“I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship between commentator and audience” | An interview with Liam Lonsdale

Right before heading to Innsbruck for the World Championships, we got the chance to catch up with Liam Lonsdale. If you follow climbing online, chances are you are very familiar with his work (he’s a writer and photographer) and his voice (he has been the commentator at some of the biggest climbing events: Adidas Rockstars, La Sportiva Legends Only and Hard Moves).

Liam during the ‘Battle of Britain’ competition

As well as an iconic commentator, Liam is the host of several big-name events and has been the ‘MC’ for Lead and Bouldering World Cup competitions as well as the British Championships.

As you can see, he’s quite a prolific guy! Let’s learn a bit more about his work in the climbing world.

First, let’s start off with your commentary style, it’s quite unique amongst the other speakers at competitions. Can you describe it and what inspires that?

I’m a big sports fan, I love to watch sports broadcasts of all types and have always been fascinated by the relationship between commentator and audience. Essentially there is the physical barrier of a screen between the viewers at home and the action and it can often be very difficult to gauge the atmosphere of a competition. When I am commentating, I try to throttle the tempo and energy of my commentary to match the action. For example, when the pace of the competition is slow, I go slow. When the crowd is calm, I stay calm. Then as the action happens, as things really ramp up and become more exciting, that’s when I pick it up.

The difficult part of the style that I adopt is that I must make sure that it is not just effusive enthusiasm and that what I am saying is informative to the viewers.

Jakob Schubert during the IFSC World Cup in Munich © Liam Lonsdale

As well as the actual physical element, you always seem to know interesting facts about the athletes. How do you get that information? How do you go about preparing for the competitions?

I am fortunate that I have personal friendships with a good number of the athletes on the circuit and if I haven’t worked with them as a presenter or commentator, then there’s a high likelihood that I’ve worked with them as a photographer in some capacity. That personal relationship gives me an insight into some nuggets of information that may not necessarily have been discussed on air before by other broadcasters. That said, it does bring its challenges because watching my friends compete and remaining impartial whilst they do so, that’s tough!

As for the athletes that I don’t know, I always try and chat to as many of them as I can before an event and get a feel for their general physical/mental state — this gives me context when I am commentating on their performance during the competition itself. As someone who likes to stay abreast of happenings in the climbing world, there’s always something for us to talk about!

The other preparations I do are based around statistics and competition results. I have a massive spreadsheet that I regularly update with key results and information from the season, and that thing goes a long way back!
I think finding the balance between the three different elements is the key from there.

You mentioned photography there, tell us about that…

Yeah, so I split my time between commentating/presenting and working as a commercial photographer. I sometimes shoot competitions too, depending on what clients need. My passion
for photography is firmly rooted in the outdoors. Cliff faces and mountains are a welcome contrast to being sat in a hot commentary booth or chalky climbing gym.

Alex Megos doing his thing in Frankenjura. © Liam Lonsdale

You are a climber yourself. How important do you think it is to your work?

I actually dabbled in competition climbing for a couple of seasons, competing at national level with two years of British Bouldering Championships. I trained hard and was committed … sadly I found myself getting critically injured just before both competitions and was incredibly disappointed not to be able to climb to what I felt was my full potential, on both occasions I was actually pretty lucky to be climbing at all … anyway, that time competing, and preparing for the events, it gave me a huge respect for and insight into the athletes that train every day and perform consistently across a whole season.

When I decided to stop competing I certainly didn’t stop climbing and continued to train both in competition style climbing and climbing indoors, whilst training to climb outdoors too. I think the understanding of movement, how to read boulder problems, interpret the way the sequence climbs… that gives me the ability to communicate the nature of the bloc to the audience before a climber has even pulled on the holds.

On top of being a climber myself, I sometimes work as a route-setter, guest setting for friendly competitions at climbing gyms around Europe. That gives me another perspective to add into my commentary — being able to put myself into the mindset of a route-setter is very useful!

Liam at the office. © QUANG LEE

What’s next?

I think there is still a lot of potential to grow the quality of climbing broadcasts and competitions in general and I intend to put a lot of time and energy to put into that in many different ways. There are new competitions and series’ appearing all the time, there are new ideas and strategies and that will lend itself to progression in many ways. When you think about it, the actual phenomenon of broadcasting competition climbing is still relatively new and as it continues to grow I intend to keep adding my unique flair however I can!

Liam on El Poder de la Ignorancia, 7C+, Margalef, Spain. © Dan Verge

We will be speaking to Liam again during the World Championships in Innsbruck to catch up on the action, our projections for the results as they happen and also the prelude to the iconic Adidas Rockstars later in September and La Sportiva Legends Only in November.

You can find Liam on social media: @liamlonsdale (IG, Twitter & Facebook)

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