Interview: Claire Buhrfeind and Sean Bailey, Sport Climbing National Champions - Climbing Magazine

Interview: Claire Buhrfeind and Sean Bailey, Sport Climbing National Champions

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This weekend the 2018 USA Climbing Sport National Championships took place in Reno, Nevada. I spoke to comp winners Claire Buhrfeind and Sean Bailey about their performances.

Claire Buhrfeind

Claire Buhrfeind Portrait USA Climbing Competition Sport Speed

Claire Buhrfeind, winner of the 2018 USA Climbing Sport and Speed National Championships.

I caught up with Claire Buhrfeind just after she finished her winning Speed runs and right before she stood atop both Sport and Speed podiums at the 2018 USA Climbing Sport and Speed National Championships in Reno, Nevada. Still out of breath from both efforts, Claire offered a few insights into her stellar performance and looked ahead to what might be next.

Congratulations! How does it feel to be National Champion?

Buhrfeind: I had a great time. I love competing with these girls, and it’s been a really great event.

Are you still a little amped, Claire?

Yes, I am like going crazy right now...I’m still trying to catch my breath.

Fair enough. Thanks again for joining me, Claire. You are also the reigning Youth Sport National Champion in the Women’s Junior category. How would you compare that win with tonight?

I approach every competition kind of the same way. Funny enough, a lot of the girls are the same. I’ve been competing with these girls since I was about ten years old. A competition is a competition. I just try to focus on the route and tune out everything else.

Claire Buhrfeind USA Climbing Competition Sport Nationals 2018

Claire Buhrfeind on the women's Semifinals route at the 2018 USA Climbing Sport National Championships

Speaking of tuning out, how does the crowd factor into your climbing at comps?

A little bit, I definitely notice it. But when I’m climbing, I get in my zone and focus on finding my flow.

What was your level of confidence at the start of the Finals route? You saw it, you previewed it, you sequenced it. How did you feel?

I felt good. I saw the route, and it looked really fun. Obviously we had a lot of strong girls in the category—some of the best in the world, not just the nation. We were [all] looking at it, wondering how it would play out. In general, I don’t get too many nerves when it comes to competing. I just love to compete. I get more excited than anything.

Talk a bit about how you visualized climbing the route versus how you actually climbed it. Was there a critical move that you imagined doing one way but then actually climbed another way?

Everything kind of went how I had planned it to go. There was a little bit of a moment where I kind of forgot what I was doing in the bottom section, and I got a little anxious there. But once I’m able to get to a rest position, I’m usually pretty good at restarting and focusing on the next section.

Claire Buhrfeind USA Climbing Competition Sport Nationals 2018

Claire Buhrfeind in an early section of the women's finals route at the 2018 USA Climbing Sport National Championships.

What’s your superpower? What aspect of your personality helps you get through anything?

Probably my confidence. It’s taken a long time to build, and a long time to learn how to be solid in myself. When I come to a competition, I’m never really worried about the results, or worried about how I’ll perform. I’m just enjoying it because I love to compete, and I’m a competitor. At the end of the day I’m confident in myself and in my climbing, and that really helps me to try hard.

What’s next on your calendar?

I’m going to the Red River Gorge! So, climbing outside. I’m excited to get out there. I tried The Golden Ticket last fall, and I really hope to get back on that route.

And the Olympics?

Definitely. It would be an amazing opportunity to compete. I am hopeful to qualify.

Sean Bailey

Sean Bailey Portrait USA Climbing Competition Sport Speed

Sean Bailey, winner of the 2018 USA Climbing Sport National Championship.

I caught up with Sean Bailey just after he reclaimed his Lead title at the 2018 USAC Sport National Championships in Reno, Nevada. We found a relatively quiet spot in the then-deserted isolation area to chat about his Finals climb and his future plans. He was all smiles, until I asked about the Olympics.

Congratulations! How does it feel to be National Champion?

Bailey: Feels good.

Did you come in with high expectations this year? Specific goals?

I knew it was possible. I’ll just leave it at that. Two years ago I came to this event, and I won it. Last year I didn’t do [Nationals], but I did a bunch of World Cups and was pretty successful. So I knew I could be in the running for this. I wouldn’t say I had expectations, but there’s that feeling of knowing you belong.

Assess your level of confidence at the start of the route. Did you think the Finals route suited you?

I don’t know if it suited me. I don’t know if it suited anyone, really. It was so varied, so many different styles. A lot of times you can break the route into a couple sections, and this one I felt had so many different sections. The first part was kind of weird and techy and awkward. Then it had this thuggy section, then this tricky section, and then another thuggy section, and then a crimpy section. There was so much going on that I think everyone had chances to feel really good in spots and feel a little worse in other spots.

Talk a bit about how you visualized climbing the route versus how you actually climbed it. Was there a critical move that you imagined doing one way, but then climbed another way?

I’ll visualize [the route], and I’ll decide a beta that I’m pretty sure I want to do, but I never settle it 100%. I like to keep it a little bit open. There were a few sections that I didn’t even read a certain beta, like the crazy cube section. I knew the solution would come when I was there. Then there were some other sections where I left myself one or two options. I try to never go in thinking “this is what I’m doing,” because sometimes I’ll try a little too hard the wrong way and then you’re off the wall.

Sean Bailey USA Climbing Competition Sport Nationals 2018

Sean Bailey navigates the "crazy cube section" on the men's Finals route at 2018 USA Climbing Sport National Championship.

How does the crowd factor into your climbing at comps? Do you feed off it, do you hear it, do you block it out?

I hear it. It’s like an energy thing. I can feel when it’s there. So when I’m successful, I can sense that I’m maybe higher than other guys have been, or that sort of thing. I really zone in and get tunnel vision. I feel [the crowd], but it’s not necessary.

What’s next on your calendar?

A whole lot. I’ll be back in Seattle for a month for some training, preparing for Bouldering World Cups. Then I’ll do those—I think I have five planned out. Then I’ll be home for a few weeks, and then I’ll go back over to Europe and do the Lead World Cups. Then I’ll be back home for a few weeks, and then back to Europe for the world championships. And hopefully after all that I’ll go climb outside. Go to Spain or something like that.

And are you thinking about the Olympics?

[Laughs. Covers his face with his hands and exhales, then laughs again.] I hate this question.

Sean Bailey USA Climbing Competition Sport Nationals 2018

Sean Bailey climbing in the qualification round of the 2018 USA Climbing Sport National Championship.

Thanks for your honesty. That’s understandable.

Yea, of course. I think I’ve found a way of thinking about it that I like. For me, climbing is about so much more than being an Olympian. There are so many outlets that have been very powerful for me in climbing. If it arises and it’s a possibility and it’s something that I’m given the opportunity to do, then of course I’m going to take it. But it’s not the goal. It’s along the path. If I’m given the opportunity, then I’m going to give everything I have to it. I think it’s everyone’s dream at some point to be an Olympian. Who doesn’t think about it? By the same token, if it doesn’t end up happening, I won’t be bummed because there’s so much to do in climbing.

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