Wednesday, June 02, 2010

David Lama, Red Bull, Patagonia

Last winter a 19-year old Austrian youth, David Lama, went to Patagonia to try to free the Compressor Route. The actions of his film team and their guides have caused an international furor. For those not in the know, the Compressor Route was the scene of a complete debacle when Cesare Maestri bolted (bad style) his way up a big face on Cerro Torre, an amazing mountain in Patagonia. Maestri first claimed to have climbed the mountain using "fair" means, but few believe him, so he went back and blasted it with bolts.

Anyhow, Lama, a 19-year old prodigy, decides to free the route. Cool, that's a neat idea. But a film team gets involved and things get sticky for Lama when his film team and their guides add about 60 bolts to the climb, and leaves fixed ropes hanging all over it for months. If you're a climber you understand that this is really bad style on many levels. The climbing world has of course gone on a rampage against Lama and one of his and my sponsors, Red Bull. Lama hired some local guides to remove the ropes and some of the garbage, but the bolts are there. Lama hasn't helped his cause by declaring that he did "nothing wrong." Maybe he didn't put the bolts in, but his team did, and an athlete is responsible for what happens on his trip. Period. Ultimately the athlete has the power and the responsibility on any sponsored trip.

Without knowing Lama or exactly what really went on, I'm still very unhappy about this. Adding that many bolts to an existing route just isn't at all cool. In fact, I'm incensed about it. It isn't Red Bull's fault directly, but they did bankroll the trip--along with Lama's other sponsors. Much of the climbing world is rabidly pissed off at Red Bull. I don't think that's completely fair, but hell, I'm upset by this both as a climber and that one of my sponsors helped pay for this junk show. What's the best course of action for me as both a climber and Red Bull athlete?

First, I've contacted Lama directly. He's 19, and I bet many of us can remember that age and comment, "Yep, did some stupid stuff." I can imagine Lama arriving in Patagonia with a film crew, a few European guides (they are reportedly the ones who did the bolting for the film crew, the bolts weren't for Lama's climbing), and some bad weather. The Austrian guides want safe rigging for the film crew in the sketchy weather, bolts are safe, bad decisions are made in the interest of time. Lama may not even have really seen the repercussions of this; he's focused on climbing, not filming or rigging, and he's 19 so if an older guide is making decisions about safety and rigging he might just defer, or perhaps just not even get the issue (his statement shows he clearly doesn't get the issue actually). Still, as climber, you're responsible for what goes on on your trips. Lama is responsible for those bolts, and like it or not, so by extension are Red Bull and Lama's other sponsors.

Second, I've contacted a few of the people directly involved to see what the best possible solution is from their perspective (Rolo, Red Bull). Red Bull has always been one of the best companies I've ever worked with in terms of respecting what their athletes want to do. I walked away on a very expensive climbing project at one point because it just wasn't the right thing to be doing in terms of safety, and Red Bull stood by me for that. They tend to trust their athletes a lot, which is great but they certainly wouldn't condone something they knew was wrong. I'm sure this is causing some waves back at the world HQ in Austria. When athletes do something stupid--or great--sponsors have to deal with it. At the moment I'm most annoyed at the older European guides on the trip, they really, really should have known better and shown some leadership.

When I get all the first-hand information back from those involved I'll try to contribute in some positive way to getting the best outcome for this cluster, it's just not right. I'll post up here when I have some more information.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Canada Crossfit Regionals

I spent the weekend cheering/coaching my wife, Kim Csizmazia, and all the other athltes at the Canada Crossfit Regional Games, which are a sort of athletic torture festival. Athletes at the Regionals have already qualified through a "Sectional," and a top six result at the regionals will send them to the Games finals in California. The competition is fierce, the events nasty, and the effort level high.

I wrote most of the following as notes on my phone during the event, so it's a bit rough, quick sort and here it all is:


-Masters. The over-50 athletes are strong, every time I caught a little of their action I was incredibly stoked. I would love to be over 50 and still putting strong numbers like theirs. Solid.
-Crossfit athletic skills. Double-unders (skipping two revolutions of the rope per jump, it's harder than it sounds), overhead squats, wall balls, etc. If you didn't have these skills dialed you were going home in the bottom of the pack. Watching someone bust out 50 double-unders without breaking a sweat is impressive, give it a try... The level is now high.
-Going hard. These athletes try hard. That "dig deeper" effort is a hard thing to teach, but Crossfit does a uniquely good job of getting people to reach way outside the individual comfort zone many people never leave. Respect for that, it's one of the most valuable things Crossfit can teach.
-Ability to do an incredible amount of work for short (under 20 minutes) time. Tire flipping, clean and jerk, running, going like a total nut case for about 10 minutes for the winners. I'm super impressed, that's sick.
-Physical results. The top athletes, male or female, were physically impressive, and also impressive for what they could do. I did a workout in a local gym one day during the event, it was funny to watch a guy doing bicep curls after seeing a CF woman bust out sets of 20 pullups straight (full ROM too). No arguing with the look of the athletes, if you wanna look good naked this stuff works.
-Good vibe. Overall very positive, pretty much standard stoke for any good athletic event.
-Kim. She has a hip that's been resurfaced, a gimped knee, she's 42 and many other things that generally don't help athletic performance, but she gave it the whole comp and placed mid-field despite starting this up only nine months ago. If she could do double-unders she would have been ten places higher. Solid.
-The women. Crossfit is a great venue for athletic women to fit in. Kim said, "I've found my tribe." There's truth in that. A lot of the world still would prefer women to wear dresses and sip tea in the shade. Crossfit is for everybody, but I think it might be uniquely suited to bringing out the athletic best in women. Cool.
-The mental strength of the top competitors. I always watch for this in athletes, it's usually the biggest determining factor between winning and not. The top competitors were STRONG in their heads, cool.
-James Fitzgerald, of Optimum Performance Training. This guy is obviously one switched-on dude. He was quickly on weak judges, always cheering athletes, and generally giving it everything he had. It takes an army of hard-working volunteers to make a big event work, but the tone and direction comes from the top, and "OPT" did a great job from what I could see.

