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In 2008, X1 Sports and the The Ordnance Survey Outdoors Show hosted an entirely new concept in climbing competitions at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham. The question was asked, “How do we make climbing comps more exciting for competitors and the general public alike?” Along with creative input from then wall supplier Entreprise, The Ford Skymasters concept (i.e. prolonged horizontal climbing from individually shaped features) was born. Last year Dave Barrans and Michaela Tracey secured the top spots in the competition.
The 2009 Skymasters wall is coming back new and improved and with a number of unique competition wall features, including spinning barrels and pivoting half moon features.
Unfortunately the recession seems to have hit even the most reliable of sponsors this year and so no Ford 4x4 will be found hanging from the rafters.
Instead, Berghuas have stepped in to support the event and ensured that British competition climbing gets another opportunity to evolve and allow many of its unknown talents a rare opportunity to shine.
The top three men from last year, Drew Haigh, Tony Musclebrook, and eventual winner, Dave Barrans, will all be competing in a new head to head format on two identical Utopia walls, set by chief route setter, Steve McClure and The Work's owner, Percy Bishton.
Steve McClure says, “This year should be even more exciting than last year with a rapid fire format and climbers really battling it out head to head. The audience will experience first hand the blood sweat and fears of the competitors as they speed up the routes. For the setters this year is a real challenge, to make two identical routes is difficult enough, but to ensure they are hard enough providing a real technical challenge to some of the best climbers in the world - without them being too hard to climb at speed - is a fine line. This will be the ultimate 'speedificulty' competition”.
Fourteen metres of the twenty three metre long wall will be on horizontal, moving (in parts) features that require extremely fast route reading skills, flexibility and bags of endurance, with little or no time to rest.
And it would seem that this new style of climbing - speed and difficulty - under the pressure of being watched by thousands of spectators, could throw up some surprise winners, not dissimilar to last years competition when favourites, Gaz Parry and Adrian Baxter found themselves falling before the required high point in the qualifiers.
Gaz Parry is back this year and has been speeding his training up in preparation for the new 'speedificulty' style. Gaz says, "The Skymasters this year will be the ultimate competition challenge. With not only the challenge of climbing upside down for 14m, we'll also be racing against a fellow competitor and against the clock. All in all it will be a fast, furious, exciting and spectacularly difficult weekend of climbing"
Another surprise was last year's female winner, fifteen-year old Michaela Tracey, who seemed to be so unfazed by the one hundred and twenty plus moves climb that she'd barely broken into a sweat upon arriving at the anchors. Due in part to good pacing upon the route and finding rests along the way.
Dave Barrans poised to negotiate the final blue box and reach
John/Anne Arran, Mar 2008
However, it may be that this year's format will see climbers with more speed and immediate route finding skills come out on top.
Dave Barrans put his win last year down to an approach that may not be entirely appropriate this time around; “My main tactic was to get to the rest in the tufas as quickly as possible and have a good rest there before pushing on quickly to the top, knowing that I can recover quickly in a hands-off rest position, thanks to my bouldering training.”
One thing that all the competitors can be certain of this year is that hands off rests, recovery shake outs and time to wipe sweat from their eyes will be almost as rare as car companies with spare money.
Competitors So Far:
Kitty Wallace, Audre Seguy, Jemma Powell, Beth Monks, Leah Crane, Ashleigh Naysmith, Naomi Buys, Diane Merrick, Michaela Tracey, Mina Leslie-Wujastyk, Hazel Findlay, Rebecca Hall, Charlie Kelly, Ellie Howard, Shauna Cowey, Rob Haigh, Drew Haigh, Gareth Parry, Robin Sutton, Mark Croxall, Dave Barrans, Adrian Baxter, Alan Cassidy, Adam Jeeworth, Nicolas Durand, Jordan Buys, Adam Watson, Peter Duffin, Bruce Marsh, Dan Bradley, Gav Symonds, Martin Watson, James Garden, Jonathan Partridge, Rob Lamey, Nick Moulden, Prajak Khunrat, Jonathan Stocking, Adrian Berry.
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Drew Haigh competing in the Skymasters 2008 final
The SkyMasters 2009 in association with Berghaus
Only at The Ordnance Survey Outdoors Show 2009
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The awesome 2009 SkyMasters climbing competition will be returning to The Ordnance Survey Outdoors Show at the NEC in Birmingham on Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 March 2009
Tim Emmett is ambassador for the event and he and Leo Holding will commentate on the competition. Steve McClure will again be route setting.
The SkyMasters took the UK climbing world by storm when it was launched in 2008 and competitors are now queuing up to climb in the 2009 event to join 2008 winners Michaela Tracey and Dave Barrans in the hall of fame.
Last year's event was nail biting stuff, with Steve McClure setting the routes perfectly to keep everyone on the edge of their seats, and with the winners only just making it to the finish line to sound the horn of a Ford Ranger hanging at the end of the route!
The 2009 competition will be even more exciting as climbers will race head-to-head on a parallel course, rather than over a timed route as in 2008.