The time had come for the 2009 European Youth Series finals in Kranj, Slovenia, and with more countries and competitors entering than ever before the pressure was on to prove that Team GB are up there with the best!
A 15-strong team was selected to fly the flag for Great Britain, and on Friday 20th November we converged on our second home (Stansted Airport) en-route to Ljubljana. The Scottish contingent, consisting of myself, Robert Mackenzie, Paul Williamson and Jonathan “Dulf” Field had a particularly early start to get to London. Early arrivers wasted money in the arcades and on over-priced food until, at last, everyone had made it to our usual Stansted rendez-vous (despite a certain Kitty Wallace missing a train or two!)
Finally we arrived at the hotel in Kranj and settled into our rooms before trying the corridor challenge (where one has to crawl along the floor as far as possible without setting the movement sensors off and causing the lights to come on) and going to the hotel restaurant for a very late dinner. Almost everyone ended up with a pasta and turkey dish, and Suzie did us proud with her two-course meal, retaining her title as the “Food Queen!” Ian, who had attended a technical meeting, told us our starting orders and which categories would climb first.
The next morning my alarm screeched at 6:15am. Not long afterwards everyone was in the breakfast room alongside the Austrian, German, Dutch and Swedish teams. Unfortunately some of the team (myself included) hadn't had much sleep due to the nightclub opposite the hotel. As much as I appreciate David Guetta and Akon, hearing “Sexy Chick” full blast at 3am is not conducive to good competition preparation! There was a fight for cereal and the last few croissants before we headed out into the cold to the climbing wall.
At the wall we made our mark on the seating area (using Union Jack flags to ward off any potential seat-stealers) while waiting for the demonstrations to start. The routes looked long and very powerful in places, and the wall was littered with volumes and various structures, which added to the steepness and technicality of the climbs. We met up with foreign friends and read the routes together, binoculars at the ready!
After the demos our first climbers for Team GB were Paul Williamson and Jonny Field, who both put in a fantastic effort on what looked like a very powerful route. Hannah Beresford, Charlotte Ellison, Charlotte Garden and Alice Waterhouse also did great on their routes in what was their first overseas EYS. Robert Mackenzie powered up his route, falling just short of the top and receiving much support from the rest of the team!
Next James Garden climbed smoothly through the technical lower section but came off after some powerful moves just below the headwall. Kitty Wallace showed her current form as she almost topped out on what was a very tough route for the Youth B girls, and Shauna Coxsey looked smooth as she neared the top section of the route. Suzie also looked calm and composed before falling after some tough moves.
Next Ed Hamer cruised through his route, using some funky heel hooks to get through the final roof section and falling just short of the chain. Ed Mowbray climbed well on a route that had very few top-outs, looking strong moving through a steep roof. This was the same route that myself and Michaela Tracy had to climb, and I came off trying to pull through the roof section on some nasty two-finger pockets. Michaela climbed smoothly up to a powerful move just below the steeper section.
After the first round of qualifiers there were mixed feelings in the team. Some knew they were out of the top 10 and had to step it up. However, we had about three hours to wait before the second qualifiers, so I went into town with Robert and Charlie E, where we met up with Hannah and Alice and passed the time taking photos of silly things like us dangling from statues, pretending to be Bill and Ben sitting in a giant flowerpot and posing as meerkats in front of a billboard advert involving meerkats. Back at the wall we took part in a hacky sack game with the Israeli team which resulted in some bruising as we got a bit carried away.
So, after hanging around watching, waiting and warming up, Team GB took to the wall for round two. The routes looked difficult yet inspiring, and the support from the team heightened as the atmosphere improved and the evening drew in. Everyone put in maximum effort on their second routes, in particular the Youth B girls Alice, Charlie E and Charlotte who were all very close to topping their routes, and Kitty who topped out smoothly.
In Youth A Shauna topped easily and Suzie and Hannah were just a few holds short of the chain. I fell in a roof section halfway up the wall and was disappointed with my performance; I felt tired and not my usual self. However, after nervously waiting for results it was fantastic to hear that Kitty and Shauna had both qualified for the finals, and Ed placed 11th, just out of the qualifying quota. Me and Robbie were both placed 14th and Luke 17th.
We were all ravenous after a gutsy day's climbing, so we opted for pizza and pasta then headed back to the hotel. It was an early night for the two finalists and a slightly later night for the rest of us. Charlie and I were tired after sleeping badly the night before. Luckily the music didn't go on as long or as loud as the previous night and, after a bit of a lie-in, we took part in the scrabble for breakfast. Michaela was content with her fruit salad but my minty green tea was like mouthwash!
We made it to the wall and waited for the Youth B finals to start. After watching the first three competitors fall in the same place we knew that Kitty would have to get past this “stopper” move to gain a good placing. Kitty came out looking calm and composed as ever and moved gently and fluidly through the lower vertical section. She rested before taking on the steeper section and arrived at the volumes with the nasty looking sloper, where the previous finalists had succumbed to the power of the move. We watched anxiously as she held the sloper and matched before attempting a powerful crossover, then she lowered back down onto the sloper to think about the move and compose herself.
“GO ON KITTY!”
She moved from the sloper up to the next hold and matched it rather than try the crossover, which had caused the others to fall. One hold more ... then up to the next ... then she came off to rapturous applause from Team GB! An excellent performance from Kitty! We then nervously watched the rest of her category (not wishing them to fall off lower of course, that would be bad sportsmanship!) The tension was building as she crept nearer and nearer to a podium place (guaranteed 6th, 5th....4th!) Unfortunately Kitty was surpassed by three girls and narrowly missed out on a podium place but we were all very proud of her!
Next up was Shauna in the Youth A category, on the same route as Youth B. She climbed with her usual grace up to the volume section with the “stopper” move, matched the sloper and moved up to the next hold and came off, which meant that she had achieved a fantastic 5th place! The team cheered – we were armed with Union jack paper chains and flags. However, we weren't as well prepared as the French team who had “tricolore” wigs, headbands, hats, flags, glasses and klaxons!
We stayed to watch the awards ceremony until we had to leave for the airport, but only after saying goodbye to our foreign friends! After landing at Stansted it was another four hour wait for the Scottish contingent, made swifter by playing in the arcade, wearing silly hats, eating spicy onion rings and going on Facebook ...
In all this was a great trip with two top 5 finishes and some members getting very close to making finals. Special mention must go to Alice, Hannah, Charlie E, Charlotte and Ed M for putting in a fine effort on their first big international trip abroad.
This was my first trip as “Team Captain” and I think the new team members realised that competing abroad is a fun experience as well as being a chance to do your best whilst representing your country. I'd like to thank Ian Dunn and Jane Newman for their support and input on the trip on behalf of the team members, and I am looking forward to a very exciting year ahead for Team GB with many changes happening to the team format and hopefully many good performances! Thanks also to Chunky Monki for supplying us with great team kit!
Bring on 2010, crush it Team GB!
Natalie is a bubbly seventeen year old from Glasgow who has steadily risen to be a competition climbing superstar. She was the British Indoor Climbing Champion in 2004/5/6, in 2005 and 6 she achieved 5th and 4th respectively in the World Championships, and she was the European Youth Series winner in 2006 and 7. This year she's the reigning Senior Female British Lead Climbing Champion.
Her best redpoint is F8a+ indoors.
As for climbing outdoors, Natalie's favourite destinations are Gorges du Loup, Fontainebleau and Kalymnos and her best onsight is F7c+.
As a member of the British Junior Climbing Team, Natalie is now sponsored by Chunky Monki.
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