The case against climbing becoming an Olympic sport

Should climbing be an Olympic sport?

Apparently last week some guy at the ‘International Federation of Sport Climbing’ (whatever that is) announced that they are putting forward a multi discipline format to the IOC in with the hope that a sugar-coated spectator-friendly approach to climbing will help them pick climbing as an Olympic sport.

It is my opinion that this is a bad idea.

BMC Olympics 2020
Two organisations that will probably see financial gain..?

This is why;

1. The people pushing this through, in the most part, are doing it for narrowly-focused personal or organisational gain not for what is best for the global climbing community.

Thanks to political zeal, Olympic sports can be rather well funded; which can give a great cash-boost for climbing-focused organisations (of the right kind) across the world. Regardless whether the heads of these organisations truly believe that it will be better for climbing over-all,  to ignore the potential of this sort of cash boost for generally cash-strapped organisations seems to be tantamount to professional misconduct. It really wouldn’t be.

“This could give a great boost to organisations and provide more jobs within the sport” I hear you say? Put simply this sector-building argument comes from a selfish drive for constant growth and, constant growth is not necessarily a good thing, it is only the corrupting pressure of money that makes people think it is.

The suggestion that more money going into climbing has to be a good thing depends on where that money goes and how you would like to see climbing develop as a whole.

Personally, when I think about the climbing experience, I think of climbing big walls under azure skies, freezing while battling winter alpine routes, bouldering in peaceful forests. Suffering with friends, overcoming fear and the enjoyment being in amazing places. When you look at the vast experiential-diversity that climbing can deliver, the indoor climbing experience comes out paltry and miserable.

It is this ‘paltry’ side of climbing that will:

  • Get all the money from Olympic inclusion
    Gov’t funding is hardly going to send people to Baffin to climb inspiring new routes if it is not helping them climb plastic better..
  • Grow in ‘importance’ to the organisations which exist to act on behalf of climbers
    Gold medals mean more money for your sport..
  • Become the ‘face’ of climbing & drive perceptions about what climbing is about
    Are you happy with this idea?

2. The proposed event is ridiculous and the whole concept of finding the ‘best’ climber is a fallacy

Being a ‘good’ climber has far more texture and depth than say being a good 100m sprinter – and therefore it will never raise the ‘best’ climbers in the world to the Olympic platform. A good climber may climb something with extreme difficulty or risk with good style when there is no-one watching or applauding, by being diligent and focused a good climber may save a friends life, by caring about the natural environment they may minimise impact or a good climber may climb routes that challenge the perception of what is ‘possible’. I could go on – but the point is that it will never be as binary as the 100m sprint where, quite literally, the only thing that matters but how fast you travel from A to B.

Because of this, we need to ask some questions;

Do we want to shift the focus even further away from the true experience of climbing towards a manufactured and sanitised ‘sport’?

The media is generally incompetent at explaining climbing when it gets into the news – in part due to its complexity and, if they are given an Olympic definition of climbing, will this be the story of climbing that wins-out? Will this vision of climbing, delivered to a global audience, encourage any more than increased climbing-gym memberships?

Will it develop a new breed of Olympic-focused climbers who focus intensely on bouldering on plastic, leading on plastic and, for some strange reason, speed climbing plastic? I suspect so.

Will it deliver a future of  ‘climbers’ motivated only by winning at competitions, bring in doping-inducing desperation to win above everything else in an activity that traditionally has always been embedded in team work and imagination? Will this have an impact on the attitude and culture of the climbing community?

These future Olympians will be the new media-stars of climbing; and when we have them why would a journalist or politician take the views and opinions of a near middle aged man who has climbed some of the most incredible routes in the world (where they have little grasp of his achievements – and he is not reliably near a phone) when you have an Gold-Medalist media-darling on call 24/7 via their London-based agent?  It would be the equivalent of having Tom Daley provide media representation for Deep-Sea Technical Divers. Both ‘diving’ but vastly, vastly different.

The media loves to dumb down complicated things; climbing in the Olympics will be the fastest way to dumb down climbing on a global level.

To summarise.

