He dedicated his life to Sport Climbing and is working also this week in Bratislava at the FISU World University Championship. We asked Jérôme Meyer, the 2008 European Boulder Champion and current Head of Olympic Coordination at the IFSC, about his thoughts and impressions of the championship in Slovakia, this sport and its future.
Jérôme, for now, are you satisfied with the championship in Bratislava?
So far, we are very satisfied. We came here six months ago for a site visit and there were still a lot of things to do. We came back to discover that the walls, sports facilities and the event services – hotels, transportation, etc. – were well prepared. When we started this event, no one was over-stressed and that is a sign that everything is fully under control.
You’ve seen many climbing walls in your life. What do you think of the facilities, the wall here?
The walls are great and this is an interesting concept, to have part of them in the city centre and the other part in existing facilities like the K2 climbing gym. This is a sustainable model for the organising committee and the legacy of the event.
Then what makes the difference for the competition is not really the design of these but instead the holds and volumes put on the wall. Now, the use at IFSC events is to build a simple wall, having large flat panels with a maximum of 2 or 3 different inclinations, a simpler design than the one we have here. Then what creates the variety and complexity of the routes are the volumes and holds of various sizes added.
This principle works on every wall and even an existing one – like in the Lead venue – matches very well with what is needed for the competition.
What is the key factor in preparing for a competition like this?
We have different options for presenting our Sport Climbing events, each one is unique. It depends on the scale of the event, what its position is regarding the territory where it is hosted and the expectation of the various audiences, whether they are on-site or a digital/TV one.
For the World University Championships, we need to offer, first of all, an experience to the athletes that values their student status. We therefore try to have, as much as possible, one single accommodation where all the people involved are hosted.
Then, since it is a world level event, we need to involve the highest standard of equipment and very experienced officials, this participates to showcasing the best of our sport to the audience while offering the athletes routes and problems in which they can express themselves.
Finally, from a more operational perspective, since the IFSC is not the owner of the event and the IFSC is not in charge of all the aspects, it is essential to create strong relationships with the organising committee. Sharing knowledge and educating each other about our respective regulations. This has worked very well with the team here.
World University CHampionship competitors practicing the day before the first competition day, which took place in the Lead discipline of Sport Climbing
What do you think of the number of countries participating in Bratislava? Is it enough or did you expect a little bit more?
There is an increase in the participation compared to Shanghai in 2016 so that’s very good news. We are also happy because the awareness of this event is improving. For Shanghai, the level of participation suffered a bit because of the new status of Sport Climbing amongst the portfolio of World University Championships.
It needed also some time for the connection between the National University Sports Federation and our member National Federations to be made correctly.
My guess is that this trend will keep on for the 2020 edition and beyond to reach the point where the level of participation is comparable to the IFSC events.
This might eventually require the Organising Committee to manage longer and more complex events, but this is a good problem to have.
The comradery amongst Sport Climbers is a distinctive attraction of the sport, and one that is reflected greatly in university sport climbers
Is it hard to attract young people to climbing?
Sport Climbing is super popular among youth. We have many clubs and climbing gyms worldwide where their courses for kids are packed.
It’s a natural activity for them and with the development of the facilities around the world this will continue for sure.
Does it help that it will appear in the Olympic Games now? Did you feel an increase in interest because of this?
The Youth Olympic Games and Olympic Games are a fantastic accelerator and show the best of it. They will show that it’s a true and safe sport, and that – in this form – is not climbing mountains in an ice and rock environment. They will also see that it is a sport that implies strong educational values.
Now, a little bit about you: do you still climb yourself?
Yes I do, with a renewed pleasure every time it happens. I was an athlete from 1998 to 2008, and I won 3 World Cup titles as well as the European Championship title.
I still climb for my pleasure and the pleasure of doing it with friends without the pressure of competition. The great thing with Sport Climbing is the variety of its form. As I mentioned, Sport Climbing is not Mountaineering but this is also an option if you have climbing skills. You may also go with your kids and share the pleasure of climbing on different routes while being in the same place. You may finally travel for this and the rocks you find are an integral part of the trip, climbing on routes you may not find near your home. All this creates new experiences, and this is why I’m still climbing.
What did you take from your sport career?
I was a student during my sport career, in a business school, and when I decided to retire from competition this was also the moment when I was finishing these studies. Approximately at the same moment the IFSC Sport Manager position became open and I was lucky enough to be selected for it. So, the first thing I took from my sport career was the purpose of my professional mission, working for a sport, for my sport.
Then, provided you are in a professional environment that allows it, you can transfer a lot of things from a sport career. As an athlete, you mainly know yourself very well and are trained to manage moments of stress and have a problem-solver mode. Athletes are also driven by pleasure and challenges, this is something that must be respected, and finding pleasure in your job is essential for an athlete.
If this is absent, the professional life of an athlete is harder; if this is present, athletes are generally high-value assets for the organisation.
Did you also have the opportunity to climb here in Bratislava?
No, I didn’t have the opportunity and the reason is that when I am at the events it’s very difficult to find the time. In your mind, you are not really in the mood for climbing. But it happens a few times and I was able to try the routes prepared for the competition. This was indeed a nice experience and also a great source of inspiration for my work since I could have a double perspective on the routes, but this becomes more and more difficult as our events grow in complexity over the last years.
What are the next events you have in your schedule after this?
We are still in the middle of the season, with many World Cups in Bouldering, Lead and Speed happening. In terms of major events, we are going to have the IFSC Youth World Championships in Moscow in early August, but I may not be able to attend as I am focusing on the Youth Olympic Games. Then we have the IFSC World Championships in Innsbruck, in the first part of September, and then we are heading to Buenos Aires for the first Youth Olympic Games in the history of Sport Climbing. It’s a nice and exciting menu!
With the intense focus and training that Sport Climbing takes, skills learned in the university classroom translate into performance, both on the rock and on the climbing wall
All Photo Credits © Roman Benický/SAUS