The thing about speed climbing is that the fastest competitors do not appear to be climbing at all.
Instead of reaching and straining as they hoisted themselves within reach of the timing pad at the top of the 10-meter rock wall, the top youth speed climbers at the USA Climbing Divisional Championships at the Bend Rock Gym sprung gracefully from one hold to the next as if gravity did not apply to them.
“For rock climbing, the real essence is that it’s a movement sport,” explained Mike Rougeux, the Bend Endurance Academy climbing program director. “The newer and less experienced climbers, they may be really strong physically, but they don’t understand the actual movement of how their body needs to move on the wall. The more experienced climbers, when you watch them climb they are typically the ones who look really graceful and fluid and controlled.”
Fluid, controlled — and fast. Sidney Trinidad, an Arlington, Washington, resident who finished second in the 14-15 age group at the Youth World Championships last September, scaled up the wall and stopped the timer in just 6.52 seconds at the divisional speed climbing finals Sunday afternoon. John Goto, who trains with Trinidad at Vertical World in Seattle, posted the fasted time of the afternoon — 5.90 seconds — to win the male junior category.
The divisional championships drew 250 climbers and 25 teams from across the Northwest, with competitors ranging in age from 7 to 19.
The top seven competitors from each of the 10 age groups qualified for the youth national championships, which will be contested in Kennesaw, Georgia, July 9-12. Forrest Franklin and Kyle Anderson were the only Bend Endurance Academy members to advance to nationals after both finished sixth in their age group in the speed finals.
Vertical World, which had by far the most team members with 47, won the team title with 1,770 points after two days of speed and sport climbing. (BEA, which finished seventh with 432 points, had just eight climbers qualify for the divisional championship.)
Many of the climbers agreed that their sport is as much a mental challenge as a physical one — a challenge made all the more complicated by large crowds, a beeping time system and pressure of a spot at the national championship on the line.
“When I’m just here training, there’s more of an open atmosphere, versus when I’m in competition it’s more focused,” explained 16-year-old Lukas Strauss-Wise, of Bend, who noted that he finds staying focused the most difficult aspect of rock climbing.
The eight BEA climbers who regularly practice at Bend Rock Gym made up a small fraction of the weekend’s competitors, but all of the kids appeared to be perfectly familiar with the 10-meter face they were climbing. That would be because each of them has one just like it at their home gym.
“These holds and the route are universal. It’s the same exact holds in the same pattern at all the competitions for kids these ages,” Rougeux said. “It’s a regulated pattern — they practice it, they train on it. Kind of like an obstacle course, you try to get better and better and faster and faster.”
Of course, the repetition is not for everyone. Caroline Brekkam, a 16-year-old from Seattle who climbs at Vertical World, said she prefers sport climbing, in which each hold is assigned a point value and climbers have a set period of time, usually six minutes, to climb as high on the set route as possible, accumulating points as they go.
“It’s more pure climbing, in my opinion. Speed climbing is just vertical track,” Brekkam said, while admitting her view might by biased by the fact that she tends to perform better in sport climbing.
Like Strauss-Wise, Brekkam said she got hooked on climbing the traditional way: by a birthday party at the local climbing gym.
“I moved from Sweden about six months before I started climbing. I just liked to get to know people, and someone invited me to a birthday party at the gym I climb at now,” Brekkam recounted. “I don’t know why, but it stuck. So I went to little kids classes, and then I started on the team.”
Brekkam said she prefers the laid-back vibe of outdoor climbing, but her climbing gym feels like home.
“The strategic and problem-solving aspect of doing a climb like this, it makes me feel smart and challenged at the same time,” Brekkam said. “It’s just awesome.”
—Reporter: 541-383-0305, email@example.com