Adidas Rockstars in perspective

Let’s take a look back at the last big bouldering competition of the year. Adidas Rockstars didn’t disappoint, all of us who took part in it (climbers, organizers, media, setters…) walked off pretty happy with how the event went.

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Janja Garnbret during finals. Pic by Elias Holzknecht.

The route setting
The problems were really good in every single round of Adidas Rockstars. They worked perfectly: they were fun to watch, they were effective dividing the field and climbers enjoyed climbing them.

Right after the qualifiers I heard several climbers praising the route setting. I spoke with some other photographers and they liked the problems as well.

Part of it was simply that the problems were full of big, friendly holds and dynamic moves. This season the World Cups had a lot of small screw-ons and uncomfortable problems, with lots of sketchy and slow problems (see the semifinal in Paris or the entire competition in Meiringen).

The climbing in Stuttgart was fun, powerful and more relaxed. The IFSC bouldering season was over and Adidas Rockstars took place right after the World Championships; most climbers were in lets-just-have-fun mode.

A specific aspect of the route setting that I really liked were the top outs. It’s rare to find those in the World Cups and it’s a pity; mantling is such an important aspect of climbing and you seldom see it in comps. I get that having a wall that allows top outs is not always possible, but they had one in Stuttgart and I’m glad they took advantage of it.

The competition
Adidas Rockstars isn’t a world cup. And though most of the competition format and most rules are taken straight from the IFSC rulebook, they put extra emphasis on the rhythm and the show.

The qualification round is way shorter, there’s just one group per category and both categories compete at the same time. Having just one group is simply a matter of limiting the number of participants, something that the IFSC will have to do sooner or later (in Munich the qualification round lasted about 12h).

Another way to improve the rhythm of the competition is having just 4 minutes per problem and just 4 problems per round. This forces climbers to get out and climb as soon as possible and to rest as little as possible. It all makes for a fast-paced competition in which something is always happening.

Don’t read this as criticism of the IFSC format or as a Larssenesque suggestion on how to improve it. I’m just pointing out how in Adidas Rockstars they’ve made changes to the IFSC format in order to have a faster and more spectacular show (that’s basically the only goal there, not so much in an IFSC comp).

The organization
Several climbers have said that in Adidas Rockstars they felt like professional athletes for the first time (or something to that effect). It’s easy to see why.

Climbers warming up in the Athlete Louge. Pic by Christian Waldegger.

Climbers warming up in the Athlete Louge. Pic by Christian Waldegger.

Instead of finding their own way to the competition venue they have an official bus. Instead of a sad, boring and mostly empty isolation area they have the “athletes lounge” which is isolation + sofas, puffs, a bar with drinks and snacks, physios, two climbing walls… The organizers make a big effort to ensure climbers’ comfortability. They are the stars of the show.

From the perspective of the media working there, everyone I talked with had the feeling that our job was way easier than in IFSC competitions. We could go everywhere and do anything as long as we didn’t get in the way. As simple as that, use your common sense and you’ll be fine.

And the press room was possibly the best I’ve ever been to (only Innsbruck 2015 compares). Great Wi-Fi, ethernet connections everywhere, power outlets galore, tons of chairs and big tables (we don’t really need much more).

From the organizers the message we, the media, got was “you are welcome here, you are important to us, we want you here” instead of the usual “I guess we can tolerate your presence, but don’t push your luck”.

The show
All the above, paired with a massive live streaming team, a couple of stars as commentators (both climbers, both with lots of experience in bouldering events) a good DJ and professional lighting (that kept the wall with constant light but that played with the crowd and reacted to the climbing) made for a great show.

Also, once again, the format of the final helps. The Super Final makes for a really exciting moment. Everyone is paying attention, there’s lots of tension and suspense. That is rare with the IFSC format, many times the winner has been decided by the time the last climber tries the last problem (although it didn’t happen in Paris, for instance).

One criticism is that having to change the Super Final problem in the middle of the round means 5 to 10 minutes of time to kill. There were 3 of those dead time moments during the final, but the organizers always had some performer ready to entertain the audience.

To summarize: Adidas Rockstars is the perfect example of how bouldering comps should be run. Competition format aside, the event was great and everyone involved was happy about it. I can’t wait to be back next year.


The coverage of Adidas Rockstars has been possible thanks to the support of Five Ten and Euro Holds.

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