2006 Rock Master Climbing Competition

Photos by Federica Valabrega

Arco is a quiet, little mountain town of about 15,000 people, surrounded with falesie (crags) of all types. It has a kid park with miniature boulder problems, and is the home of one of the world's tallest outdoor climbing stadiums, home to the venerable Arco Rock Master competition. 

Each year, in early September, the town’s tranquility is broken by a plethora of scrawny pro climbers, such as Patxi Usobiaga and Daniel Andrada, followed by a climbing crowd, here to participate in the event.  Climbers of all ages and nationalities parade up and down the main city Corso (street), and if you are lucky you might end up dining next to David Lama, the 16-year-old Austrian prodigy, or Manolo, the 47-year-old Italian legend. This three-day comp is now in its 20th edition, and this year attracted 3,000 spectators, with a record 49 climbers coming from as far away as Venezuela, Russia, and the United States. 

The Rock Master was created in 1986 to gather all the top-ranked climbers in the world to compete in two main disciplines: onsighting and roped climbing. Later, bouldering and speed climbing were added. The bouldering competition formula is simple, yet a bit cruel: athletes with the worst results are eliminated after every round, so that only the top-scoring ones move on to the next problem. In the speed event, each round knocks-out the slowest runners, and only the climbers with the top four times qualify for the duel contest to fight for the top four spots.  The roped-climbs ranking instead depends on the total meters the athletes in each discipline climb— the farther you climb, the higher you score.  

Photos by Federica Valabrega

You won’t find a more friendly spirit than the one these athletes shared on the 60-foot wall here at Arco: a mix of serious competitive action with lots of laughter and reciprocal encouragement, such as  Jorg Verhoeven sharing beta with David Lama in the warm-up rounds.

In that atmosphere, Climbing couldn’t miss joining the most famous European magazines, such as Klettern (Germany), Desnivel (Spain), and Pareti (Italy), to report this amazing event. 

September 1 – the Rock Legends Awards
Everything started on Friday night, when the Rock Legends Awards winners were announced.  Josune Bereziartu, 34, from the Basque country, won the Salewa Rock Award for being the first woman to climb 9a (5.14d), and for pushing grades for women, most recently on-sighting Fuente de Energia (5.13d), in Vadiello, Spain. Angela Eiter, 20, from Austria, won the La Sportiva Award for her victories in the World Championships of 2004 and 2005, for her domination of the World Cup (lead events) in both 2004 and 2005, and for placing first in the Arco Rock Master those same years. 


Photos by Federica Valabrega

September 2 – Men’s and Women’s Onsight, Speed Climbing, and Women’s Bouldering
The event continued on Saturday morning at the crag of Massone, right outside of Arco, where Josune Bereziartu, Daniel Andrada, and Yuji Hirayama showed up for a morning climb among friends, photographers, filmmakers, and the usual crowd.  After some photo ops and interviews, we all headed back to the Coliseum for the female onsight comp. 

Maja Vidmar, 21, from Slovenia, and fresh off a 5.14b redpoint (Osapski pajek, in Osp) brightened the scene, almost reaching the top of the wall, followed by the French bouldering legend, Sandrine Levet, who fell right below her, a few inches from the top.  American Emily Harrington climbed very smoothly, placing third before Kathrina Saurwein from Austria and 16-year-old Charlotte Durif, this year’s world champion from France. The two-time Rock Master champion Angela Eiter didn’t do as well as predicted, falling early, but still holding her place amongst the top five, leaving Martina Cufar, Slovenia, sitting in 9th.  

The afternoon proceeded with the male on-sight comp, in which “Ramonet” Julian, a Spaniard from Catalonia (last year’s Rock Master winner), compensated for his petite size with a-near-the-top climb that brought him an inch closer than Jorg Verhoeven, 21 from Holland.  In third place was Tomas Mrazek from the Czech Republic, who found the time to say “Hi!” to the spectators while sending the route a few points above Flavio Crespi, the 26-year-old Italian and a recurrent presence here at Arco.  David Lama placed only seventh, and Patxi Usobiaga 11th due to a sudden fall. 

Photos by Federica Valabrega

At 8 p.m. we were still there, watching the sun set behind the climbing wall, yet the day was still young, with men’s speed and women’s synchronized bouldering still to come. 

