Gabriele Moroni: from competitions to Goldrake, sport climbing in his DNA
Interview with Italian climber Gabriele Moronim from his first competitions to when he won bronze in the 2004 European Bouldering Championship in 2004, via his bouldering and sport climbing which recently netted him the redpoint of Goldrake 9a+ at Cornalba, Italy.
Gabriele Moroni, the climber born in 1987 in Novara, Italy, certainly needs no great introduction. For more than a decade he has been a reference point for sport climbing not only in Italy, but the rest of the world, with outstanding results in competitions and outdoors where he has managed to boulder up to 8C and climb 9a+. At the end of October he hit the limelight with his repeat of Goldrake at Cornalba and this 9a+ ascent
provided the chance to find out what drives his love for climbing, fueled by ingredients such as pure talent, punishing training regimes and, superfluous to say, great sport climbing.
Gabriele, let's start at the beginning, or almost. It seems like only yesterday that you competed in the European Bouldering Championships in Lecco in 2004. You were young, under no pressure whatsoever... and you won bronze!
It's really nice that someone still remembers that day. I was a mere 16 years old, with very little experience in senior competitions. Practically no one knew me abroad and the only support I had was from my family, from the Italian team coach Giovanni Cantamessa and from a few friends, including Alessandro Gandolfo who, at the time, was like an elder brother to me
10 years have passes since then. What do you still remember about that competition?
Unfortunately ten years is a long time to still remember the exact emotions during the final, but I do remember being stunned that I was up there among the best in Europe. I was like a little kid who'd suddenly appeared out of the blue. During the final I remember being inside a bubble, driven on by the spectators who, being mostly Italian, were right behind me... Incredible!
Without wishing to take anything away from my performance and the end result, I have to say that in that moment there was a change in generations, the strongest athletes of the late '90s were getting close to the end of their career or had already retired, while the new generation, including myself, was just beginning and had very little international experience. The fact of the matter is though that I never thought I'd stand on the podium that day! It was a magical moment, almost unrepeatable, one of those that enable you to remain cool and determined to give 110%. All this with the mindset of a 16-year old teenager.
You started as a boulderer, "grew up" at the B-side climbing gym guided by Marzio Nardi. What does this group represent to you? How important is it and what has it given you?
This is what most people believe. In truth though I've always been a "complete" sport climber and right from the outset I've always done both bouldering and sport climbing. The real foundations were laid in the gym at Novara thanks to my first instructor, Mauro Colombo. Then, when I was about 14 years old, I realised that what the Novara gym offered was a bit too constrained and so the guys at Bside and Marzio (Nardi ed) welcomed me with open arms. But since I still lived in Novara I couldn't train there too often, just a couple of times a month. The truth is that I grew up on my own, homemade wall until I was 18. I then got my driving license, finished school and this opened up a whole new world. I started travelling a lot more and above all I trained more consistently at the Bside wall, for the national and international competitions.
At some point you stopped competing. Do you want to tell us why?
Yes, I stopped in 2011. I was just demotivated at the time. I'd started doing competitions as a young child and for 14 years these had been my priority. I took part in all of them, all the national and international comps, Under 14, Under 18, then the Italian Cups and the World Cups, the various Masters etc etc … if I look back now, then perhaps I took part in too many. The last few years became frustrating, I found it hard to be consistent, perhaps because of inadequate preparation and training. I always aimed at winning a World Cup stage, but this never happened. Second place, four times in four years, always getting very close to winning, but at the end of the day, no victory. And then after the death of Giovanni Cantamessa, in my opinion the only true coach the Italian team has ever had, the only one in the Federation who truly believed in the importance of a team, all us athletes became demotivated. It was a real blow, Giovanni was not only our coach, he was one of us ... I still love to remember the Bouldering World Cup trips to the Island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean or to Vail, Colorado. At the time we were a really good team, myself, Christian Core, Lucas Preti, Michele Caminati and Giovanni our coach! Yes, I guess I no longer had that overriding sensation of belonging to a team of athletes / friends and this is the main reason why I stopped competing.
But then, last year, you returned. With vengeance. We believe we noticed a new approach. Is this true?
