Behind the Scenes at ABS Nationals

by Tom Markiewicz on February 17, 2009

DSCF1489.JPGThis past Friday I had the opportunity to volunteer at the ABS Nationals. I’m not sure how they picked people for the various positions (pretty sure it was random), but I ended up being the judge for the first problem in the men’s open qualifiers.

I mainly wanted to volunteer for two reasons. First, I wanted meet more local climbers. Second, I was interested in seeing some of the inner workings of a national climbing competition. With respect to those two goals, I definitely had a successful day. The drawback to volunteering is a shift took up a good chunk of time. My shift started at 9:45 am and ended at 3:30 pm. So a shift was almost six hours, not including the hour long orientation meeting the night before.

So what did I get for my seven hours of work? I met lots of climbers. I received a free t-shirt and lunch. I had a front row view of the competition while working. If you worked three shifts you got a free ticket to the finals, but working another 12+ hours for a $20 ticket made no sense to me whatsoever. The USA Climbing organizers likely need to work on sweetening the pot if they want more people to volunteer (especially since they’re not all volunteering themselves, right?)

The following are a few of my observations from judging the first men’s open qualifier problem.

I appreciated the fact that each problem used the holds from a specific company and there were some appropriate banners on/near that problem for the company. I’m hoping The Spot will be keeping some of the sick looking So iLL holds I saw on one of the women’s open problems!

DSCF1509.JPGThe bonus hold scoring is unusual. On each problem there was a start hold, a bonus hold, and a finish hold. Points were only awarded based on controlling the bonus hold and the finish holds. Essentially a climber received the highest number of points for reaching the finish (and the bonus) holds in the fewest attempts possible. So if a competitor fell right before the bonus hold, they would receive no points at all during their attempts. On the problem I judged, the vast majority of those who obtained the bonus holds also went on to finish the problem. The real crux of the problem appeared to be much lower and many who attempted it received zero points for their efforts. While I was told by the organizers that the comp uses this format because that’s what they use in Europe, I found it to be a less than desirable way to accurately compare the efforts of the various competitors.

No previous climbing experience was required for the volunteer judges. I found this disturbing to say the least. We had at least one judge who was not a climber. Unfortunately, the idea of “controlling a hold”, despite the specific guidelines in their rule-book, is very much a subjective concept. It’s definitely a more understandable concept if you’re an avid climber. I understand they need volunteers, but I would have hoped for some vetting of the candidates beforehand. Or at the very least, moving volunteers around to appropriate positions based on their experience.

It was interesting to see the variation in mindset before climbing between each competitor. For example, while waiting for his first problem, Daniel Woods was chatting with other climbers seated near him and generally looked quite calm. Paul Robinson on the other hand appeared to be focused and quite in the zone while waiting his attempt. As soon as it was their turn to compete though, each was equally focused and up to the task of crushing the problem in front of them.

The full set of pictures I took are up on Flickr (beware, they’re unedited and taken with a point and shoot camera).

  • Narc

    The experience level of the volunteers is a recurring problem that I have noticed at many comps. Despite the huge number of climbers in the Boulder area it seems like they have had a hard time getting volunteers which is too bad. I saw a lot of parents volunteering Saturday despite already having paid huge amounts of money to be at the comp in the first place.

  • Tom Markiewicz

    Yep, it was actually one of the parents that I was referring to in the post. I think they could easily get more volunteers if they just thought outside the box a bit. How about some free swag? It wouldn’t even had to be big stuff. Or maybe a volunteer after-party with some free beer and the opportunity to mingle with organizers, other volunteers, and some climbers? But three shifts (over 20 hours of work) for a $20 ticket and a t-shirt rules out most people.

  • Narc

    I think they had a big raffle last year on the last day for volunteers but I could be remembering wrong.

    I agree that working 3 shifts to get a ticket isn’t going to get anyone to volunteer.

  • Ryan Wanger

    It seems as though offering free spot membership for volunteering would guarantee that they’d only get interest from climbers. Although, they’d need something else for people who are already members…

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    Nice report.

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