Please scroll down for more reports and photos from the run up to the World Cup.
As of June 19, the last date for athletes to register, a total of 102 climbers had registered to compete at the 2017 World Cup in Bouldering due at Navi Mumbai over June 24-25.
The countries represented include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Great Britain, Germany, India, Iran, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Nepal, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, Switzerland, Thailand and Taiwan.
The competition under the aegis of the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC), is organized by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) and Girivihar, Mumbai’s oldest mountaineering club.
Bouldering is one of the three main disciplines under sport climbing, itself an offshoot of rock climbing. Bouldering is climbing simplified. Use of gear is kept to a minimum. The climber uses climbing shoes for his feet and chalk powder to keep his hands dry. At the competition, climbing is done on indoor bouldering walls. The climber’s fall from the wall is cushioned using crash pads. In bouldering, the height of the climb is modest but the moves can be extremely difficult.
This is the second time the World Cup is taking place in Navi Mumbai.
As per the IFSC website, last year at Navi Mumbai, there were 38 participants in the women’s category and 42 in the men’s making for a total of 80 participants. In 2016, the Japanese had secured four of the six positions on the podium in Navi Mumbai with Kokoro Fujii and Miho Nonaka winning top honours in the men’s and women’s categories respectively. The IFSC World Cup is a series of competitions held at various locations worldwide, every year. It is similar to Formula One with winners announced for each World Cup and overall winners declared on the strength of points accumulated in a series.
By Sunday (June 18) evening, the route setters dispatched by the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) for this year’s event, were all in place. The team led by Manuel Hassler also includes Gen Hirashima, Percy Bishton and Julien Gras. Manuel and Gen were part of the route setting team in 2016. Julien is visiting India after a gap of 12 years. On his earlier trip this side exploring climbing destinations in India, he had climbed with Girivihar (for more on what route setters do at a competition please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2016/05/09/the-puzzle-makers/).
Unlike in 2016 when a bouldering wall was imported for use in the competition, this time the competition is wholly on indigenously built climbing walls. The mix on stage in 2016 was one imported wall and one locally built wall; the latter performed handsomely. Addressing one of the points noted in competition feedback last year, the imported wall is set to be used as warm-up wall in the isolation space reserved for athletes. While the event venue remains the same, the total space used and the orientation of the same, has changed. Of the two identical large halls at the CIDCO Convention / Exhibition Center in Vashi, it is the hall closer to the main entrance that is being used this time. The space dividing the two halls is planned to be used as isolation making the competition lay-out more compact than it was in 2016, members of the organizing team said.
Although the monsoon has officially set in over Mumbai, the classic Indian monsoon that lashes the city with prolonged spells of heavy rain is yet to manifest. It is warm and humid. The occasional rain cools the ambiance. Everyone is hoping for good rains for its necessity exceeds World Cup. Given a significant portion of the Indian economy still depends on agriculture, the monsoon is life itself.
Sunday at the competition venue, reminded of the young country India is now, demographically. While work on the climbing wall continued within, in the enclosed vacant space just outside, a team of college students tested the single seat-race car they built for an upcoming Formula Student event overseas.
Rahul Patel, climber from Mumbai, has volunteered for the World Cup since June 12. Almost ten days later, by Wednesday, June 21, the number of volunteers at site had grown to a very modest number; climbers had reported from Bengaluru and Delhi to volunteer with more expected in a couple of days. Yet it is a far cry from 2016 when the general enthusiasm to dare the challenge of hosting a World Cup and make it happen, saw several people reach Navi Mumbai to pitch in and help. Something about moving away from pioneering an event to repeating it, robs a dash of zest from proceedings. On the other hand, there is the benefit of lessons learnt and progressive evolution of systems.
In 2016, problems around the imported wall – it arrived with a few components missing, requiring the technical team to put their heads together and innovate a solution – had eaten into the time earmarked for the route setters to complete their work. As a result, one of the unforgettable vignettes of this critical, bleak phase was the indefatigable Neerav Desai laboring round the clock to move concrete blocks and slabs. It was thus frenzied work on the wall even on the eve of competition. This time both the competition walls and the warm-up wall are already up. On Wednesday the route setters were busy putting up routes, while a team of climber-volunteers plastered the warm-up wall with holds of their choice.
Where innovation was demanded in 2016, to raise the imported wall to the height of the stage and then weigh its scaffolding down with concrete blocks and slabs for counter weight, this time around the walls’ rear appeared imagined in advance with counter weights and ratchets neatly in place. On Wednesday evening, as the volunteers and the wall-crew sat down to a richly deserved round of samosa and tea, Rahul said pointing to the two competition walls, “ they did a good job, aligning the faces and setting it up in time.”