The flame actually never died out. I knew that sooner or later I'd return to competitions. The main stimulus came from the Adidas Rockstars last year. I'd been to Brazil a few months earlier on a climbing and cultural trip and returned completely out of shape and overweight. So I decided to spend a few months training seriously for a trip to Germany's Frankenjura. Actually, since I'd been invited to the Adidas Rockstars the plan was to take part in this comp and then climb in the Franken for a few weeks. Without any expectations whatsoever I qualified for the final, together with today's superstars, and ended up fourth. This got me thinking and after a while I came to the conclusion that with a good deal of specifi training, I might still hold my own in international competitions. The real difference this year is that I competed for myself only, with renewed motivation. Right from the start I knew I wasn't going to do all the international comps this season, only those closest to home seeing that I'd have to pay for them myself. Despite never reaching the finals, I qualified for five Semis and am satisfied with the results and certainly don't regret my decision.
A question that might sound silly: why do you compete in the first place? What do comps give you?
I grew up competing. At first I was only a child and didn't know if I liked it or not. I was good and I always got top results. I had fun because there were other children and we played around, but then it became hard to deal with the stress. As I grew up I began to understand how to transform the tension into energy and give everything I had at just the right moment. And if your body does as the mind tells it to, and vice versa, then it's a really amazing feeling! But it has to suit you. Lots of people can't deal with their emotions, are afraid of people's reaction to their performance, are worried about what the crowd, other athletes, friends or family might think and therefore can't give 100%.
From indoors to outdoors. We know you've done 100 8c's or more. An amazing number, isn't it?
It has to be said that these were climbed over about 9 years, so it's not outstanding since I'm a full-time climber and can climb during the week. Having said that, for me it's a good goal and I'm proud of it, also because I've always shared my thoughts about the grades and have down-graded lots of climbs. Had I used the grades in the guidebook, then I'd have reached 100 many months ago.
At the same time, we also believe you tend to say that 9a is not that great and no longer newsworthy since so many people can climb this hard. But is this really the case?
Stating that 9a no longer means much is a bit risky, all I want to say is that the ability level is getting higher and higher and nowadays there are lots of climbers capable of sending extremely difficult routes, very quickly indeed. For me personally 9a is always something really great and I fully respect all those who manage to climb this hard.
What does it take to send 9b? Do you think you might be able to do so?
You need a lot of qualities, all skills must be perfectly honed to the highest level. I'd have to work hard at all of them. I consider myself a good climber but, when all things are said and done, with fairly average qualities and abilities. My technique: medium - high; power: medium; endurance: poor; flexibility: embarrassing. Fortunately my greatest gift is being able to successfully combine all these skills. So to climb 9b I'd need to work on all these attributes and make them excellent. I don't know if I can still improve. I don't seem to be getting much better and even after good training, apart from peaks every now and then, generally speaking I'm not improving much. Fortunately my experience helps me a lot and it's above all thanks to this that I manage to quickly repeat boulder problems or routes.
Actually, last winter you did some great bouldeirng when you sent your second 8C, The Story of two Worlds
That was really satisfying. I started trying it as a joke, together with Niccolò Ceria. I'd sent some 8B+ problems pretty quickly in the past, but until last winter I'd never attempted anything that difficult. A few months before sending The Story I climbed another problem the same difficulty that perhaps tested me even more, but it was then downgraded by Jimmy Webb. But then in February I was on form and this problem proved a good test seeing that I'd started training for competitions a few months earlier.
Sport climbing, bouldering. What about trad? Come on, you've even climbed on England's gritstone, you can't not love it ;-)
No, at the moment I'm only interested in bouldering and single pitch sports climbs. Scraping my way up cracks or breaking my ankle on English grit isn't my thing at the moment. A few years back I got into doing some trad, climbing a lot at Cadarese with the Matteo Della Bordella / Ricky Felderer team, making the first ascent of trad route Thanks Ricky, an 8a that has now become a reference route there. I certainly want to return to England, yes! But what draws me back aren't those perfect blank lines of grit, devoid of bolts, but instead that small limestone roof, often wet, in the Peak District... Hubble!
What's your relationship with the media? You've alway been very helpful with us, but one needs to grab you at just the right moment...
It depends on the moment and my desire to be in the limelight or not. Let's just say that I've never approached a magazine or a website and asked them to publish something about me. I've never asked a photographer or a filmmaker to follow me on my journeys, apart from the No Siesta Spain Trip experience that, at times, was a bit too much. I don't know, perhaps my vision of climbing is rather different from the classic pro who enjoys seeing being published with photos and videos. I'm more the type of guy who travels to the Frankenjura with friends, climbs three 9a's in a week, would like to send a fourth and therefore doesn't take the time to have some photos taken... I like looking after my image via social networks, posting some photos on instagram, but nothing more. You won't believe how many people have told me that I don't do enough to publicise my climbs! But that's just the way I am, it's part of my nature, somewhat shy and reserved.
