure. Speed climbing is very much a sport that tests your ability to perform under pressure – and on this run I failed in that. Nevertheless it was really fun, and there were lots of laughs and smiles; which for me means I remember it fondly, rather than as a disappointment.
I don’t know that there is much to tell about this route. It was fun – I got my whole leg on a hold for a rest – and fell on a move very similar to the move I fell on in Q1. I was tied 7th going into finals.
This was an interesting route, made from green and gold holds (Aussie sporting colours), which started off with very insecure moves – uncomfortable climbing, to unnerve the climbers. I guess it worked for me – I was very pumped when I got to the rest under the roof, and rested a long time. (I finished my route 2/3rds up in 4m23s and the winner topped the route in 4m22s). I was able to de-pump pretty well, and was feeling good when I started out onto the roof section. Unfortunately I underestimated a hold, and didn’t keep my core tight enough to compensate, and I came off below where I feel I had the energy to get to. An anticlimactic way to finish Nationals (I had been hoping for another fight like Q2), but relief that it was all done. I finished lead in 8th.
This was the hardest competition I have ever done. Physically it was hard, but I had trained for that. Mentally it was tiring, but I have had a lot of practise (though maintaining focus for a full four days is beyond anything I had done before). I think I was unprepared for how emotionally draining it was… The ups and downs. The lack of time for processing between rounds because I had to think about nutrition, rest, recovery, logistics instead.
I made the Australian Continental Team ranked 4th (if I had placed 2nd in Boulder, I would have been ranked 3rd). Making the Continental Team was the main goal of this competition, along with evaluating where I am in the field, meeting my competitors, getting familiar with the venue where Continentals will be held. I achieved all these things. There were highlights, and lowlights, and although there were disappointing moments, it was not a disappointing comp overall. My body held up well, I enjoyed myself, and continued to learn and grow as a climber and a competitor.
And maybe most importantly, it took the pressure off me… Based on the results of the comp, which generally speaking I think are reflective of the field, I am probably not going to be the one taking that Oceania Continental spot at the Olympics. Now that is not to say that I am any less committed to doing my absolute best at that event in March – in fact, as likely my final international competition for Australia I want to go out with a bang! – but what it means is that I feel like I can now train the way I want to, without the pressure of the goal making me second-guess every choice I make.
One of the biggest areas where this is relevant is when I am feeling unwell. Not so unwell that I am bedridden, but unwell enough to question whether I need more recovery time, or whether training through it is OK. I feel like this is a lesson that I’ve encountered multiple times over the past two and a bit years, and each time I think I’ve learned it – until I encounter it again. The stress and anxiety that I feel when making the decision to go or miss a single training session is ridiculous. The internal second-guessing of my choices happens incessantly, with my head full of mainstream media phrases like “while you’re resting, your competitor is training”, “push through the pain and discomfort, and you will triumph”, and “mind over matter”. Intellectually I know that most of these phrases are meant to be motivational to those who are not self-motivated, but as they are the messages in society, they are still part of my existence. And the release of pressure has allowed me to let all of that go…
And with that, I will leave you for 2019! Wishing you all a very joyous and fulfilling holiday season, and an empowering and uplifting 2020!
Special mention to Oceania Mackenzie, who won all three disciplines convincingly, and who is the clear female favourite for the Olympic spot. She climbed brilliantly, after a very long international season, and really is the future of Competition Climbing in Australia. https://www.instagram.com/oceana_climbing/
All comp photos by Deanna Whyte Photography: https://www.deannawhyte.com.au