Head Setter Blues

So Nationals is done, maybe not quite dusted but definitely done.

It took 5 route setters a total of a little over 250 hours to plan, set, test and tweak a handful of routes for the Australian lead Nationals. National head route setter Carlie LeBreton, Aspiring National Head route setter Will (Me), National setter Scotty Pritchard, State head route setter Tommy Kraus and State route setter Kurt Doherty. In my opinion, the setting talent was high along with the quality of the routes.

The format of nationals was relatively simple, with 2 flash format qualifiers, followed by an onsight final. The national speed championship preceded the lead event, with the first pairing of speed routes with official holds ever in Australia.

From my point of view as the head setter,  the setting went relatively well. We had 9 routes to set and with limitations around working space and wall access, setting felt slow. At such a major competition with such experienced setters I found myself at a crossroads when it came to testing and tweaking. It’s probably within my capability to climb every route at the event and then to provide suggestions if the route should be changed or altered to fit the purpose for which it was designated. But then if my hands are on everything do you miss out on the variety that the other setters bring to the table? I definitely have a certain style as well as a particular taste when it comes to the aesthetics of what I find pleasing. Do I impose this on my team if I am the head setter? Is that part of my role and duty? Or should I keep to the organisation and management of the setting team itself, and let the setters set, test and tweak, adding their own flair and design.

Open Male and Female Finals

The head setter has the final say when it comes to revealing the finals during isolation, you are faced with a choice to either leave or alter the finals based on the performance of the athletes during the qualifying climbs. This time, for the most part, the finals remained the same, with no adjustment……. except for the Open A male final. Which under my instruction was altered to make the roof section easier. Ironically, it was the transition into the roof that seemed to be the stopping move for competitors and we had half the final field fall in the space of 2 holds when trying to establish into the roof.

Luckily for us, there was a very good split between the top 7 athletes from the 2nd qualifier, which meant that climbers were split based on countback and not on time. I messaged my partner, complaining about how I’d done a lousy job of the male finals to which she replied – “you can’t predict how people will climb on the day”……. I quipped back….. “isn’t that what we ARE trying to do?” I mean, you set all the climbs before the climbers even get to the =facility. Sometimes, if you’re unlucky, before the climbers even register. This was, I’m sure, a topic of discussion when the setting team set for the 2016 world championships in Paris, on a wall that was subsequently disassembled, moved and then resurrected, climbs and all on site, 3 months later.

Setters being setters, on the ground and in the lift

I wonder if these errors are just the nature of the game? I remember keenly the setting at world youth championships in China last year, with the stopper move in the middle of the juniors 2nd qualifier, as well as the cluster of tops in finals and semi-finals in the Youth B males which resulted in some rankings being based on time.

Still, for me, I aim high. I want that perfect comp with beautiful splits all the way through the field and only a single top on the final route from the final competitor, who knows he has to top from the sound of the crowd watching the penultimate athlete desperately slap the last hold. Good competition route setting is like writing an award-winning drama or thriller. It’s full of commitment, desperation and suspense. We control the crowd, by predicting the performance of the athletes, with our performance ultimately tied to the performance of others, or at the very least our ability to predict the performance of others.

So when people ask me if I’m happy, or if Nationals went well the answer is yes, I am happy, it did go well. It was hard work and we did a good job. But still, we can do so much better. I WANT to do so much better. Just like the climbers pursue the podium, I pursue a perfect climb, the perfect comp, the perfect split, the perfect story.

Beginning, middle and end.

Taking selfies with Tommy and Kurt while we wait for our ‘lift’