British Lead Climbing Championships ’12

Another year at the BLCC’s and another narrowly missed final.

This is the difference between =1st and =7th on route 1. I so wish I had held this. (Photo: David Field)

As has been the case on so many lead climbing competitions I have done, qualifier 1 was what let me down. I have been there before many times. The easier qualifier gets blown near or in this case at the last move placing me in an irreparable position to make the final.  I then climb out of my skin on route 2, placing highly enough to make the final if only I hadn’t made such a meal of the first route.

It hasn’t been like that on every occasion and I have made finals a fair few times but even my best BLCC performance, 3rd in Blackpool many moons ago was framed the same way. Luckily on that occasion the cumulative score took me into 6th, the last final place. The final is its own story and I climbed better than I ever had in a competition.

Of course there is always an excuse, this time the BLCC’s were only 1 week after I badly smashed my ankle in the Red River Gorge. I hadn’t decided to go until the 11th hour. But, as the ankle didn’t really hold me back on the day (luckily the routesetters had been kind with the orientation of foot holds), I won’t hide behind this.  Thinking about this now I suspect I personally fail on route 1 in 2 ways and the trinity of failure is completed when I am victim to the scoring .

Another lesson, wear more layers early morning in Ratho. (Photo David Field)

Preparation: When I have done well in qualification in the past my lead up to the comp has been better either in the training, the last week pre-comp has been clean living and disciplined and I have been psyched but calm. (The pre-comp day carrot cake will take a lot of the blame this year. Its easier than blaming yourself).

Mental: Route 1 is a mental battle for me. I know you need to top it to do well and I get the psychological wobble that has ruined many a climber’s ascent moments from success. Route 2 is just about giving your all, topping is less of a factor as often not even the best competitor gets route 2. Mentally this is a much more liberated headspace.

The Scoring System: The scoring system nails the coffin shut in that it does not take in to account the relative difficulty of the 2 routes. This often leads to the point where the spectators don’t understand who has done better than who.

Consider: I touch the last hold on route 1 7c, and made it 2 whole moves further on route 2 than some who held the last hold on route 1, 8a. Not only that but I had clipped the last bolt in the sequence meaning that if I had held the move I fell from I could progress.  Others had progressed beyond the bolt, into a position from which another hold higher would have been disqualification, as all bolts must be clipped. It seemed to me and other people spectating, including the routesetters, that the difference between a top on route 1 was of less significance than the difference in route 2 given that it was clearly the harder climb.

Now I should be able to comfortably top 7c so most of the responsibility lies with me not “sealing the deal” in the first place. The story of the clipped bolts is probably only a fair way to decided between 2 people tied on equal points but the relative difficulty of the routes could be easily factored in by using a weighted average rather than just an average score as is the case now.

Currently the scoring system used is the geometric mean:

Overall Rank = √(rank Q1 x rank Q2)

where the rank Q1 or Q2 is also heavily affected by the number of people tied in that place.

In this case 6 tops, meant 6 people shared a score of (1+2+3+4+5+6)/6 = 3.5. Meanwhile 6 of us had touched but not held the final hold had a rank of (6+7+8+9+10+11)/6 = 8.5 a difference which is almost impossible to make up and renders qualifier 2 almost irrelevant. (Results here)

In my (non-statistical mind) there are 2 ways this could be made fairer. One way is to make both route 1 and route 2 much harder so that everybody falls at some point and there is a clearer distinction between each place or, weight the scores according to the relative difficulty of the routes. Say 10% per grade. So that if the setters decided that route 1 was 7c and route 2 8a then the overall rank could be taken as an arithmetical mean:

Overall Rank = (rank Q1 + 0.8x rank Q2)/2

Based on this system my overall score would have been, the weighted average of =6 shared with 6 people (8.5) and =4 shared with 3 people (5) and my Overall Rank would have been 6.5. Now despite advocating this system I  would still not make the final as the system of averaging tied places still worked against me (the 6th place finalist would have scored 5.15) but at least some account would be taken for the relative difficulty of the 2 routes. The actual scores were 5.45 to my 6.89 so the gap has closed marginally using this system.

Weighting the routes more and I would be able to engineer a way of taking my score high enough to have made the final but that isn’t really the point. The point is to raise the issue of fairness and creating a scoring system that is closer to the truth that the spectators and competitors see. It isn’t very good having a sport where the winner isn’t obvious, especially when climbing aims to be an Olympic sport. I’m sure a statistical boffin out there will have some response as to why my system is flawed. Fire away, I always look forward to understanding more.

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