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40 holds to the top

Youth World Climbing Championships

40 holds to the top

How twelve of the world's best climbers prepare for the competitions in Innsbruck.

Text: Klaus Erler, Picture: Johannes Mair / Alpsolut

The Youth World Climbing Championships 2017 in Innsbruck was the biggest competition ever to have been held in climbing sport. A challenging exercise, not only for the functionaries and athletes, but for the route setters too. accompanied some of the climbing scene’s finest setters during their preparations.

When the young climbing stars start their competitions, a good portion of the work for others is already completed. The twelve-man route setter crew surrounding Jacky Godoffe (chief route setter, bouldering), Reini Fichtinger (lead) and Tomasz Oleksy (bouldering) was kept busy for nine days in the new climbing centre Innsbruck, developing a total of 120 bouldering and 30 lead climbing routes.  These route-building professionals are among the best route setters worldwide and were sent by the International Federation for Sport Climbing (IFSC) to work for the Youth and Junior Climbing World Championships in Innsbruck. Nine national route setters assisted them, including climbing pros Kilian Fischhuber and Jorg Verhoeven, who were able to implement some of their own ideas along the route plan.

Experience is imperative

Many years of experience is an absolute must here in Innsbruck, as a Youth and Junior World Climbing Championship is a much greater challenge for the route setters than adult competitions. Although the four competitions of qualification rounds, semi-final, final and combination final are technically a little less demanding than corresponding adult routes. The World Youth Championship applications are not only divided into men's and women's categories, but also into three different age categories: 14- to 15-year-olds, 16- to 17-year-olds and 18-19-year-olds.  Route setters therefore need a great deal of experience and a good grasp of abstract concepts. They may be aware of what the best climbers are capable of, but not the level of ability of all starters.  The routes must also be suitable for smaller climbers as well as for taller ones, for slower climbers as well as for fast ones. Chief route setter Jacky Godoffe:  "The competition must not only be suitable for the very best. The weaker teams must also be able to participate, at least at the beginning of the competition."

Seven hours a day, for nine days

The sixty-year-old Frenchman Godoffe is still considered to be an exceptional climbing talent and probably the most experienced route setter in the world. In his 25 years as a route setter, however, he has never faced a greater challenge as the 2017 Youth & Junior World Championships in sport climbing. Jacky Godoffe: "This event here is the biggest competition that climbing sport has ever seen. This applies to both the number of routes and the number of participants."

That is why twelve route setters had to work seven hours a day for nine days to build the routes, before the competitions could even take place. First, the route was designed according to the respective requirements. Then the route setters climbed onto one of four aerial work platforms. Equipped with oversized ear protection and hydraulic support, they hovered at heights of up to 17 metres, where, accompanied by loud rattling and the buzzing of electric drills, they fastened around 40 climbing grips of various shapes and colours per route. After the work was done, the climbing walls looked almost like an abstract sculpture. Afterwards the routes were climbed by the setters themselves - sometimes a whole day long.  This provided important information about the quality of the respective route. Every route that was not deemed to “flow”, present the desired level of difficulty or corresponding movement sequence, was fine-tuned. As a final step, the routes had to be mapped and photographed in order to replicate them identically in the competition.

After dismantling, different coloured markings and symbols remained on the wall. These markings facilitated quick reconstruction of the individual routes during competitions.  Developing a route takes three to four hours, the entire process of dismantling and constructing a lead route during the competition takes about the same amount of time. Reini Fichtinger, who is responsible for the lead routes, has 15 years of experience as a route setter. He explains how to recognize a good competition route: "Only the best will get to the top, the rest of the climbing field should fail in different places.” Even if the best climber falls shortly before the finish and the chasing field have to give up at various sections before, a route is still okay for Reini Fichtinger. "What mustn’t happen is that all six climbers reach the finish or all fail at the same obstacle."  

"What mustn’t happen is that all six climbers reach the finish or all fail at the same obstacle."
Reini Fichtinger, Lead Route Setter

How a World Championship day unfolds

The route-setting team still faces challenges during the competitions. In the evening after the competitions, old routes will be dismantled and new routes set up. Should the chosen route level prove to be too easy or too difficult, it will be adjusted. Too complicated sections can be made easier, less challenging sections can be given an extra bite. The main goal is to find routes that correspond with the gender and age of the various youth climbers, or as Jacky Godoffe puts it: "Every route poses a question that young climbers must answer as quickly as possible." With a lot of experience and a little luck, we have managed to balance our routes so that they are exciting and fair for all climbers.”

© 2017 Tirol Werbung