This time it counts.
What a phrase. In 2002 the all star game ended in a tie. Major League Baseball, in an effort to maintain some integrity, decided that the winner of the ’03 (and future) all star games would decide home field advantage for the World Series.
What a joke. Major League Baseball knew nobody wanted to see the All Star game end in a tie. They made the move, not for the players, but for the media and for the fans. Basically a publicity stunt. Every year now, we watch the all star game with this “this time it counts” junk, so fans can get more into it. (Frankly, I think Home Field Advantage should be decided by the winner of more interleague games.)
Here we are, 5 years later, and another sport has been damaged by “ending it early” but this time it wasn’t the fans that were more wronged by the pre-mature finish of the competition, but the athletes themselves.
2007 Youth World Rock Climbing Championships. Ibarra, Ecuador.
There I was, watching these kids climb. This was the first time I had seen a rock climbing competition, and I was into it. Watching 15-19 year olds dangle from a finger 60 feet above my head, with no worry at all that they would fall. They pushed forward, hand over hand, using technique far above my climbing ability.
Male Juniors (19-20 yr olds), Sport (difficulty as opposed to speed), Semifinal round: The field had already been narrowed from 50 to 26, and these remaining climbers were now facing a harder route. Climbers fell much earlier, and making it half way up the wall was seen as a good accomplishment. Only the top 8 climbers would advance to the next round – the finals. Ryan Rodan, nick named “Future” by his coaches, hung on this wall, making his way up the crowd applauding every hold he grabbed, knowing he had already made it further than the majority of the other climbers. He grabbed a red hold, maybe the size of a standard 5-stick pack of chewing gum. He squeezed it, his arm shook, and there it was, he fell. That red hold was burned into my mind, and the mental note was made. That was his mark. Only 7 people could pass him if he were to make it to the finals.
4 had already done so, and 2 more would, leaving him in 7th for the semi final round. He had done exactly what he needed, and that was to just make it high enough to stay alive. Now he had to prepare himself for the finals, one more climb, highest man wins.
3:30 rolled around, the start of the finals, but his category wasn’t up yet. Male A (17-18), Male B (15-16) and Female Juniors were first. Climbers from each category went up the wall, one by one. Just as these 3 categories finished, massive dark clouds rolled in over the outdoor climbing wall. Rain. There it was.
The competition was on hold for a while, but eventually canceled. This was a Saturday, and the competition was scheduled to end on Sunday. Sunday however, was supposed to be used for the speed climbers, a completely different style and field than the sport climbers that had been competing. Sunday came, sunny, as it was most of the time in Ecuador, and the speed climbers did their thing. (My brother finished 17th, the highest USA finisher in the category.)
So what happened to Ryan? The guy who was supposed to have his chance at climbing for a gold medal? Nothing. They took the standings as they were at the end of the semi-final round. 7th. He finished 7th, because that was his placement going into finals. Sachi Anma from Japan won a gold, by default. He was in first going into the round.
How do these kids feel? They have competed and trained in their own countries for years, and their placement was on a run they didn’t even know was their last. They traveled across the world, took weeks out of their and their families lives to come to Ecuador to represent their country, and their spirits were killed by a 4 hour freak storm in an otherwise completely sunny week. Sachi won a Gold medal, and while I’m sure he’s very happy and proud of what he did, has to be disappointed somewhere that he didn’t win it in the way he was supposed to.
The competition had all of Sunday, and chose to cancel the finals for those kids. In my opinion they could have had those kids climb despite the difficult logistics they faced in doing so (because speed climbing was on Sunday). The sport of rock climbing lost some integrity by not having these finals, and far more than MLB lost for the All Star tie.
As far as I can tell, a publicity stunt won’t save face for that sport. Those kids will forever remember the World Championship they went to, and the decision that kept them from competing in the finals. Maybe next time it will count.