Following a one-year gap, the British Bouldering Championships returned to Devonshire Green last weekend. This long-awaited event after an empty calendar attracted over 100 competitors and a sizeable - but distanced - crowd ahead of the weekend's main sporting event.
All competitors took two lateral flow tests in the week ahead of qualifiers, and a final test pre semi-finals and finals on Saturday evening. Masks were mandatory apart from when climbing, and capacity in the warm-up area was restricted.
In the women's event, reigning 2019 champion Holly Toothill looked on form following her semi-final performance in the Salt Lake City World Cup, but Tara Hayes looked dominant in both the qualification and semi-final rounds, closely followed by Emily Phillips, who was competing in her first senior BBC event (despite having made multiple World Cup semi-finals), Gwyneth Uttley and regular finalist Jen Wood. Young up-and-coming Welsh talent Gwen Morgan completed the finals line-up.
W1 involved technical traversing up to a heinous finisihing match, which none of the women completed, resulting in some scary falls from a great height. With all to play for on W2, Emily Phillips had a eureka moment and dodged the (red herring?) double clutch using a fancy starfish manouevre involving a toe-hook, before topping and giving the crowd an enthusiastic celebration. Tara Hayes equalled her performance after a few more attempts, while no one else managed a Top. W3 was a burly boulder with an inverted start and a droppable last move.
A flash from Emily Phillips put her in an incredibly strong position, while Holly Toothill dropped the last move on the flash. With the win in her hands if she could top W4, Emily did what she had to do and swiftly dispatched the problem in her impressive, gutsy style, finishing with a kneebar to match the last hold. Holly Toothill did the same after shifting her legs in different ways to fit the kneebar to finish in 2nd place. Tara Hayes completed the podium, marking a successful return from injury.
The men's event was hotly contested and involved a lot more tops, making it a 'flash' round. Reigning champion Nathan Phillips faced competition from Billy Ridal, Matt Cousins and young gun Max Milne — fresh from his first World Cup final appearance in Salt Lake City. M1 was an unsettling dual-texture affair, which all men topped. M2 involved some squeezing between yellow volumes and a difficult coordination move that nobody could catch. The competition was still relatively open by the time it came to M3, and four of six men found a top on the similarly dynamic boulder.
It all came down to M4, a problem made up of red volumes involving a stab and jump into a large undercut and a technical finish on sloping volumes. Billy Ridal piled on the pressure by flashing it, meaning that Max Milne had to flash to win. Reigning champion Nathan Phillips took himself out of the running by requiring multiple attempts to top. As Max confidently stepped up to the wall, all eyes were on him as he hopped and caught the jump first go, before easily finishing the problem to take the title. He turned around to face the crowd with his signature ear-cup celebration to take his first senior British title. As his Instagram handle 'maxthefuture' suggests, watch out for big things in future events from this young man.
Two new champions, two bright futures for British bouldering. Here's hoping more events can happen safely at some point as the pandemic rolls on.
1. Max Milne
2. Billy Ridal
3. Nathan Phillips
4. Matt Cousins
5. Nathan Whaley
6. Ben Preston
1. Emily Phillips
2. Holly Toothill
3. Tara Hayes
4. Jen Wood
5. Gwen Morgan
6. Gwyneth Uttley