Udo Neumann: Meiringen Analysis

Up to a certain a point, the challenges that wait at Bouldering World Cups are often quite similar, independently of how the routesetting looks in detail: In qualifications, the problems are easy, you can't make any mistakes. In semi-finals, the boulders are the hardest, everyone is fighting to top at least some problems. In finals, you better bring your circus hat, it's time for the tricksters and magicians: An eagerness to experiment and being fast are required.

The boulderers have to transform from someone who makes no mistakes, to someone who is not afraid to make them, from one round to the next! Only those who quickly adapt can be competitive in all rounds.

While the tricks in finals were not about patience, but rather about leaving your comfort zone resolutely (not heavy-handedly!), patience was a key competence in semi-finals. Time after time, you had to quickly adjust your body position, which requires some patience for most athletes. For boulderers, it is often very tempting to skip the high-precision adjustments and try to save everything with a big move that takes them past the difficulties. And bam, that's it, you fall into the routesetters' trap! With big, swinging moves you can't get the necessary stability inside the complex maze of holds, volumes and foot holds, and thus can't beneficially use the few available directions in which to pull or push on the holds.

In semi-finals, pulling directions and body positions had to be changed frequently, which required increased holding times, stabilisations and most importantly a patient mindset, which is no longer trained at all by more fun-oriented boulderers. To prepare for these challenges, practicing stand-alone techniques isn't helpful at all! Youth A Combined World Champion Sandra Lettner stood out in this context, when she skillfully pressed her left foot against a big hold during the third problem in semi-finals! These problems sometimes bring complicated and toilsome old-school rock climbs to mind, with the difference that they use modern dual-texture plastic holds.

Speaking of plastic holds! Exclusively using holds from two companies is at least questionable. Even though these holds are designed in a clever and selective way, they also "age" very quickly! That is true not only for the holds, but also for the footholds. Once someone has slipped off a foothold twice, the risk of slipping again increases dramatically. This also had a big influence on the result in Meiringen. It can only be hoped that a more level playing field will be made available in the future.

Necessarily cruel routesetting

In my last article I said that at the moment, few athletes have access to the necessarily cruel routesetting. Traditionally, the French have the best access, because Jacky Godoffe sets a new problem in Fontainebleau every day. The French finalists didn't hide this. Contrarily to climbing skills described above, that you can use on rock, these very fast trick moves can be practiced specifically. Once you understand the underlying rules, you can transfer what you learnt to similar situations. How Fanny Gibert easily flew up the slab jump in the women's third finals problems on her first try was extremely impressive!

Nathaniel Coleman would be an example for an athlete without access to the necessarily cruel routesetting. Coleman easily won the US Bouldering Nationals with five flashes of five simple problems. The boulders at this event in no way prepared for the cruelties set by the routesetting team in semi-finals in Meiringen. It's as if a fitness boxer found himself confronting Conor McGregor in an MMA cage.

Nathaniel hit the international scene in 2015. In order to prepare for the international comps, his then coach had made him train in Little Cottonwood Canyon, a traditional granite crag (0). On these granite boulders, Nathaniel developed the skills described above, that, for example, allowed him to make a very impressive slab ascent at a Bouldering World Cup in Toronto. This last bit of patience necessary to reach the best position is what he lacked to reach finals this time (1).

Not really new school (yet)

The routesetting team in Meiringen will also set the boulders at the World Championships in Innsbruck. That's why every aspirant for Innsbruck 2018 is well advised to get acquainted with the subjects discussed here.

After all that I have said about the relevance of traditional climbing skills for the result in Meiringen, it must also be noted, that even the best Boulderers at the moment have not completely arrived in the 21st century when it comes to modern climbing technique. Of course, the second men's problem in finals was spectacular, but at this level, it's almost standard procedure - Tomoa could have probably solved a sudoku while doing the jump!

The fact that on the slab problem, he and the others may have considered but definitely didn't try the obvious roundhouse-move, shows that the routesetters can still fool the boulderers quite easily. Considering the time pressure, the fast roundhouse-method was maybe written off a bit too quickly.

This will most certainly change throughout the season - bouldering is more interesting than ever!

(0) He knew, that Nathaniel couldn't sufficiently prepare for the World Cup on standard US gym problems. 

(1) If you now think that Tomoa Narasaki doesn't seem super patient either: Tomoa often finds the right body positions while visualising, or he finds them so quickly while bouldering that he doesn't even notice. 

(2) Comparing the US- and the Japanese bouldering Nationals is definitely recommended!   Japan  , USA 

All photos (c) H. Wilhelm


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