The Start of a Journey (as told by Ashraf Sapri)

Posted by Ben Toh on

My First IFSC Bouldering World Cup in Navi Mumbai, India.

World Cup!

(and definitely not the last…..)

It has been a little over a week, but every single detail of that memory and every experience that I brought back with me from India is still fresh in my mind — the heat, psyche, atmosphere & hospitality.

- Leading up to the competiton…….

I’ve been training really hard, not only putting in the hours but training smart. There definitely had to be sacrifices in certain aspects of my personal life, which definitely wasn’t an easy decision to make. Mentally, there were countless setbacks, and I always had to make sure that I didn’t stray too far away from my own goals. Having a really tight climbing community here in Singapore really helped me to stay psyched and focused. I’m sure other competitive climbers can agree that staying psyched really isn’t easy as you are bound to have bad climbing days.

Physically, I would be going up against climbers who are definitely way, way, way (WAY!) stronger. All I could do was to make sure I was mentally prepared and to not let my nerves get the better of me as I stand in front of the wall. From watching and being in competitions every year, I knew that anything can happen in competitions, and that you just need one small mistake, to just screw up your whole competition. Knowing that this was only going to be my 1st World Cup, my expectations certainly were not high, but I just wanted to make sure that I fought my hardest, to really have a gauge of where I stand among the rest.

- The Big Day………

It helped that it wasn’t my first time competing in India, and that I knew some of the Indian climbers. I was just really excited to be back in India and meet everyone again (and hopefully not get injured). All the Indian climbers were really very welcoming and hospitable. The organisers assured me that they used proper mats this time, which is a reference to when I had a minor ankle fracture back in 2013, competing in their local Girivihar Competition. Owing to the fact that I was travelling alone and obviously didn’t know anyone else, the company of the Indians was much welcome, especially during Isolation as I was the last climber. Being in the same room as the big names in climbing — Sean McColl, Alexey Rubtsov, Chon Jongwon just to name a few — was definitely really exciting and nerve-wrecking at the same time. I honestly felt like a little boy who, for the very first time, explored a new playground. At the same time, I was really proud of myself, to actually be competing on the same platform as them, after 6 years of competitive climbing.

Warming up for my turn was really a “sweaty” experience. I was drenched in perspiration. I always thought Singapore was really hot and humid, that my body would be used to the climate, until I was actually there in Navi Mumbai. The warm-up wall was outdoors and the heat was close to unbearable. The locals told me that this period was actually the peak of Summer, which means that it is the hottest time in Navi, Mumbai. Temperatures were probably close to 40 Degrees Celsius. Luckily, the competition venue was indoors and we didn’t have to endure the sweltering heat while competing.

Minute to Win It

After 3 hours in isolation, and 5 problems in qualifying……………………….. I made 4 Tops in 18 Attempts. After I managed to top Problem 5 with only about 2 seconds to spare, I had a really good feeling. I was extremely happy with my results, and I thought I could sneak into the Semi-Finals. Unfortunately, fate had it planned another way, as exactly 20 climbers topped all 5 problems. Just 2 positions away from being the 1st ever Singaporean to qualify for Semi-Finals. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed with my results. Alot of “WHAT IFs” & “MAYBE I SHOULD HAVE” started to pop in my train of thoughts when I recalled not being able to TOP problem 4. Then it hit me. This isn’t just another Gravical or Pumpfest. This is the IFSC BOULDER WORLD CUP and I was actually 2 positions away. T-W-O! My first World Cup and I was really so close. It only proved that I was on the right track. All those countless hours I put in, and many more in the future, are really beneficial. For the rest of my time there, I just enjoyed being a spectator, and watched the other climbers fight for the Podium during the Semi-Final & Final rounds.

And what an experience it was actually being there physically. My palms probably produced enough perspiration to shower myself with it. The Indian crowd was just awesome! It was apparent who the local favourites were — Rustam Gelmanov & Sean McColl. Nonetheless, every single person watching, whether they were climbers or not, were just cheering for all the climbers! My pulse was just racing throughout the whole competition, especially during the Finals. Seeing Tomoa Narasaki & Kokoro Fuji cruising to their podium, finishing the problems with such ease was really just breathtaking. The Japanese were just really a joy to watch. All of them are extremely young, but already crushing at the highest level of climbing competitions. So much to learn from them! Of course, big ups to fellow Tenaya and Tokyo Powder Industries Athlete Miho Nonaka for her very first World Cup win! To see her cry when she got on the podium showed how proud she was, and how much she has trained for it. And did I say, it was a joy to see Monika Retschy fight for not just her podium, but getting into Finals as well! It definitely showed me that it is really not over until the last problem! What’s important is that you just keep giving your best on every problem, and leave without any regrets! Congrats on her Silver Medal too!

- Take-aways

So many things that I took away from this experience. Not just for myself but for other climbers to take note of too. ( Just my 2 cents worth :D )

  • DREAM BIG — IT IS POSSIBLE! I know it sounds cliché when people tell you to dream big , but it is true. Yeah you can dominate the local competitions here in Singapore. Be the Open Men Category champion year in and out. However, even if we do win Pumpfest, Gravical or Boulderactive, we are still just little s**ts in the climbing scene (pardon the lack of better word). IT DOES NOT STOP THERE. Push yourself even further. Surround yourself with people who are as psyched or even more psyched. Yeah aim to start small first, but make sure to just keep pushing toward greater goals.
  • Train SMART & not just HARD — It isn’t just about clocking in the hours in the gym. Know what you’re actually doing. Don’t just blindly climb or train. Every move you make, or every time you fall off the wall because you can’t do a certain move, know what you did wrong. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes on the wall, but be sure to be aware of those mistakes, and learn from them.
  • STOP COMPLAINING! — We Singaporean love to complain. When we can’t get what we want, we complain, even though we know it is our fault. Yeah everyone has their own commitments. Be it school, work, family or any other personal commitments. But if you really want to train, whether it is just for 2 hours, or even an hour, make time for it! Whether you go to the nearest climbing gym, or just your personal hangboard at home, JUST DO IT! (As said by the Legendary Shia Labeouf)

Till Next Time……

I just want to thank all those who have supported me, one way or another. Of course, I’m ever so grateful and privileged to be a part of Team Onsight. Onsight Climbing Gym has been supporting me for the past couple of years, in any way possible. I honestly couldn’t have gotten this far if not for their support! And also to the Singapore Mountaineering Federation for giving me the chance to represent Singapore in this IFSC World Cup, and other international competitions in the future.

So many more World Cups for me, but my next one will probably be in 2017. Need to train up and prepare myself to achieve even greater heights and break more personal barriers. Up next, the Asian Continental Championships in Duyun, China, held on 3–4 August 2016. I have only a few weeks left to gear up for it, and have planned out my training. Will probably do another short write-up soon about my plans, just to pen down and share my training with others.

Till Then…..


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