When Gold Isn't Enough

Let's start with the facts: I went to Paris for the World Championships, and I won the gold medal. I am the World Champion. I beat everyone else in my category, fair and square. This is the thing I have been training for years for, to earn my spot on top of that podium while our national anthem played.  That should be it, right? Let's celebrate and go home!

"Oh, geeze," I can hear you say. "There's going to be a wildly ungrateful 'but' here, isn't there?" Yup. That's going to be the point of this whole post. If you can't stomach some whining, check out my favorite instagram account, Goastigram. Otherwise, bear with me and read on. 

 Next on stage in Paris, Photo by Jen Gold

Next on stage in Paris, Photo by Jen Gold

There's something that isn't quite healthy about being a higher level competitive athlete. Your approach to a sport becomes obsessive as you craft the rest of your life - jobs, friendships, other interests, marriages - to best suit the ONE activity, that one prize that you're gunning for. I spent the last two years finding that every cliche about sacrifice was totally true, but hopefully worth it: Spain was a freebie. I didn't climb as well as I'd like, and I wasn't going to let that happen again. I wanted to win in France decisively, and leave no doubts that I really was the BEST. 

Unfortunately, while I left France with the gold medal, I did not leave feeling like I was certainly the best. The routes, all three of them, were too easy. A good competition route is one that everyone gets off of the ground, but only one person tops, and everyone gets spit off at a different point along the way. Your score comes from how high you get, so a good route leaves the competitor placements crystal clear. The routes in Spain were like that. The routes in France were not.

 "But...that looks like 5.9..." Photo by Jen Gold

"But...that looks like 5.9..." Photo by Jen Gold

We all knew it. From when we were told we wouldn't be competing on the steep, challenging lead wall like we had been training for, but on vertical speed wall. From when we saw the first qualifier routes to when we saw the last route at finals.  I climbed three routes there, and they felt like 5.8, 11a, and 10c. Not the level I (or others) had been training for, and not the challenge that this level of competition deserves. 

What gives? Did they underestimate our gimpy prowess? Was the paraclimbing competition just a side show, an after thought to the pro, able bodied athletes?  Was our principle reason being there not to compete, but to be the feel good inspiration for the spectators? I don't know, and I doubt we ever will. I don't think the IFSC did anything intentional to make the competition less than stellar, and I did feel like they were treating us like serious athletes. 

 On qualifier #2 - Photo by Andrew Chao 

On qualifier #2 - Photo by Andrew Chao 

Still, something didn't set right. The final score came down to a three way tie breaker: We both topped finals. Call back to qualifiers...where we had tied again. The final tiebreaker was speed, where I did beat my competition - and not by a little. By a lot. But we weren't here for speed, so my gold medal is missing a significant amount of glimmer. 

Maybe I got lucky. Maybe if it had been set harder, I would have lost. I'm now more motivated than ever to get strong, so that the next time I see my competition, I can win. For real.

Whiny rant over, now go check out Goastigram.