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Competition climbing in the U.S. survives mostly on a thriving youth circuit and a few national and international events that draw decent crowds—for bouldering, that is, but not for lead climbing. Many of America’s strongest men rarely ever compete, even on U.S. soil, and with climbing out of the running for the Olympics, that scenario seemed likely to continue.
In this dim light, the Psicobloc competition in Park City, Utah, was like a life-giving blast of sunshine. Modeled after an event in Bilbao, Spain, that Chris Sharma won in 2011, Psicobloc offered a head-to-head, deep water soloing format that promised big thrills for climbers and spectators alike. The event team, led by Sharma, Mike Beck, and Kevin Bradburn, erected a temporary wall that loomed 55 feet above a 10-foot-deep practice pool at the Utah Olympic Park. (Competitors had to risk the nearly five-story plunge over and over if they made it high in the standings.) The comp was timed to coincide with Outdoor Retailer, a semiannual gathering of the tribe in nearby Salt Lake City, and the sheer novelty of the thing—plus a $20,000 prize purse—lured a who’s who of top talent that doesn’t usually compete these days, from Sharma to Dave Graham and Lynn Hill to Tommy Caldwell.
More than 2,500 spectators flocked to the finals in Park City to see 5.14 flashes and painful-looking splashes, and nearly 20,000 people from more than 100 countries tuned in for the live stream. Sasha DiGiulian and Jimmy Webb won the comp, but the real winner was competition climbing itself. Look for a repeat performance in Park City this summer.
More Golden Pitons:
Look for the full Golden Pitons feature story, including dozens more climbs and climbers, in our February issue (Climbing 322).