Salt Lake City World Cup '22 w/ Emma
July 10, 2022
Salt Lake City.
By: Emma Horan
31st of March at 10pm, I receive a message from Carlie Lebreton with a screenshot of an IFSC email.
Being half asleep when recieving the news, it took a good twenty minutes for all the excitment and terror to set in. More and more thoughts crept into my mind… Do I deserve this? What will the other Australian setters say? Am I good enough to do this job? (spolier; I was)
I kept this news to myself for a good month but when I told people the main question was "what is the diversity program?".
The IFSC diversity program
“To support and proactively develop diversity across the team of International Routesetters by offering opportunities within the IFSC community and IFSC Calendar of events to aspirant members of the IFSC routesetting group. Specific goals of the programme are to improve gender equality within the group, and to open opportunities for setters from countries not yet represented in the group to gain International competition experience.”
I have known for quite some time that the standard of setting in Sydney is phenomenal. All the gyms do a fantastic job, I am qualified to speak on this as I have climbed in gyms all over the world, competed at World Cups across the globe and discussed with setters all over, including Sydney setters that I have traveled abroad with and we have all said the same thing. But, that standard of high setting, granted in a commercial space vs a competition space, has not led to an increase in Australian World Cup setters. As mentioned not due to the lack of skill, but due to the accessibility. One of the main clinch points for a successful application to the IFSC is a letter of recommendation from your national body and more importantly from a current IFSC routesetter. Due to the distance from the major climbing continents of North America and Europe, we rarely get the opportunity to set with international setters or even less with IFSC setters, while in Europe you could walk into any number of gyms and start up a conversation with one. So when Carlie LeBreton finally got a successful appointment to the IFSC it was a game changer for Australia. While Carlie wasn’t the deciding factor of getting my appointment, I wouldn’t have been able to apply without her.
Each year Sport Climbing Australia puts forward 3 names of setters for the IFSC to consider, this was the first year my name was put forward. I definitely didn’t expect to be selected in my first year but I thought if it was something I wanted to do down the line it would be beneficial for them to start seeing my name in a setting perspective and no longer as an athlete.
As I mentioned I wasn’t expecting to be selected and again in true Emma form I was hedging my bets because I had also qualified for the Australian Boulder Team for the year. When I received the news that I had been selected along with a good friend from Latvia, Alise (@hungrylatvian), I had to make the decision whether to set or compete because from season to season you can only do one of these things. Due to the quantifiable nature of competition I decided that the chances of being able to compete in coming years was likely relatively high and the chances of being selected to set were essentially unknown. But I think the big factor for taking the appointment was because of the benefit for Australian setting. As I mentioned when Carlie was appointed it was a game changer for Australia. This year Australia has three IFSC setters, Carlie LeBreton, Tonde Katiyo and myself.
I have been competition setting since I was 18 while also competing so there hasn't been many events where I haven't either set or competed at in well over a decade, with my first event that I chiefed being an ACT State Titles when my eldest sister who usually ran those events was in hospital with Leukaemia. I have since become a National Head Route Setter, with the biggest event being the 2020 Olympic Qualifiers. I have been a member of the Open Australian Boulder Team for almost a decade (minus covid) and travelled quite extensively to represent Australia.
I think the big thing for my successful appointment was the history of elite performance and the ability to test boulders at that level, paired with my extensive history of competition setting.
I don’t think the scale of the appointment really hit me until I landed in SLC and everyone already knew who I was, granted I knew quite a few of the athletes already from previous events but those weren’t the people I was dealing with obviously. I was dealing with hold companies, setters from all over the US and abroad and IFSC officials. Of course they weren’t expecting a 6-foot tall, stacked Aussie chick 😂 That's not generally the archetype of world cup setters. But I have always been a surprise for people, so by 29 it’s stopped fazing me.
In World Cups you’re placed in a high stakes environment with a bunch of setters that you’ve likely never worked with, you’re in a foreign country, often with people that don’t speak your language as their first language. You stay together, work together, spend 24hrs a day with these people. You need to be able to adapt to those circumstances and still put up some of the best lines in the world…. it’s huge. On one of the days I had to remove myself and go behind the wall for a little cry as it was all so overwhelming, I am sure the fact that I was coming up to my period played a role in this general overwhelm but that is a variable many setters have to deal with.
The setting days went pretty much as I expected, the attention to detail for the boulders was far, far higher than I have experienced in Australia. We have all seen viral videos of those amazing world cup boulders, and we have also all seen videos of viral gym boulders. The big difference being at the world cup the athletes haven’t spoken to anyone about the boulder, they have 4 minutes and it still goes how the route setter intended (most of the time), compared to a lot of those viral gym videos that climbers go in and break the beta within hours of the sector being open. This isn’t to say world cup boulders don’t get broken, of course they do, we are talking about the worlds best athletes.
The team was made up of Remi Samyn (FRA), Manu Hassler (SUI), Akito Matsushima (JPN), Pierre Broyer (FRA), Ryan Sewell (USA), Moe Corbett (USA) and lil ol’ Em.
Before I talk about the boulders from the event I want to start by saying no one boulder belongs to any setter, the process is so collaborative and often the best parts of a boulder come from another setter that walks over with fresh eyes.