I'm less impressed with:

-The run. It was a 5K run, mostly on grass, damp mud and paths, Kim and I checked it out an hour before the race and thought it was a fun course. It was supposed to be 6.7K but the organizers cut out 1.6K at the last minute because it was "too dangerous." I ran the "dangerous" portion of the course immediately before the event, it was muddy but not bad at all. You'd think a bunch of people with sayings like, "Today is a good day to die" on their shirts could handle a little mud and even the possibility of a muddy abrasion or two, eh?

-Running times/skill. I'm sure an average junior high school trail runner would kick ass on all but a few of the running times (which, for some reason, weren't kept, just places), and an average trail racer would destroy all the times (and a trail racer would get destroyed on clean and jerks, but these athletes are meant to be "elite" generalists--this level of physical performance is like a 90lb bench press). I ran most of the course with the men to see what parts had been cut from my scout an hour earlier, their pace was generally anemic (and I'm a below average runner), as were the times I recorded. I ran almost all of it again with Kim ten minutes later, she was gimping hard on her hip, hadn't done any real running in ten years, and still finished mid-pack (which is a good effort for her). Several women and men would have easily gone to the games if they hadn't sucked so bad on the run. it was obviously a huge hole in their training even compared to the performances of others. This level of running fitness is tragically low, and really rips the heart out of the "Fittest Athlete in the world" hype for me. Running is a basic athletic skill, the Canadian CF programming is weak on this skill, no way around it.

-Event organization. Crossfit is a young sport, and young sports always have teething problems, but this event really, really needed an experienced event manager. Maybe there was one, but starting the running race almost two minutes early (there were women running hard for the start line 30 seconds after the gun went off) and a few other errors I saw like that hurt the event's credibility. CFers suck this sort of stuff up (read this woman's comments on her wall-ball experience), but it's not right.

-Communication. Kim had to restrain me from going and grabbing the microphone and doing some announcing on the last day--there were a lot of spectators there, but nobody was getting any useful information or even PSYCHE over the PA. Here are some athletes doing some RAD shit, and the announcer has nothing useful to say at all about what they are doing, who is in the lead, fastest time in the heats so far, nothing. If Crossfit wants to make these games spectator friendly, and I fully think it's deserving of spectators, then it needs to be more spectator friendly! I was so stoked by what was going on, but unless you personally knew an athlete there was no way to figure out who was battling, or how the heat was doing relative to other heats.

-This lack of organized communication is a real problem with the Crossfit Games organization as well; the Games web site is getting better, but it's still near-useless compared to what it could be with a little work. There are no athlete bios (beyond the occasional "featured" athlete) so you can't click on a results or registered athlete page and know how old an athlete is, where he or she is from, what they weigh, sporting background, etc. I'm sure every CFer in Canada and likely around the world was checking the event out, it would have been a lot better to have all this info available, and it's relatively easy to do today.

-The hype, the "Ultimate proving ground for the world's fittest athletes," the T-Shirt slogans, "forged" stuff. This type of poseur rhetoric is a lot like the fat kid on the playground telling everyone how he's going win the elementary school running races the next day. No he's not, and you know he's not cause the kid who is going to win is out playing soccer.... Crossfit kicks ass on all general physical training I've ever seen, it is highly athletic, so talking big only makes it look weak. Talking all this smack about "being the fittest" is a form of "Compensatory behaviour" in psychological terms. When someone talks endlessly about how great they are they're usually not secure with their own worth or accomplishments. Crossfit obviously isn't very secure in its own rightful place as a worthy form of training and athletic event; grow up, get rid of the insecure hype, and celebrate what Crossfit is.

-Weak Calves on almost all the athletes. This relates to the run; most of these athletes must spend most of their time on relatively stable, flat surfaces, the relatively weak lower leg musculature shows it. More running, more time playing sports. "Paleo!" is a big rallying cry in the CF world, no paleolithic guy or gal had weak lower legs.

Overall, I completely dug the Games, it was a worthy experience to watch even if Kim hadn't been there. I'm proud of her, she put in a hell of an effort. Watch out in seven years, we're both gonna give 'er in the Masters!