Talking about the No Siesta Spain Trip. You spent months climbing about in Spain... a dream come true? And would you do it again?
I'd say it was a project Silvio Reffo and I had for a number of years. Setting off for two months with only a camper, no worries, nostress, trying to climb as hard as possible on the local testpieces. I'd certainly repeat it, but I'd change the destination. Maybe the US...
If you look at the national and international scene, what impresses you?
Sometimes I'm impressed by people's pure strength. On the internet you can see some really impressive videos. People who could potentially send 8c or 9a but, not knowing how to listen to their bodies, fail on 7c.
If you look back at your climbing, is there something you're particularly proud of?
Definitely my repeat of Action Directe, it cost me a lot of effort and money. It was also a time of great friendship. Even today I'm thankful for all the support I got from so many different people. Consider the fact that a couple of times we set off that month on Friday evening and returned on Sunday evening. Pure motivation to climb, but above all to have fun together... In fact, the most intense memories of those Frankenjura weekends aren't related to my efforts on Action Directe but to the evenings at the pub!
In recent years the Frankenjura has become your second home, perhaps you're the Italian who's been there most
Yes, I'm definitely the Italian who's spent the most time in the Frankenjura, after Vito who owns the pizzera at Neuhaus! The Frankenjura is a historical place for climbing, it's always fascinated me. I've tried to retrace the steps and repeat all the classic routes that have shaped the history of modern climbing. Starting with the first 7a's and 7b's by Kurt Albert and then progressing to the harder routes put up by Wolfgang Güllich, Werner Thon and Guido Kostemeyer in the '90s ... For me the Franken has become much more than a second home, it's a sacred place to which I feel attached and I need to pilgrim to it at least two or three times a year.
Talking about pilgrimage. This autumn you returned to Cornalba after a couple of year's absence. And you repeated Goldrake, the 9a+ first climbed by Adam Ondra that you'd started trying in 2012. This is the route you invested most in. Tell us about it.
It was a real "life experience" that lasted several years. I started trying the route by chance, I'd never been to Cornalba before but knew about the route having seen a video of Adam and I wanted a project for that winter. Soon though I realised that winter wasn't the best time of year for that route, way too cold and windy. But I'd become obsessed and after just a few days of attempts felt close to the redpoint. But whenever I reached the crux I lost all feeling in my fingers. So I returned the following season, in autumn, but wasn't particularly fit and getting in tune with the route took a while. This delay proved costly and once back in shape the cold finger problem retuned. One day I somehow pushed on through the crux, only to fall off the finishing slab with completely numb hands.
A real blow
Psychologically, yes, so I decided to give up, abandon the project for a while. Almost two years have passed since then. I didn't return for various reasons, one of the main ones being that I didn't want to put myself to the test... until a few days ago... This year was different. I wanted to deal with unfinished business. I couldn't bear thinking about the route almost every day. And fortunately things went quickly. After two days I managed to climb to the top and finally clip that damn chain! I think I succeeded so quickly due to several reasons. Excellent shape, temperatures not too low, a cloudy day with little wind and, above all, the fact that I had nothing to lose, I hadn't yet entered that tunnel in which you need to have everything under control and if you make a even a tiny mistake or do a move at your very limit, then you lose concentration and no longer believe you stand a chance.
You redpointed the route in late October, 20 days have passed since then. How do you feel now?
I feel light, as is a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Happy, yes, that I don't have to return to that ledge... Actually, the sensations I had during the send weren't that great. It was my third attempt that day. On my second attempt I'd fallen up high and was unsure about giving it another go. But then I decided to give it one last "shot" and, dragging myself up God knows how, I managed to get through the crux and I found myself on the slab at the end, where I'd fallen two years previously! Definitely more tired than before, but at least this time I could feel my fingers ...
Will we see you at Cornalba again?
Definitely! I spent so much time trying Goldrake that I practically haven't tried anything else and still need to do almost all the easier classics. And there's a really beautiful, airy project that's still waiting for its first ascent!
Gabriele Moroni thanks his sponsors: Five Ten, E9 and Petzl