The speed comp took place on two vertical green panels with directional blue arrows draw on the surface, more resembling a 100-meter dash than a climbing competition. The athletes were secured with a bright-yellow body strap connected to a toprope, and their starting platform looked like running blocks. After pushing the timer with their right foot, the climbers left the platform with “Ready, Attention, Go!”  Then, they ran up the wall and started monkey-jumping from hold to hold, gunning for the red buzzer at the top. They were so fast that it was hard to keep track of them with a camera, let alone the naked eye. The Russian Synitsin dominated the race, followed by his co-national Vaytsekhovsky in second place.  Last year’s champion, Olesky from Poland, came in third place, but set the comp record time of 10:52 seconds, shaving a whole 8 milliseconds off his previous year’s time. Hroza from the Czech Republic came in fourth. 

The nighttime women’s bouldering event was perfect in its execution and moving in its fairy-tale setting. Four 18-foot boulder problems hidden in the greenest, most remote corner of the stadium came alive as shining little boulder fairies entered the scene accompanied by glorious music and high-resolution reflectors. 

The problems, set by the Fountainbleau legend Jacky Godoffe and Italian strongman Alberto Gnerro, consisted of very technical moves on huge volumes and little crimpers, averaging a scant five holds per wall. Definitely not so problematic for Anna Sthor from Austria, who, with smoothness and power, flashed all four problems, winning the comp without the slightest hesitation. The Russian super-champion, Olga Bibik, and Ukrainian world champion, Olga Shalagina, both failed on the second problem, and missed the last hold on the fourth boulder, to tie for second place, with Helena Lipenska from the Czech Republic, finishing third.   

After a fresh beer with the director of Kletter, and Emile, a writer from Limits in Nederland, I was ready to hit the mattress for a long, rejuvenating sleep and I didn’t even compete -- I only watched! 


Photos by Federica Valabrega

September 3 – Men’s and Women’s Redpoint, and Men’s Bouldering
On Sunday morning, I decided to show up at the wall a little earlier than usual and, by surprise, witnessed the athlete’s “behind the scenes” warm-up, watching a crowd of iPod–dependent zombies who would later transform into the main attraction of the day. (Prior to the beginning of the redpoint comp, the athletes were let in the Coliseum for one last look at the route, which they’d worked the previous Thursday.)  This was my favorite part of the whole weekend — seeing a bunch of climbers, heads-up, facing the wall and mimicking moves with their hands.  For a spare second I felt as if I were climbing with them, hanging on the wall in pain, as they would be in a few minutes. 

The men’s route consisted of a flat, slightly overhanging five-bolt run to a balancey side-pull, where a few of the climbers rested by knee-locking against the hold.  The route continued with a technical star-shaped hold that made for a tough clip, then a bouldery move to a pinch, followed by few more roofs and a mandatory splits leading to a final, balancey series of crimpers. 

The women’s route was equally interesting, yet slightly more bulging.  It reminded me of Bulges of Munge  (5.10d) in Rifle, with its weird bulging bellies and “resting” slabs, yet much more difficult. It started on the right corner of the wall, traversing left past two bulging holds below the first roof. This was followed by a roundish protuberance on the second roof and a mandatory splits move on the last roof before reaching the top. Both routes were set by the Arco locals and Rock Master regulars, Leornardo Di Marino and Donato Lella. 

The morning had started with a grey, cloudy sky, highly soporiferous, for the already sleepy crowd. But, just in time for the first climber to hit the wall, the sun decided to chime in and brighten the route. It wasn’t until the fourth climber though that the atmosphere became fully awakened -- by the performance of the Italian Luca Zardini, a 13-time Rock Master participant, who left the competitive climbing scene with a breakthrough climb, falling as the crowd chanted the Italian soccer World Cup refrain “Po, po, po, po, po!”  

“This was my last Rock Master, and I wanted to show you what am I made of. I hope you all enjoyed the show,” he said. “Thanks for pushing me higher for so many years. I appreciate the enthusiastic fans who come back every year,” and with this he left the field for the youngsters.  Next up was the teenager Marin Garcia Eduard, a new discovery from the Catalan climbing scene and the first to come inches from the rooftop. The male comp was punctuated by 20-year-old Angel Eiter, regaining her past two-year Rock Master popularity, by racing to the top in the women’s event. Still, despite the screaming crowd and the adrenaline rush, climbing from a sixth to a first place was angelically impossible. Nonetheless, Eiter’s sweet smile and thankful appreciation for the fired-up public granted her a second place and lots of applause. Winner of the 2006 Rock Master of Arco, with great climbing performances in both on-sight and redpoint comps, was boulder world champion Sandrine Levet, 24, whose long, skinny legs took her all the way to the top of the podium without showing any fatigue at all.  Third place was assigned to Charlotte Durif, whose slow but steady climbing technique paid off.  She was followed by Katharina Saurwein (AUT), Emily Harrington (USA), Barbara Bacher (AUT), Maja Vidmar (SLO), Chloé Graftiaux (BEL), Martina Cufar (SLO), and Jenny Lavarda (ITA). 

