Written by Administrator Saturday, 01 December 2012
A report on the final round of the European Youth Cup, held in Kranj, Slovenia over the weekend of November 24th and 25th 2012.
By trip chaperone and parent Jill Barber.
Kranj is the fourth largest city in Slovenia. There its resemblance to Manchester, the fourth largest city in the UK, ends. Just divide everything by 10. The population of Manchester is a bit over half a million; that of Kranj a bit over 50,000. The distance from Kranj to the Slovenian capital's airport about 20km...but Manchester is a very long way from London Stansted, especially when your flight goes at 07.45.
Predictably the Scots, the Midlanders and the groups from North-West and South-West England reached Stansted pale and yawning, but in good time. The Londoners, by contrast, forgot a passport and missed a motorway exit, resulting in an hour's detour. The flight was uneventful and the next two days were spent recovering from the journey. Constructive chilling is, I learned, an essential part of being an international athlete. Climbing is not a well-funded sport, so climbers need time to recover from overnight travel and low-cost airlines. Several teams of high-achieving focussed teenagers descend on this small city annually, and they are always invited back (although one-arm lock-offs in the stairwell of the hotel were banned by the management).
Kranj still carries the legacy of communist Yugoslavia. Ugly blocks of post-war flats form the estate around the climbing centre. Slovenia gained independence in 1991 after a 10-day war with the former Yugoslavia. The language of the country is Slovenian, and since 1991 English and German, rather than Serbo-Croat, have been taught in schools. Most of the town is attractive, with wide pedestrianised streets, small cafes and excellent bakeries. Constructive chilling included watching 'Skyfall' in the local cinema, where the seats are huge, well-separated armchairs and entry is €5-10. Other members of the team played, or tried to play, pool.
The climbing wall is in a school gym a short walk from the hotel, and is steep and adorned with curious volumes. There is room only for four lines and three were in use at any one time. Being crowded meant that while the first climbers started at about 09.30, Connor Byrne was battling up his second route nearly 12 hours later. It was a long day, requiring both stamina and nerves of steel. They serve better coffee at Ratho, but it's cheap in Kranj. Some of the most exciting climbing occurred during the cleaning breaks as route-setting nutters with a fabulous disregard for EU 'elf and safety legislation clambered around the outside of a huge scaffold tower without ropes or any other anchors.
The team had numerous near-misses for places in the final. In particular, Pete Dawson finished 11th in Youth B; Connor Byrne in Youth A and Tara Hayes in Youth B both 12th. Jonny Stocking in his last competition as a Junior qualified in 10th place in the Junior section and, Molly Thompson-Smith was equal first in Youth B with several others. Most of the routes had crux moves, and there were a lot of ties.
The ties continued during the final on the following day. The GB team, led by manager Ian Dunn, had cheered each other on for 12 hours on Saturday and enthusiasm was unabated on Sunday. Molly Thompson-Smith climbed smoothly as usual, falling from a huge move after about three minutes. Though one climber had got higher, three others, including world champion Hannah Schubert of Austria, fell from the same move and vied for second. Judges were seen watching videos in slow motion, trying to assess exactly how quickly the climbers had each reached this highest point. Molly's dad Tony had shaved his head, which may be the only reason he didn't turn grey in the space of a few minutes. When the results were announced, Molly had gained a silver medal, ahead of Hannah who was third. Molly's final climb would have won her third place in both older female categories – Youth A and Juniors. Move over Tom Daley – this young lady is a true star.
In the Junior men, Jonny Stocking did not manage to improve on his excellent 10th place in qualifying, so the team trained its enthusiasm on Amanda Rohner, a Swiss national working in Leeds, and reigning British Lead Climbing Champion, in the Junior women. Amanda did not disappoint. Climbing essentially the same route as Molly, her phenomenal strength and extra four years' experience enabled her to grasp the horrible crimp at the point Molly had fallen, and she continued to a massive volume. At this point she disappeared. A pair of legs and not much else could be seen from the arena as Amanda climbed behind the volume, leaning on it for a well-earned break. The nutter on the scaffold tower missed an opportunity to take her a coffee. When Amanda emerged refreshed, and enjoying the adulation of the crowd, she climbed on to take second place in her category.
The presentations were slick and the national anthems curiously abbreviated. I'd heard most of them at the Paralympic Games in the summer, and the Italian anthem especially is about the length of a short opera. Nobody sang their national anthems in Kranj, perhaps because they didn't know the words, but most likely because about half the tune was missing.
On the return trip we found John Ellison again. He'd spent most of the weekend not so much fraternising with the opposing teams as kitting them out with T-shirts for his new charity: climbersagainstcancer.org. Nice T-shirts actually, and some very famous climbers wear them. Look out for the site going live soon.
For the team it's back to ordinary stuff like school. We wish Tara luck in her Spanish GCSE oral. Luke Tilley, Jonny Stocking, Jonny Field and Calum Forsyth have climbed their last competition as juniors. They will be missed.
Of course, Luke's departure leaves a vacancy for a captain. Ian and Luke looked to the past 15 months or so in order to look to the future. They didn't have to look too hard. They have on the team a Number Three world ranked climber. Someone who has placed 8th and 7th in world championships. Someone who's climbing has already made her (that's a bit of a clue) an ambassador for the GB team's push into higher world and European rankings. It's that girl again: Molly is the new team captain. Applause all round at Ian's announcement.
Climbing walls around the country support these elite young athletes with subsidised and free entry, but if they could please set a few more routes at 7c to 8b+ - you might be supporting GB Olympic medallists of 2020.
The team at Kranj:
Junior Male: Jonny Stocking, Luke Tilley (captain), Jonny Field, Calum Forsyth
Junior Female: Charlotte Garden, Jennifer Wood
Youth A Male: Connor Byrne, Buster Martin, Luke Dawson
Youth A Female: Sarah Pashley, Eleanor Hopkins, Rebekah Drummond (who did not start because of injury)
Youth B Male: Pete Dawson, William Bosi, Angus Davidson, Alex Waterhouse
Youth B Female: Molly Thompson-Smith, Tara Hayes
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