07/09/2013. A great Ramón Julian Puigblanque won his seventh Rock Master title. An absolute record. Mina Markovic won her first Rock Master.
21:00. It’s time for the Lead final. And the view onto the Climbing Stadium shows that it’s packed to the brim. One might say this is Rock Master, pure beauty. Or, perhaps even, this is the pure beauty of Rock Master. Which might come down to the same thing. But there’s no time to think about this as things immediately begin to get exciting. On the maxi-screen there’s the video dedicated to Tito Traversa. And just like at Rock Junior a week ago the entire stadium falls silent, as if suspended in mid-air. Before breaking out into a massive applause to bid farewell to the little champion who is no longer with us. One never gets used to emotions like these… what remains is the memory, for a short moment everything seems to stand perfectly still. And then Rock Master begins, the competition Tito had dreamt of, like everyone else. At this point no one knows it – and we don’t want to give the game away – but this evening Rock Master holds something truly special in store.
So off we go, adrenaline buzzes immediately. The men compete on the same wall used earlier this afternoon in the (difficult) on-sight. The one with the “terrible” wave that breaches the enormous roof. But it’s not as if the first section is benevolent, on the contrary. This becomes clear as Magnus Midtboe is thrown off the first crux. Stefano Ghisolfi then climbs superbly, far further than the Norwegian only to suddenly slip of a hand hold, completely unexpectedly. Who doesn’t slip in the slightest is reigning World Champion, a.k.a. Jakob Schubert who climbs decisively, albeit not easily, up to the wave. There he loses the plot. But the route, by now it’s obvious for all to see, is by no means easy and the Austrian is well in the lead. He remains up front even after Russian (revelation) Dmitry Fakiryanov and Sachi Amma since they both fall considerably lower than the Austrian.
At this point the attention shifts to the other wall, the one of the left, as the time has come for the women to start. As usual they set off in inverse order compared to the Semfinal onsight. So Jenny Lavarda sets the ball moving up the long and difficult route through the overhanging arête. She climbs well, powerful and with great determination, but falls on the arête on the right. Open revelation Mathilde Becerra from France climbs better than Lavarda and before falling manages to push herself much higher. But the first real surprise comes from Dinara Fakhritdinova. The Russian seems absolutely unstoppable, climbing precisely past the massive red volume to then traverse right onto the arête, to the green volume that heralds the start of the large finishing overhang. She climbs upwards, ever upwards, all the way to the final sequence of holds and… tumbles. But there’s no time to comprehend how impressive this effort is as there’s a repeat performance, by another one of those athletes that “you’d not expect to do this”, namely teammate Evgenia Malamid. Evgenia climbs like a champion. Tirelessly, following the route indicated by Dinara. All the way up there, right up high, where she falls… on the very same hold as her teammate. At times destiny has more imagination than you might think. But it’s already time for Austria’s Katharina Posch, yet she falls far lower than the two Russians.
The moment of truth has arrived. Up next is Akiyo Noguchi. The Japanese is placed third in the provisional rankings. And like a true champion she has no major problems reaching the arête on the left, that green volume that acts as a springboard towards the final part of the journey. She stops there for quite a while. It’s clear that she had her sights set on that rest, to recuperate strength before setting off… and when she finally feels up to it she powers away. Climbs decisively, one hold after the next, but suddenly falls while touching the Russian highpoint. Now it’s Mina Markovic’s go. If anyone can top out, then it’s the Slovenian champion. And she sets off like a rocket, up into the sky. Without suffering too much she reaches the absolute highpoint and continues even… ever upwards. And when she’s almost there, within touching distance of the top, she falls off the very last hold. What a competition! But it’s not over yet… It’s time for the last athlete. Called Jain Kim. On today’s onsight she climbed highest of all, graciously up to the bitter end. So the spectators (and we imagine Mina Markovic, too) wait with baited breath. Watching the Korean climb is a delight. And, one move after the next, she gets there, to those final holds, even skipping the rest the others had used. She seems poised to reach the top but then, all of a sudden, she falls one hold lower than Markovic. So the Slovenian strikes gold twice this weekend: after being crowned with the Arco Rock Legends La Sportiva Competition Award, she now wins her first ever Rock Master. On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy do you think she might be?
Talking of happiness and great achievements, what still lay in store was the men’s grand finale. Just a quick recap: three still need to climb and, for now, Jacob Schubert lies firmly in the lead as he’s the only climber to have reached the large wave. Slovenia’s Domen Skofic climbs smoothly but then falls just below the Austrian’s highpoint. Canada’s Sean McColl falls lower still. At this point there’s only one man left who can show what lies beyond the wave-like Pillars of Hercules. It seems like an impossible undertaking but he, the last one out, is called Ramón Julian Puigblanque. The man used to the impossible.
And so, during that brief moment before the final act, the immense crowd seems to wait for nothing short of a miracle. And Ramonet begins to play his magic tricks right from the start. The first at half height, with a heart-stopping dyno: left hand crimp on a tiny crease, foot onto another crease and then upwards, a massively risky dyno. And then there’s more magic as he wins the brawl against the large wave. At this point the spectators are on their feet, applauding the winner. But Ramonet certainly doesn’t do things by halves: he turns to the crowd and asks for even more support. And then ploughs onwards, as if dancing, to reach the large central roof and final traverse.
The road to the top is still long and, above all, extremely difficult. But this evening nothing can stop him. As he lunges for the top hold the stadium… explodes! All over? No, not yet. He still needs to clip the chain but the rope drag is enormous. But he doesn’t give up and, while the crowd continues to cheer him on, in the end he finally succeeds. Now he can enjoy his triumph. This is his 7th Rock Master victory (an absolute record) and he wins thanks to a truly extraordinary ascent. Certainly one of the most beautiful in the history of competitions. What more can be added? This, ladies and gentlemen, is Rock Master. And Ramón Julian Puigblanque is its champion!
Before finishing, allow us to add that this incredible show was made possible by Leonardo Di Marino, Donato Lella and Luigi Billoro, the route setters who invented the “miracle route”.