World Cup Dreams: the journey continues.
My debut in the circuit took place in Meiringen, a small, beautiful town in the Swiss alps, backdropped by mountains at every turn. It felt really nice being in Switzerland again. Memories of my first few Open competitions in Singapore, as far back as eight years ago, were a recurring theme in my mind prior to my first World Cup. I recalled vividly, standing in front of problems I couldn’t start or go beyond the second move. That was my first year in the Open category.
There wasn’t a hint of negative thought or doubt though. It did however remind me that this was just a beginning, again. It opened me to “failure” and I went into the competition without a trace of fear nor doubt and the key to learning anything in life, I feel, is to have an open heart and mind. I finished the round 99th out of over a hundred competitors. Though that ranking is far from resembling anything impressive, I left Meiringen believing even more in the possibility, largely due to achieving my goal of getting the bonuses on all the problems, and also coming close to topping a couple of them. The progress in Switzerland were encouraging, I felt closer than what the numbers reflected.
I went back home after Meiringen and it was at this time that things started to go off the course I’d laid out. I had 10 days at home but for over a week I was recovering from jet lag, my body refusing to readjust to the time in Singapore despite my best efforts. Sleep patterns, eating habits, training times – everything got derailed. I remember being constantly tired, and with the little sleep I was getting to recover, I started eating more to sustain myself for training and I guess this is where I started feeling down, the collapse of my diet and the beginning of my weight gain, which then became a vicious cycle.
The two rounds in China felt tough to me, even more so with lower spirits after the problems I had back home and the weight I was putting on. The sweltering heat in both legs only helped in demoralising myself even more. It’s always warm and humid in Singapore but even after 28 years I can never get used to it. I still prefer the cold. In both rounds I was in similar positions on the start list, coming out for my first climb close to noon, as the heat started to peak. My fixation on these things affected me a lot mentally, and during both qualifying rounds I never managed to be completely present for each boulder.
I don’t wish to put too much into climbing stylistics because it sounds like an excuse even to me, but I still feel that the boulder problems in Chongqing and Nanjing were completely different, partly due to having only a single brand of holds available I guess. At the end of it, I didn’t enjoy any of the climbs and despite making one top, there were too many problems I couldn’t progress on. These rounds now highlight how much I lack in this direct style, reminiscent of competition bouldering in the past. That is my biggest takeaway from these two rounds, adding on to the list of things I have to work on to stand a chance in the international circuit.
China left me completely deflated. I fell out of love for climbing. In that week or so I’d almost lost all belief in myself, sinking into a deeper slump. I was out of shape and demoralised, far from the athlete I felt like before this journey. The financial burden of my circuit run creeped up again and I wondered if the sacrifices were worth it.
Arriving in Japan, or simply knowing that it’s my next destination always had an uplifting effect on me. Landing in Tokyo for the fourth time, I was greeted by cooler temperatures and the familiarity of my favourite city. These things would be start of my turnaround, and major contributors of my climbing performance in the World Cup Hachioji. I definitely felt a lot more positive on arrival, and my spirits started to lift.
I don’t know how it is to the rest of the world, but climbing in Japan has always felt special since my first time in 2015. The amount of attention given to the art, even before its inclusion in the Olympics, is unrivalled. I’ve had a glimpse of how the setters work, even a few conversations with them, and their attention to detail is like nothing I’ve seen or experienced. The climbers coming out of Japan also reflect that intensity in attention in the execution (of anything they’re doing, really) and this is probably a reason as to why they’re so good.
The affinity I feel with Japan however didn’t dispel the reality of how I felt after China. I acknowledged that I was still down and the decline of my physical condition – I had a few injuries and the few kilograms I’d added on also weighed down my morale. The turnaround came after my first climbing session in Tokyo. I enjoyed moving on the climbing problems at the gym, Pump Ogikubo, where most of the circuit athletes were as well. It was here that I reassessed myself and worked on a better mentality going into World Cup Hachioji, putting aside my physical state which I couldn’t alter enough in those few days.
Oddly enough, World Cup Hachioji turned out to the be one I felt the best in and enjoyed the most so far. I was present and respected the time for each boulder. The problems I felt, were more in line with the style of climbing I enjoyed. I got two tops, which at this point feel secondary to the motivation and inspiration I’ve felt since that round. The finals were a spectacle, highlights including the projection mapping on the walls to commence the show, Akiyo and Tomoa both beating the clocks for their sends on W3 and M1 respectively. Here, I left with a lesson/reminder – the power of the mind, and how a large impact mentality has on performance.
I faced difficulties, I slipped down a slope of personal problems, the financial burden is real (I contemplated crowdfunding at some point) but ultimately, I have no regrets in pursuing this. I learned a lot from this experience, most notably away from the walls. Personal management, being on the road, coping with stress. These were things I never considered at the start but I have a better idea now, for the future.
At the end of it all, I feel even more driven to continue this pursuit of progress, of my dreams. My biggest takeaway is a galvanised belief, an upgrade of what I’ve had since the beginning, that it is definitely possible. Without belief, there is little chance for success, for progress. Believe, on every move, every boulder, every chase because – excuse me for repeating myself here – it is definitely possible.