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What I did on my holidays

One thing that has consumed a large chunk of my summer has been the Olympic Games in Tokyo. I was appointed to be chief route setter for bouldering in 2019, but covid put everything on hold until this summer, so it has been a bit like being in limbo waiting for this event to finally happen. However, July came around at last, and after endless PCR tests I finally got on a plane for Japan. I felt a little underprepared in the end, as the pre-games schedule had been ruined by another covid variant meaning that I couldn't travel to Austria to set for the Innsbruck world cup with the rest of the setting team for the Olympics. Not withstanding this rather inconvenient setback, I managed to get to the games as planned with the rest of the team mid-July, and we started our work in the heat.

Climbers are fickle creatures - we always have an excuse for failing to perform as well as we think we should. Conditions are one of the classic things we blame - "I would have done my project but conditions were terrible.", too hot, too cold, too humid, too dry, too windy, and so on and on! Conditions for climbing in Tokyo in the summer were always going to be tricky, but heat in the high 30's celsius coupled with humidity that feels like a warm, wet blanket has been thrown over you made the work challenging in the extreme. A lot of fluid was taken on by the team during the days work, which usually started around lunchtime and finished late in the evening (sometimes after midnight). If the heat of the day didn't make climbing hard enough, the increased humidity in the slightly cooler evenings made conditions for climbing even more unpredictable - we would often find that volumes we could stand own in comfort during the day became like skating rinks in the evening. Not very easy to anticipate how moves would feel during the competition days...

The work was pretty challenging, but the thing that really made things harder than normal was the sense of isolation we all experienced due to the strict covid regulations and quarantine that were had to stick to. If we weren't at work, we were back in our hotel rooms. No eating together in a restaurant, or having a chat and a beer in a pub. While this doesn't sound like it would be too disruptive to forego the usual after work recreation activities, it actually made communication and discussion of the setting work outside the work environment within the team quite limited.

The setting work took place over a couple of weeks, with our schedule woven around the requirements of the 3x3 Basketball event which shared our venue. The reality for us was that we had so much time to set 14 boulder problems that it became quite a tedious job, and one which had potential to allow us too much time to brood over specific moves on problems with the danger of over-cooking the difficulty. I tend to work quickly, and don't mind some time pressure. For Tokyo, my worry was that we had too much time and too many setters working, and that the danger of making everything too hard was a real one. In the end we managed to keep a lid on things, and narrowly avoided the nightmare scenario where no athletes can climb anything.

The Olympics should be fun. Athletes perform at their best when they are having fun. I really feel that maybe the coronavirus pandemic squeezed the fun out of the Games a bit - no crowds of screaming fans, strict controls on movement and the never-ending PCR tests and OCHA updates. The Japanese organisers of the games did an amazing job to allow the event to happen at all, and while the circumstances presented a number of unique challenges for me and the setters, we need to realise and appreciate the fantastic work of the armies of people who made it all happen. I felt that some of the magic and fun of the Games was missing, but we managed to produce an event which did the sport justice.

Personally, I found it one of the hardest competitions I have ever done. Nothing about it was easy. I was lucky to have an amazing team of people to work with, and we all rallied around each other to help each other through it, but I must say that I was so happy and relived when it was finally over and I could get home to my family.

When there is too much information for my tiny brain to hold, I turn to endless disorganised piles of paper! Tokyo was one of those jobs where a spreadsheet just doesn't hack it, and a more analogue approach is required!

The women podium - lots of tears, lots of joy, lots of relief that it was all over!


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