On the other side of the hall, facing the two competition walls and some distance away from it, the raised platforms that will seat dignitaries and officials besides housing the console for the event’s broadcast technicians and their electronic hardware, was also up. On the first floor, shielded by large glass panes overlooking the arena, the event organizers’ office had begun humming with activity. Sandeep Varadkar, a wealth of energy and indispensable for climbing events in Mumbai, was there, as was Sharad Chandra, among best known photographers of climbing in India. According to Mangesh Takarkhede, who has been busy managing things at site for the past few days, a meeting of all volunteers is scheduled for Friday (June 23), 2 PM.
Thursday (June 22) afternoon; at long last we have a classic monsoon day. On a scale of one to ten, we were at about five on how the rains usually visit Mumbai. The downpour was strong but yet again, not of lengthy duration. Nevertheless it was sufficient to make the world grey, reduce the temperature and have the office going reach for their umbrellas while college going youngsters elected to get drenched. It was more or less pleasant at the competition venue too. Thursday marked the official commencement of air conditioning at site.
(Late night, at the time of writing, we have another round of rain.)
At the venue, the scene was one of even more gear unloaded. Lights were installed and tested. The giant digital screen was assembled. Closer to the venue’s entrance, signboards and publicity paraphernalia was readied. On the first floor, the organizers’ office was active. The backpacks piling up in one corner indicated the rising frequency of volunteers’ arrival. A portion of the office now served as location for the live streaming crew’s console. All IFSC World Cups are streamed live on the internet. Through all this, on the arena floor, the route setters continued their work on the two competition walls. In an irony of sorts, while they got the walls earlier this year (barring some delay in getting some of the imported climbing holds), their work load is more than in 2016. Reason – the number of competitors has gone up to 102. It requires more climbing routes to be designed. It was a different story on the warm-up wall located to the rear of the main arena. With a plethora of holds put up, it attracted the attention of climber-volunteers reported at the venue. The temptation was too hard to resist. Many donned climbing shoes and had a go. As one enthusiast said gleefully, “ it isn’t always that you get to climb in air conditioned comfort in Mumbai.”
Thursday evening was less than two days from competition’s start. Yet the ambiance at site was one of relative calm; there was no terrible anxiety or panic. Sandeep Varadkar, who is usually part of every competition’s core team and is among the busiest, was happy at the emergent lightness of being. Same time 2016, he, Vaibhav Mehta, Neerav Desai, Rohan Gawand – they were all breaking their heads over the faults in a climbing wall, freshly imported for that year’s world cup (that wall now serves as warm-up wall). Joining them, head in his hands, was the representative of the manufacturer, himself taken aback at the state of the wall. In several ensuing hours of innovation, fabrication, welding and hard labour, the wall was readied in time for the competition. “ This time, although we gathered urgency rather late, I am steadily completing the tasks on my list. Thanks to the lessons from last year, we anticipated problems better and planned accordingly. Right now, I am actually helping to put up banners. Can you imagine that?” Sandeep said smiling. Further, a major difference from 2016 has been the level of outsourcing. Where climber volunteers ran around for most things earlier, this time, contractors and their crew are responsible for assigned portions of the work. “ Still, there will be some last minute running around. That’s bound to happen,” he said.
The drift to World Cup will officially start, tomorrow. Those into climbing or loving the sport have been requested to take the day off from work and volunteer at site. Technical teams and volunteer teams will meet. Athlete registrations will happen and the countdown will begin to another rendezvous with the IFSC World Cup.
Friday, June 23, eve of the World Cup: It was a day of meetings. It was also a day of last minute purchases, market visits for items overlooked. There were briefings for volunteers and competition judges, followed by athletes’ registration and a briefing for the various teams. Senior officials – from the side of the organizers and the participants – were at the venue. The warm-up wall attracted its share of athletes. Unlike in 2016 when most of the athletes turned up to register personally, this time, some of the athletes presented themselves at the registration desk while the rest were represented by their respective team managers.
Late evening, June 23, with much of the work at venue getting over, the space before the stage was cleared providing a better sense of layout.
Outside, blue lights cloaked the entrance to the venue.
The 2017 IFSC World Cup at Navi Mumbai begins today (June 24).
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. For an earlier report on the 2017 World Cup including information on how the ongoing World Cup series has shaped up, please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2017/04/26/ifsc-world-cup-returns-to-navi-mumbai/)