CBJ reported in February that USA Climbing’s National Team Trials will be held at High Point Climbing and Fitness in Memphis, Tennessee, over a five-day period at the end of March. The Team Trials will determine which athletes get to represent Team USA on the IFSC’s international competition circuit. In other words, the National Team Trials are a big deal, and particularly during a pandemic, there is a lot of planning and coordinating that must go into getting a gym ready for such a significant event. To learn more about the gym’s preparations, we reached out to High Point’s President, John Wiygul, for some insight.
CBJ: USA Climbing has been chugging along with virtual competition seasons via the KAYA app, but these National Team Trials at High Point Memphis will be historic—a return to facility-hosted American comp climbing! How are you personally feeling at this point about all that?
WIYGUL: Honestly, I am really excited for us to host the National Team Trials at our facility in Memphis, Tennessee. The climbing community there is simply amazing. We have youth team members already on-sighting 5.13b that are brand new to climbing! All in all, it’s just great to have such a positive and accepting community showcase a national competition in their home gym.
CBJ: When was the decision made to hold the competition at High Point Memphis…and what were your initial thoughts about hosting an event at your gym in the ongoing “pandemic age?”
WIYGUL: We started working on hosting Team Trials back in mid-July of last year. Basically, everything was uncertain! I knew we had a chance, so I thought, ‘Let’s set a goal and see if we can make it happen.’ Our Memphis facility is one of our newest facilities, but most importantly it is our largest. We’re super glad we decided to again build the full 15-meter speed wall there allowing us to host major competitions.
CBJ: What sort of preparations have gone into getting the gym ready for the comp?
WIYGUL: Planning is the name of the game. Since the competition is happening during a pandemic, many things have been scaled back or been cut out altogether. Workloads have changed from what they usually are. For example, there are no spectators, no food and beverages, and no after-party. However, there will be a competition, livestream, and ESPN rerun coverage.
CBJ: What are some of the biggest challenges in turning a climbing gym into a host for a five-day, high-level competition?
WIYGUL: I think the additional workload on our leaned-down management team is the biggest challenge. Other than that it’s routesetting, volunteer coordination, communication, and overall impact on our members that call High Point Memphis home to climbing.
CBJ: In USA Climbing’s press release for the event, you are quoted as saying you will follow all the appropriate COVID protocols. Can you explain what some of those protocols will be—and what sort of mitigation efforts will be in place for the competition?
WIYGUL: High Point has been following all county, city, state, and CDC guidelines since we re-opened our facilities back in May and June of 2020. We are still requiring mask use by all individuals in the facility, temperature checks before entering, hand washing, and social distancing. USA Climbing will not only adhere to local regulations, but will take additional measures to safeguard the health of all in attendance. Examples include:
- Follow all CDC recommendations for limiting Covid-19 exposure for a minimum of 14 days prior to event/arrival at the venue.
- A negative Covid-19 PCR test, obtained within 72 hours of the start of the event or arrival at the venue, will be required for all attendees.
- Masks will be required at all times.
- Alterations to competitor check-in process to reduce the quantity of individuals within the facility at a given time
- Sanitization stations between each transitional area within the venue. Competitors will be required to use these. Additionally, a number of personnel will be dedicated to sanitizing surfaces.
USA Climbing has published a document, USAC National Team Trials COVID-19 Countermeasures, that specifies the requirements as they apply to this event. This document can be found on the National Team Trials page of the USA Climbing website.
All of our precautions to date have actually worked very well, as we have fortunately not seen many cases at all in our climbing communities.
CBJ: I don’t think anyone would argue with the reasoning behind the choice not to have spectators. But do you think it will feel a little weird (for the gym and also the athletes) to have a competition and not be able to feed off any roaring crowd energy?
WIYGUL: Yes, absolutely. This will not be a normal competition, but at least we are able to host a competition and allow athletes to come climb, compete, and have fun. All in all, it will be a different experience but still a top-notch event that competitors have come to expect from High Point and USA Climbing.
CBJ: There will be a lot of big names on the roster. The provisional invites for the women included Margo Hayes, Natalia Grossman, Kyra Condie, Ashima Shiraishi, and many others. The provisional invitations for the men included Sean Bailey, Colin Duffy, Nathaniel Coleman, Kai Lightner, and more. Any predictions for who might snag those top three spots (per gender) in each discipline and make the U.S. National Team?
WIYGUL: I think predictions will be really hard to make considering the difficulties of training and competing over the last year. However, the existing National Team has had the benefit of access to the USA Climbing Training Center and their world class National Coaching staff. This highlights the importance of staying on or getting onto the National Team.
John Burgman is the author of High Drama, a book that chronicles the history of American competition climbing. He is a Fulbright journalism grant recipient and a former magazine editor. He holds a master’s degree from New York University and bachelor’s degree from Miami University. In addition to writing, he coaches a youth bouldering team. Follow him on Twitter @John_Burgman and Instagram @jbclimbs