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Inside Look: Ice Climbing On World Stage

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“Like a spaceship had just landed, this structure resembled something of a different world.” — Olympic-bound ice climber Gordon McArthur commenting on the structure pictured below at the UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup comp this month in Korea.

We covered Gordon McArthur last month in a preview to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. He is currently on tour competing in the UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup. The following excerpts from his blog, photos, and video capture the intensity of the first round of the competition in Korea.

“The venue was as I remembered from previous years — spectacular,” McArthur wrote. “As I walked toward the isolation tent where athletes go before actual competition, the structure stood out, sky-rocketing above all the spectators. Like a spaceship had just landed, this structure resembled something of a different world. The architecture that towered above everyone got me super fired up…that I was going to climb on that thing in just a short period of time. Hmm…then I looked at the start list…second last. That short period of time had just turned into something like 4hrs later.”

McArthur writes about the “isolation zone,” where athletes wait to compete between rounds:

“The isolation zone was emptying. One by one, athletes would ready themselves and step out onto the world’s stage, displaying their best efforts on an architectural masterpiece.”

He describes his first attempt at the climb:

“From the second I left the ground, there was no mind. One move at a time, each being its own moment, I just went up. And before I knew it…I was merely 2 or 3 moves from the finish. Was it enough? Did I actually qualify in the first round of world cups?”

The excitement of learning he qualified for the second round:

Eating lunch I was exhausted, trying to replenish all the energy I had just spent. I was psyched on my performance. My fellow competitors were all congratulatory on my climb, saying that I had done well. And then one of the Russians initiated a sequence of high fives, excited with smiles. I had no idea why. He speaks only Russian! But then he blurted out, “You are in my friend!” I lit up, filled with a sense of accomplishment, excitement, and reassurance that I did belong in the ring.

After some more time in an isolation tent, Gordon is ready to climb again:

The moves were big, bigger than usual. Long reaches, technically powerful sequences — left, right, left, right. I needed to give everything I had. I think I did, but in hindsight, there was more to give. Perhaps first round jitters, I don’t know, but regardless I still climbed very well, landing me in a three-way tie for 11th. My best result yet. Am I happy? Heck yah! It’s the first round and I’m already getting my best results to date. Is there more to come? You bet your ass there is. It’s only the first round. I have a lot more left to put out there. I can feel the excitement.

McArthur is competing in Romania this weekend in the second round of the World Cup and building toward an exhibition appearance at Sochi.

—Sean McCoy

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