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Q&A: BD Athlete Adam Ondra Takes Second in the Lead Climbing World Championships

Monday, Septembre 10, 2018
BD Athlete Adam Ondra went from climbing 5.15b slab in Canada to claiming second place in the biggest climbing comp of the year. In this interview, he shares his thoughts on everything from the controversy surrounding the quarterfinals, his often detrimentally dry skin, and what style problems he needs to win the bouldering comp.

This past Sunday, in an impressive display of virtuosity, BD Athlete Adam Ondra stood on the podium in second place for lead climbing at this year’s grand finale for competition climbing—the 2018 IFSC World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria.

“Adam … he is a complete climber,” said his coach Patxi Usobiaga after watching Ondra climb in the semi-finals.

To Usobiaga’s point, just two months prior to competing in the hardest lead competition on the World Cup circuit, Ondra was not training in the gym on plastic. In fact, the 25-year-old Czech polymath was hiking an hour uphill to the Canadian crag of Acephale and working on climbing a near holdless limestone slab.

Yet, in just a handful of weeks, after clipping the chains of Disbelief, which is now Canada’s latest 5.15b, Ondra morphed like a chameleon into one of the world’s strongest lead competition climbers.

“Yeah, second place in the World Championships is pretty cool,” said Ondra enthusiastically on Monday.

“It’s always great if you can do your best in the finals, and I felt pretty solid all the way up to the point where I fell and then all the sudden it felt too hard.”

But he added:

“Only retrospectively, on the replay, I realized that I should have placed my right foot higher. And then maybe there would be a chance to do the move.”

Image: Katy Dannenberg

Ondra narrowly missed gold, in fact. While he climbed just as high as the hometown favorite, Jakob Schubert, his semi-final performance kept him from the podium’s top spot. One more hold and first place was his.

Now, however, he’s already moved on, and shifted his focus once again to the next discipline: bouldering.

We caught up with Ondra between training sessions to hear more about his recent World Championship experience and his upcoming strategy for the rest of the competition.


Are you happy with your performance at this year’s lead competition?

Second place is a great place, but at the same time, I’m not like over content. No, I’m motivated, and I think that’s the perfect mindset for the next discipline. I’m not frustrated, but I want to really fight.

You were so solid in qualifiers, topping out both routes easily. Were you feeling confident afterward?

Yeah, the qualifiers were the best round of the whole comp for me. I felt really hungry to climb.

But for semi-finals, I was really nervous. It was kind of a weird combination, because, you have no idea in the beginning what time you’re going to climb. And based on the beginners, you kind of make a count. At first, they were going really fast and then it slowed down, so I thought, “the route is probably not that hard. It will be slow until I climb.”

But 20 minutes later it was my turn, even though I was expecting it would be at least one hour! So, I had this little issue of my skin being pretty dry.

I have some tactics to warm it up, but I need time to do this routine. That took me out of confidence and when I started climbing I felt really uncomfortable because my skin was too dry.

I don’t want to complain about it though.

Do you always have dry skin? And why is this bad?

It’s kind of in periods. I was in Canada and my skin was incredibly dry and slippery. And the dry skin for the gym is even worse. I’ve been applying lots of cream, but I can’t really apply cream and plastic bags every single night, because then the grease becomes eternally part of your skin and you cannot wash it off … which is not nice for the slopey holds [laughs].

Fortunately, my skin was really good for the finals.

Image: Chris Parker

What would you have done for your skin before semi-finals if you had time?

I would hold a cup of hot tea, or even a warming pillow, in my hands the last 20 minutes before I go climbing. I would even dip my hands in hot water, let them dry, and then not chalk up until right before I start climbing. The heat and the water makes the skin short-term a little bit softer. Long-term, it makes it even drier, so you can’t do this while training.

Is this dry skin pretty common with other competitors?

It’s pretty rare [laughs]. But it’s not that I have it all the time! Sometimes my skin is normal and even sweaty.

What about the controversy over stepping on the Black Diamond sign during qualifiers? Did this also affect your concentration for semi-finals?

[Editor’s note: There was a Black Diamond sponsorship sign placed on the wall by the competition route setters that the judges claimed was used as a foothold by Sean McColl and Romain Desgranges. Their scores were docked to where the sign on the wall was placed, and as a result they each did not make semi-finals. Ondra’s foot placement was also called into question.]

Not in the finals. Let’s say I was dealing with that before the semi-finals. I almost decided not to, but I made a post that I thought would be fair for Sean and Romain. In the first place, it is the route setter’s mistake.

At the same time, there was a reason why the IFSC said “OK” to me and not to Sean and Romain. I didn’t get an explanation, but I have this video and there I hope it’s quite visible. It was the route setter’s mistake and it didn’t change the route at all. I don’t think competitions should be decided on this. It was really unfortunate for them because they were so strong. It was bad for the quality of the comp. The best competitors should make it to the next round.

Image: Katy Dannenberg

So now you’re switching your focus to bouldering? What last minute preparation will you do?

Between Sunday Lead finals and Wednesday Bouldering qualifiers, there's two days break so today, I’m training [laughs].

Holy sh&%! Really?

The last 10 days were easier, just trying to rest all the training fatigue. Now I think it doesn’t make any harm to have one day of hard training.

Because in the last week I was mostly focused on lead. So, it was more about getting pumped, but the bouldering is a lot about coordination and dynos, so that’s what I have to do.

What did you do today?

I arrived a 9 o’clock in the morning, so for 1 and a half hours I just did some physical bouldering, and after this interview, I’ll do some coordination and technical bouldering.

And are you hoping to make the podium in bouldering?

Well, for bouldering, the podium would be great. But the first goal is to just to make the semi-finals.

Images: Jon Glassberg

For me, it’s going to be really hard. There’s lots of people, and I don’t have a ranking as I haven’t done any bouldering comps in two years and I don’t have any points. So, I’ll probably go somewhere towards the end of the field. The best in the rankings start at nine when it’s cold and perfect conditions in the shade.

There’s more chalk, more rubber, and even if it’s indoors the holds get warmer just by people standing on them and using them. Plus, here it will be outside, and at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the weather forecast says it’s going to be 30 degrees Celsius [86 degrees] and later on the wall will be in the sun.

Anyway, just by this fact, I don’t think it’s fair—at least for the World Championships—to have it outdoors where the sun can be an issue.

Do you consider yourself a better lead climber than boulderer?

Let’s say yes. But it all depends on the boulders. If they set boulders that fit my style, it could be really good. I’m much more consistent in lead. In lead, if I don’t mess up, I always make finals. In bouldering, if the style doesn’t suit me it’s really difficult. Especially since I haven’t done any bouldering competitions in two years.

What doesn’t fit me is the coordination style.

But what would be a hard outdoor boulder problem … that’s what I want! [laughs]

Photo: Chris Parker

Good luck to Adam and the rest of the bouldering competitors at the IFSC Climbing World Championships. Stay up to date during the event: @blackdiamond Instagram.

Tickets and more information on the IFSC Climbing world championships: here.

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