“If there was one event that I have always wanted to win, then it's the Arco Rockmaster,” grinned Gaz over a plastic beaker of wet Italian beer. The night air was warm, and the cobbled town square was buzzing with relieved biceps, mostly gathered into sets of two, and attached to a foreign head at one end, and a beer at the other.
“This one really stands out. It was the second competition ever, and you only get to come if you're invited, so you've got to be climbing really well, and on top of that just be lucky too, I suppose. All these climbers here - ” he cast an indicative hand towards the sets of biceps “ - they're all really shit hot. Yeah, it's a great privilege to compete in a field like this, never mind win. In climbing terms, this is the Wimbledon of competitions.”
Earlier in the year I was channel-hopping on an early weekday evening. On BBC2 the awful summer we were having had put paid to the tennis coverage, and, hoping for a western or a war film, I switched over. Unfortunately, instead of guns blazing, it was indeed tennis. Not live, however, but a replay of the amazing head-to-head between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe in 1981.
This was a superb piece of entertainment, and showed what was best about sport. Here were two great tennis players put together on a court. But when it came down to it, it didn't matter who was the better player. What had to happen was that one player had to defeat the other player. McEnroe had to use his personality to beat Borg's personality. He did. It was great. And that head-to-head battle really made me enjoy watching something that essentially I had no interest in.
Which brings me to indoor climbing competitions.
From the outset, Nalle Hukkataival (henceforth to be known as 'The Fin') was amazing, his body seemingly one enormous muscle. He flashed the first three out of the four problems with ease, while others wibbled and wobbled. This left one problem. However, at the same time, wor Gaz had also been flashing the problems, and, with the final problem, was one of the three competitors who stood a chance of winning. These three lined up beneath the final problem.
Although not a Lancastrian myself, I felt a surge of excitement, the closest I have come to feeling national pride since Maradona put the ball in the back of the net in 1986.
A third competitor, Gabriele Moroni, seemed outclassed by the other two. It was basically Gaz against The Fin. One had to beat the other in front of the crowd. To perform. Already, climbers who had done V15s had been sent packing because they could not perform. This was the essence of the competition.
In the warm night air, all three threw themselves at the final problem. Gaz and The Fin did well, but both got to a sticking point trying to get a small hold on a hanging arête. Gaz would try to reach the hold from a crimp under the roof, while The Fin tried to get the arête itself and hold this with his left hand. Ultimately, however, neither got the problem. Cheers went up from the crowd for all. It was a draw.
It was announced that both climbers would have one more go at the problem. Whoever got the highest would win. Gaz went first. From his crimp under the roof, he changed sequence, and held the arête The Fin had used with his right hand. Trying to reach through with his left, he plopped off. Next, The Fin tried again. Getting to the same point, he once again failed to hold the arête.
“I knew he'd do that,” said Gaz. In the square, competitors were trying to climb under chairs or mantelshelf small ledges on the church. He grinned. “I knew he'd just try that sequence again. I got to the same hold as he did, but because I held it and was moving on, I had gotten higher. I didn't have a chance of doing the next move with my hands like that, but I knew that didn't matter, all I had to do was get higher. And it worked.”
At that a French girl returned to the table and set down four more plastic beakers of the wet beer, just as the church tower chimed ten o'clock.
SINT ROC BOULDERING CONTEST 2007 at the Arco Rockmaster
1) Gareth Parry (Gbr) n. 1973
2) Nalle Hukkataival (Fin) n. 1986
3) Gabriele Moroni (Ita) n. 1987
4) Lucas Preti (Ita) n. 1983
5) Daniel Woods (Usa) n. 1989
6) Tomasz Olesky (Pol) n.
7) Mykhaylo Shalagin (Ukr) n. 1982
8) Ludovic Laurance (Fra) n. 1973
Also see today's (10.09.07) news reports on the Arco Rock Legends awards and the full competion results from the Arco Rockmaster at UKClimbing.com News This link will provide you with all things Arco www.rockmaster.com
Niall Grimes is Guidebook Co-ordinator at the BMC, he is a man to praise for the world class guides the BMC is currently producing. A media celebrity, with no fear of either the limelight or an hilarious (but risque) joke in front of a packed audience of dignitaries; he defies all attempts at description.
Alex Messenger is the editor of the BMC's Summit magazine and the BMC's Website Manager. His often found stalking climbers with his camera....and very exceptional at it he is too. Below is a montage of some of Alex's photographs from this weekends Arco Rockmasters in Italy.