We must avoid thinking that being in the Olympics is automatically going to be good for climbing as a whole.

A constant push for growth, which doubtless is the key driver for Olympic inclusion, only really makes sense for people who profit from climbing which means it does not make sense for the vast majority of climbers regardless of discipline.Continue reading “The case against climbing becoming an Olympic sport”

What big-wall climbing teaches you about life

There are many subtle things that climbing teaches you, beyond using gear and climbing technique, that I think can help you live a better life. In life, as with climbing, the bigger the challenge the more (and faster) you learn;  there are some interesting parallels between being successful on big wall routes and doing well in life.

Aid climbing and the habits that define you

Personally I find aid climbing a slow, however, not being super strong, on big walls I will generally find myself doing it at some point. That said, the interesting thing about aid climbing is that the lazier you are, the harder and slower it is. Efficiency is everything.

(If you do not know what aid climbing is; it is basically sticking in a bit of climbing gear to the rock, attaching a fabric ladder, climbing the ladder and putting another bit of gear in. Repeat.)

Nathan Murphy aid climbing.
Aid climbing, Photo Oli Lyon

For example; let’s say you aid climb 1000ft of a route, your aiders are about 5ft long with about 1ft per step.

If you are being a little lazy, you use the second step on your aider and place your gear at a ‘comfortable’ distance, instead of top-stepping and placing the gear as high as you can, the difference in height gained at each placement can easily be 2ft.

Over a 1000 ft route, this would mean 330 placements instead of 200… 130 extra placements, at 3 minutes each = 390 minutes = 6.5 hours more time spent climbing. This can easily mean an extra day on the wall, which means more food and water, which means slower and harder hauling compounding the inefficiency.

The point I am getting at is that, seemingly benign inefficiencies, when multiplied out throughout a route has a significant impact on your ability, and the time it takes, to reach your goal.

Your life is a bit like a really long aid climb and, almost any way you cut it, this analogy applies, for example;

Health; That bit of cake every day, along with a tendency to skip a bit of exercise for the odd drink after work seems totally fine, but over a period of 20 years, the extra calories in, and fewer calories out means you put on weight. Combined with a slowing metabolism and the fact that being fat makes exercise harder you ‘come to terms’ with the ‘inevitability’ of putting on ‘middle age spread’ and now your just another fat dude sweating it out on the tube wearing a suit that used to fit.

Your personal projects; Most people I know have some kind of side-project. Something they are doing which is not their main vocation but would kinda like it to be. However most people I know do not work overly hard to achieve the side goal and, in reality, because ‘today was a long day at work’ or ‘I deserve a rest/treat/meal out’ or the myriad of lame excuses people use to do nothing in the part of the day don’t sell to an employer, they don’t get it done. If you spent a little over 2 hours a day on your project; it would equate to 16 hours; 2 ‘working days’ a week. If you were given 2 working days a week by your employer to do your own thing; what would you get done?

The reality is that you have more than ‘2 days a week’. After a 5pm finish you have about 7hrs of usable time before you go to bed – plus your weekends. You easily have another working week within your normal ‘working week’ should you want to use it. Not using it is a gross waste of your time and does no justice to the value of your life.

Financially; Let’s you like a nice coffee and a bit of cake every working day, you buy your lunch at the sandwich shop near work and you take the tube instead of cycling. Say this costs, as it would in London, £15/day. Over a year = £3975. Over 20 years with 8% compound interest; £175,000; which could give you £14,000/year in interest in your retirement and enable you to retire a few years earlier. Instead, due to a seemingly benign ‘comfort’ habits you work longer and are less financially secure.

The same goes with.. maintaining relationships, improving skills and probably many other areas I have not thought of. Essentially your life, with any luck, is many years long and small comforts and lazy actions are magnified by time and can make the difference between early or late retirement, physical health or obesity, or simply meeting the goals that make you feel satisfied with what you have achieved and live without regret.

Use the top step.

Speed climbing / goal focus

This is about focus and taking risks.

Speed climbing usually involves commitment and a slightly higher level of risk; you carry next to nothing so a second day would be a real problem and you are probably short fixing (leader self belays the next pitch while the second jumars/cleans) or climbing together where there is more risk of injury in the case of a fall.

