Gripped - - FEATURE - Pete Woods is based in Cal­gary and this is his first fea­ture for

fi­nal­ist do­ing the ex­act same thing over and over with, at times, the ex­act same re­sults. Now, that’s not to say com­pe­ti­tions don’t have ex­cit­ing mo­ments – im­pos­si­ble move­ments, near misses, ridicu­lous f lashes – but a lot of climb­ing hap­pens in the climber’s head. It’s a think­ing sport as much as a phys­i­cal one and there can be a lot of think­ing dur­ing the fi­nals.

The crowd is not i n their head and watch­ing is not a think­ing sport, so that is what makes the job of the MC – my job – such an in­ter­est­ing chal­lenge. The crowd is a liv­ing, breath­ing thing, lit­er­ally and f ig­u­ra­tively. Their col­lec­tive in­ter­est will slip into in­dif­fer­ence. Peo­ple get tired. They get thirsty. They look at their phones. They talk to their neigh­bours. You can rally them – you can stoke their fire – but it’s not al­ways easy and it doesn’t last long if the show doesn’t in­clude holds be­ing ripped from the wall or ridicu­lous dis­plays of strength. This is where I earn my keep. This is where I thrive. I love get­ting the crowd in­volved and keep­ing them in­volved un­til the fi­nale. I want them to feel as ex­cited about climb­ing as I do.

When I missed mak­ing the fi­nals of that Tour de Bloc and agreed to MC, it was hard to get past my anger about not climb­ing very well and to be up­beat and pos­i­tive for my friends who had done what they needed to do to come back for the big show that night. It was also ex­hil­a­rat­ing: the en­ergy, the crowd, the best seat in the house, the de­sire to make sure my friends had deaf­en­ing sup­port for their ef­forts. I rode the high that night and it was fun. Then, when I did not make the next fi­nal at the fol­low­ing comp, I did it all over again. The trend con­tin­ued, which was good for my fel­low climbers and gym own­ers, but it took me some time to adapt. I’m not en­tirely sure when the shift hap­pened, but fast for­ward a cou­ple of years and be­ing the MC is what I look for­ward to, when I go to com­pe­ti­tions. Af­ter my se­cond World Cup in Hamil­ton, I started to see a fu­ture in it, in­stead of the pass­ing hobby of an ag­ing climber.

I also feel a draw to the other side of the lens, to com­men­tate on the live streams that are start­ing to be­come more preva­lent in the com­pe­ti­tion com­mu­nity. It’s hard to not be on the f loor, but in its own way, com­men­tat­ing is an amaz­ing way to be in­volved in the fi­nals. The com­men­tary doesn’t pro­vide the emo­tional high that be­ing the MC does, but in some ways it feels more con­nected to the sport. I find it is more in­ti­mate and more can be shared. I get to en­gage the peo­ple watch­ing from home through the com­ment stream on the live feed.

For nearly all sports, com­men­tary is an in­ex­tri­ca­ble part of broad­cast­ing. From curl­ing to F1 to the X-games, no mat­ter what the event needs from its com­peti­tors in terms of ath­letic or tech­ni­cal prow­ess, they need com­men­tary to re­main in­ter­est­ing to the viewer at home. The qual­ity and the quan­tity of com­men­tary may vary vastly from sport to sport and com­men­ta­tor to com­men­ta­tor, but when it’s good, you al­most for­get it’s there and the con­ver­sa­tion and the event merge seam­lessly to­gether.

Live com­men­tary pro­vides an en­tirely dif­fer­ent set of chal­lenges, such as the need to be i nvolved as a near-con­stant voice, pro­vid­ing facts and back­ground, one layer on top of an­other, build­ing on state­ments made ear­lier in the evening, mak­ing pre­dic­tions based on in­side knowl­edge of the com­peti­tors and the com­pe­ti­tion en­vi­ron­ment it­self. There is value placed on the sub­tlety of the in­ter­ac­tions in­stead of the drama of be­ing the MC. There is an­other level of in­volve­ment to pro­vid­ing the com­men­tary in or­der to en­hance com­pe­ti­tion broad­cast. Break­ing down the climber’s style com­pared to the prob­lems they are fac­ing. Mak­ing use of the in­side knowl­edge on the se­quences gained from talk­ing with the route set­ters and fore­run­ners or climb­ing the prob­lems ahead of time. Be­ing able to tell the view­ers at home what the holds are like, where there is fi­nesse needed and where there needs to be more com­mit­ment to a move­ment. It is the job of the com­men­ta­tor to be in­side the minds of the fans, to be the ul­ti­mate fan, to truly be in­volved in the event they are watch­ing and to use my in­sight to an­swer the ques­tions that peo­ple didn’t even know they wanted to ask.

I fi­nally ac­cept that I am no longer a com­peti­tor and have come to grips with my tran­si­tion. I now want to be the voice of climb­ing. Don’t get me wrong – I would still rather be climb­ing – but ev­ery­one needs to walk away at some point. When I walk away for good, I want it to be straight to a mi­cro­phone and into your liv­ing room.


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