The Big Flash: Sunday Night - the FINALS

The Big Flash: Sunday Night - the FINALS

The finals loom.  I eat some pig in a bun, have a masterclass with Ben Bransby, and then its back to 'work': preparing isolation for the finalists.  Someone has already stocked the water and the power bars.  The complimentary Bear Grylls Make Yourself a Climbing Machine Protein Shake Scout Powder has mysteriously been untouched by competitors who nonetheless managed to perform...

I really have very little to do, so compensate by deciding we need more bottled water.

This is in sharp contrast to everyone else allowed to remain in the building whilst the problems are set for the final.  Folk beaver away, laying cables (electrical, not faecal), erecting scaffolding and shifting chairs, while impact drivers rattle away as the world's supply of volumes are rivetted to the comp wall.

I add slightly to the organised chaos  by deciding we need more water and Jake Hall helpfully goes and brings more than the single bottle per person.  I feel I have made a contribution and open the door to isolation and start reading my book.  

The competitors dribble in.  Diane Merrick describes in some detail a chocolate cake she has just eaten.  Tommy Matthews appears to be asleep under his jacket.  There is much listening to music, and warming up on the various problems in our cave.  Our cave, is in fact , living up to its name, there's no fucking light within the curtained off area, apart from a blown halogen which flickers to add that Resident Evil feeling and to trigger seasonal affective disorder.

There are special printed singlets that look smart for each finalist in a range of sizes.  Sam Lawson declares he wants a Small: he is about 6' 4".  He tries on the Small and wisely decides he can stretch to a Medium after all.  Myself and everyone else watching breathe a sigh of relief.

A questionaire is handed to the competitors to glean info the commentators can use to make it sound all professional.  However, someone has a slightly offbeat sense of humour and for once it is not me.  

Q.5.  Would you rather change gender every time you sneeze or sneeze every time you blink?

Eh? Bemusement ensues.  None of the male competitors - not one - would prefer to change gender, not even just out of curiosity (it seems to me implicit in the question that you can change back, you just have to sneeze).  However, most of the women WOULD change gender, mainly to capitalise on testosterone based strength gains.  Smart lot the women...

Finally, finally it is time to get going.  The crowd has swollen to several hundred people .  The MCs rev them up.  The competitors file out, are introduced and start to inspect the problems.  There are a LOT of volumes up there.  Back they come, and then I send them out two by two.

Rachel Hipkin on a problem you would never find in nature.
Sam Lawson and Rachel Hipkin head out first, as locals they get an awesome response from the crowd.  Its on!  The competitors head out and throw themselves at the blocs.

On the second problem, Sam Cox runs out of grip and drops off landing nicely on the mats.  He looks up though, and something is wrong.  Though he looked good landing, he has done his ankle.  A physio is in attendance, he gets ice-packed up, but it is quickly clear that he is out.  I am gutted for him, he is part of the Bournemouth contingent who have spent so long travelling to get here - 6 and half hours with an overnight stop, which seems to be milking it a bit.  It will take even longer going home via A and E.  A shame for a genuinely nice bloke and a talented competitor: unlucky not to do better.

There are no more injuries, thankfully.  What we get for the next hour is a thrilling set of problems climbed with style.  The male blocs are set for strength, and bloody hell they look rock hard.  One of the problems has a - I suppose parkour influenced - balancy run across volumes before a hard layback into strong 3D moves: Nathan Philips - the ultimate winner, beating teammates Dave Barrens and Matt Cousins - is the only person complete this one.

Competition bouldering problems are almost a distinct speciality of climbing.  They are pretty unlike anything you would find outdoors,set to spread out slight differences in talent and strength between the climbers, but also provide a gymnastic show at the same time.  There also seem to be fashions and trends; parkour is making its influence felt with increased dynamism, and competitors in any given final will surely find themselves hanging upside down by their toes at least once.

It is probably hard to appreciate the added pressure having to do the problems in four minutes, in front of a crowd of 200, with limited time to read the problem and analyse the moves required.  The blocs are hard enough tried out with mates the week after; how much harder must they be on the night.  Perhaps this is a reason why the competition boulderers do so well: mileage and familiarity with the subset of competition bouldering problems?

Diane Merrick: strength plus technique
The female blocs seem to be set more technically, which personally I prefer.  This is not to say no strength is involved: evident from the rippling muscles in the female competitors backs, and also the way I knacker my elbow when I come to try them on the following week.  I watch from near the red isolation curtain as a thrilling final unfolds.

First place is ultimately between Lexi Basch ( ME 'How do you pronounce your surname? LEXI Its 'Bash', ME Sorry, I've been pronouncing it Barsch, LEXI That's okay, that's how my Mum tries to get everyone to say it.) and Diane Merrick.  Diane dropped a move on the first bloc, and she needs to to top out the last problem to win: she doesn't make it, and Lexi Basch takes first.

The buzz has been tremendous and I am on a physical high.  So much so that I am avidly watching the numbers on the raffle before remembering I haven't bought a ticket so cannot possibly win.  There is just the clearing up left to do...

As I clear isolation there are two FINALIST singlets left.  I am tempted to nick one, then reflect what a knob I could look :  Wow, you were a finalist at the Big Flash?  No.  I just took this because it makes me feel like a winner and sound like a loser.  Also, they do not have my size.

All the extra water bottles left.  Shows what I know. Mind you, all the Bear Grylls Survival Epic Nutrition Gun Shakes are left too, which I did correctly predict.

Pictures thanks to Rebecca Saunders, Norwich Climbing and Mountaineering Club.