Whatever you want to do, doing it in your ‘spare’ time is going to be less efficient compared with doing it full time. All that time spent hauling and messing around with your job slows everything down.  Being 100% committed and taking the risk, speed climbing gives you focus; the option of a night on a hard ledge with no sleeping bag and no water or food is pretty unattractive and this positive stress forces continuous action.

So you want to do [thing-you-want-to-do], if you do it in your ‘spare’ time say it might take 5 years. If you focus completely; it would probably take 6 months.. this obviously depends on what you are doing and how well you use your ‘spare’ time but going at something hard and fast, although tougher, is the usually the quickest way to meet your goal.

In summary..

Loosely speaking, you could apply this to many sports, especially endurance activities, but for me, there is something about the big wall experience that amplifies life-scenarios in a way that, with retrospective analysis, can give clarity and insight in to the way I live my life.

There are also obviously many other things climbing in general teaches you, from relationships, handling stress, injury management etc etc.. but big-wall specific; this is my take 🙂

A foray into illustration #1

I have been illustrating since I was very young (in particular for family birthday cards). I probably peaked when I was around 18 and have not really done a huge amount since then. I have however recently decided to pick it up again and have set myself an illustration project to do so (more on this soon).

I find that doing purely creative things benefits me greatly – it frees up my mind and in this sense I feel it aids creative thinking in my work life. It is also satisfying on a primal level – I think that everyone should have some creative outlet.

When I have illustrated things in the past it has generally been predominantly Pilot v5 fine liner with a basic addition of colour – colour being something I never really got on with. Before embarking on my project I decided to actually research how professional illustrators go about illustrating and discovered things I wish I learnt 15 years ago!

It speaks volumes for a more focused approach to anything – starting with market research – some bench marking and a strong desire to create at a highly professional standard.

The first of these discoveries is the dip pen, the second is coloured inks.

Coloured inks, dip pens, a couple of brushes & water colour pencils
Coloured inks, dip pens, a couple of brushes & water colour pencils

The dip pen and black ink makes a dense line (which is actually raised when it dries). When dry it is insoluble to other inks so does not run or bleed. The line they create has character and can be anything from 1mm thick (or more nib depending) to incredibly fine. I can hardly begin to describe how awesome they are compared with a normal fine liner. The line even creates a rather nice barrier to the coloured ink making coloring much easier.

Coloured inks, applied by brush, are also Continue reading “A foray into illustration #1”

Why prison design is important

My key points for the importance of prison design are based around the fact that we have an outrageously high reoffending rate (75%+) and through studies people have shown that this can be much, much lower.

Rationale;

  • If Prisons and more importantly Prison Systems are well designed and well managed it can significantly reduce reoffending
  • The public will not accept Prisons that are not Prisons in a traditional sense and for that reason politicians will not propose such designs to the UK voter base; we need to design prisons that are Prisons in a traditional sense on the face of things while being very progressive in every other way; this is a constraint of our times which may change over the coming decades
  • The design of the physical architecture and super structure needs to be designed in conjunction with all the systems that operate within; structure and physical design changes coupled with system changes can cause large knock-on effects that alter core design and management constraints

The problem

The UK prison system has wide ranging problems that are very difficult to address within the existing system.

The long-term poor management of the prison system from the ‘top down’ means that there has been little structured improvement over the past twenty years and certainly no improvement with real vision. There has been poor spread of best-practice and prisons operating independent to each other and politicians who are either too lazy or too afraid to bring change to a sector where strong unions and a change-resistive civil service can make significant change very difficult to effect.

With a 75%+ reoffending rate, prisons are clearly not effective enough and this in turn causes society significant problems and costs an estimated £11bn each year through the cost of reoffending. The UK prison population has been growing steadily, and as the rate of reoffence is a key driver of an increased accumulation of prisoners it is clear that something can be done better.

Rising prison populations puts stress on all parts of a system that has its budgets frequently reduced which, in turn, creates a more disaffected and lower paid work force. Prison overcrowding forces Continue reading “Why prison design is important”