No boulder can be perfect, nor can a round be perfect to one climber or setter, perfect is made up in the space of perspective.
Women’s Finals Boulder 1 - The process
Premise, I’m not an ‘artist’, I’m a routesetter. That is just to say I sit more on the functional design side of setting to the art side of setting and I believe they are both needed but my skill set is a lot more scientific and data driven, ie carrying around a tape measure.
On the first day I went in with the mentality “work hard, be helpful, stick to what you’re good at”. As with any event, we started with the final boulders. Remi (Chief Route Setter) started asking us what we would like to set, so of course I said sheepishly “if no one else wants it, I’ll take the slab..” which was fine and I am confident on slab. But not long after Akito asked if we could swap which would move me to coordination, and when an Olympic route setter asks you to do something you mutter under your breathe, “of course, absolutely, i am merely a humble servant”. So I found myself setting the coordination boulder for Womens Final of a World Cup 😂 I got my first idea ready to go, to then consult with Pierre who wanted to do a similar thing on his power boulder… alright scrap that… flows, three part movements, on a drop off slab… 5,6,7,8 variations of a boulder go up in the course of the 12 hour day. Stress level high, with a sea of highly experienced setters coming over dropping gems of wisdom to then scurry off back to their own boulders and leave me to extrapolate what that meant and how these conflicting statements could be interpreted.
Day two we start working in groups and I start breaking it down with Pierre, each variation being 90% but with a world cup boulder 90% doesn’t fly. We got to a point where we were happy and left it. Setters will often keep finals and semis boulders in the back of their mind when they are watching the competition, to gauge how the field will perform on it and make tweaks before the finals if necessary. I had this boulder in my head because I had been quite jetlagged when testing it and even after 6 days of setting I still felt better then I did on day 1, I had a fear that the top section was too easy cause when I was really jetlagged I almost did it and I am no Natalia Grossman. So, 30 minutes before finals there I am warming up and putting my shoes on to test the top of this boulder. As I was doing this I noticed a potential break which I tested, and as a result I pulled off a hold 15 minutes before finals started. I have never been more stressed watching a competition (as to be expected really).
Me looking incredibly stressed and freezing watching Jessy Pilz almost time out!
This boulder had a fantastic outcome and was the result of the whole setting team's input. I had quite a few people asking what I had set and I told a couple of people what I had the most to do with, next minute it was all over Australian Climbing instagram. This left me conflicted because I didn’t want to take credit for such a fantastic boulder, sure at the heart of it, I did set it, I put the holds on the wall, but at these events it is never one person's win, each setter has a hand in every single boulder and the success of a round is never up to one person, it is up to the team. Each member is responsible for every boulder, that's why diversity is so important in teams, those varying ideas and insights create an equitable and successful round. A setter who can only focus on their boulder is not a setter for such a high stakes environment.
Womens qualifier A4 and B4
To be honest I can’t remember the order of the qualifiers round in terms of what I set first whether it was Mens 1 or Womens 4 but we are going to talk about womens 4 first.
For this boulder I was paired with Manu. For those of you who don’t know who Manu Hassler is, he is the owner and shaper for Flathold and again for those of you who don’t know what that means, flathold has been at the forefront of hold production for the last decade with many, many, many companies copying the designs of Flathold. So essentially Manu (and I should also mention Laront from Cheeta) are the godfathers of hold shaping, essentially they are a big deal…. Manu is a relatively reserved individual and obviously has nothing to prove because he basically is bouldering 😂 Which is so delightful to work with, he has no need to impose his ideas on a boulder or leave his mark on anything. He gave me the space to do what I wanted with a couple of suggestions here and there. This boulder, I obviously felt very at home with, power, steep, compression.. I loved setting this boulder.
Mens Qualifiers A1 and B1
Mens qualifiers I was working with another lovely, lovely hooman Ryan Sewell out of Movement Climbing Gyms in the US. We had very complimentary styles and just got along so well. The red took quite a bit of tweaking to get right. I do love an insecure moment when athletes are standing on dual tex 😘
I think something I am quite good at is (as Remi and Pierre would say) the french effect of setting relatively easy boulders IF you understand them but if you don’t you may never get it, it’s not a matter of trying harder or getting stronger. These two mens boulders I think were great for that as they weren’t at all strength dependant they were climbing dependant. Which allowed me to test them quite extensively as a weaker female athlete.
Womens Semi Final
My last boulder was my womens semi final boulder with a hero last move double clutch. These were strong moves! Almost a one arm lock catch to start, followed by a very wide move to zone, into a knee scum up into a bit of a wrestle to get standing on the undercling, then that big blue cheeta guy is really only good to direct your body right, no chance you’re holding that thing by itself and a double hand clutch to finish. This boulder went up quite quickly and saw the main changes happening on the red undercling, it started as some crimps under a feature which changed to the red sloper you see now, making the transition of your weight from below the hold to above it alot more taxing. This boulder we aimed to get 6 tops…. We had 8, but not a bad result..
My experience for my first world cup was incredible, I had an amazing team that bonded really quickly and that I thought set a really good event. I am proud of all of the boulders that went up and I excited to implement everything I learnt to our Australian scene of setting.
Would I do it again? Damn straight, I loved it. I thought I did a great job and loved the experience, it was hard, emotionally draining, but phenomenal. It was perfect.