Switching back to testosterone mania, the male comp took off again as the 16-year-old Austro-Nepalese son of a Sherpa, David Lama, entered the stadium and came within reach of the top zone.  But the best was yet to come, with the top four climbers still in the box. The first out of isolation was Italian winner of the 2005 World Cup, Flavio Crespi, who showed the way to the finishing holds and ended up fourth overall. Next came Tomasz Mrazek, number one in the world rankings, who found time to ask the crowd to cheer him up before falling a few moves after Crespi, ending up third. Second place was gained by Jorg Verhoeven, 21, from the flattest country in the world, Holland, who climbed impeccably, yet not high enough to send the route.  So, the 2006 Arco Rock Master champ remains Ramon Julian who managed to skip the mandatory splits move at the top of the route, substituting it with a burly one-armed pull-up. 


Photos by Federica Valabrega

The day proceeded with the male sync bouldering comp, where the “cleaning-your-partner’s-hold” game between the Italian Michele Caminati and the French Ludovic Larance kept the humor high and loosened up the competitive atmosphere.  First up came Daniel Andrada, master of overhangs, who flashed problems one and two, but who was eliminated on the number three face-smearing problem. Also eliminated on problem three, Italians Michele Caminati and the Italian national bouldering champ, Lucas Preti.  Last year’s Arco bouldering champ, Kilian Fishuber from Austria, didn’t make it to the final round as well, falling on the third problem and leaving his spot to Tomas Oleksy, the speed champion who ended up second, followed by the humorous Ludovic Laurance, whose strength more than made up for his sloppy style and earned him a never-expected third place. First place went to the Rock Master bouldering series winner Nalle Hukkataival of Finland, whose unbreakable concentration and unresponsiveness to the public’s greetings brought him to flash three problems. He finally decided to show us a smile, once proclaimed first overall – Hip, Hip, Hooray!  

The day ended on a joyful note with the now-customary Ennio Lattisi Trophy, a "Duel" of mixed Difficulty and Speed events between the top four climbers of the Rock Master. The women’s scene was again dominated by Sandrine Levet, who gained first place over teammate Charlotte Durif, while the Austrian Katharina Sauwein overthrew teammate Angela Eiter and ended up third.  The men’s "Duel" was instead conquered by Tomasz Mrazek, who stole first place from Ramonet, leaving Jorg Verhoeven third, and Flavio Crespi fourth. 

—Federica Valabrega 

Photos by Federica Valabrega


Men's Rockmaster:

1. PUIGBLANQUE Ramón Julián  ESP
3. MRAZEK  Tomás   CZE
4. CRESPI  Flavio   ITA
5. LAMA   David   AUT
7. BINDHAMMER Christian  GER
8. ZARDINI  Luca   ITA
9. MILLET  Sylvain  FRA
10. WINKLER  Daniel   SUI
11. USOBIAGA  Patxi   ESP
12. PREUßLER  Timo   GER
13. MIDTBOE  Magnus  NOR
14. MCCOLL  Sean   CAN 

Women's Rockmaster:

1. LEVET   Sandrine  FRA
2. EITER   Angela   AUT
3. DURIF   Charlotte  FRA
4. SAURWEIN  Katharina  AUT
6. BACHER  Barbara  AUT
7. VIDMAR  Maja   SLO
9. CUFAR   Martina  SLO
10. LAVARDA  Jenny   ITA 

Men's Bouldering

2. OLEKSY  Tomasz POL
3. LAURENCE  Ludovic FRA
5. PRETI   Lucas  ITA
6. CAMINATI  Michele ITA
7. ANDRADA  Daniel  ESP
8. BOROWKA  Andre  GER
9. MÜLLER  Matthias SUI 

Women's Bouldering

1. STÖHR  Anna AUT
2. BIBIK  Olga RUS

Men's Speed

3. OLEKSY  Tomasz POL
4. HROZA  Libor  CZE
6. ESCOBAR  Manuel VEN
7. CARVAJAL  Nestor  VEN
8. KOMONDI  Csaba  HUN 


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