The Impact of Isolation

Like many fans of climbing, I tuned in to watch ABS Nationals this weekend. LT11 streamed the three rounds of climbing and I was surprised to find that the qualification round took over 9 hours! Qualifiers consisted of 5 boulder problems that climbers had 4 minutes each to attempt. Because of the onsight format, climbers had to wait in an isolation zone, which prevented them from watching the other competitors. This means that the person who climbed last had to wait for everyone else to climb ahead of him. With 124 competitors in the male category, the last person to climb waited nearly 9 hours.

9 hours in isolation

The wait time in isolation must impact the performance of the competitor. To help validate this gut instinct I had, I charted the competitor rankings after the qualification round versus their starting position. The results clearly show that competitors climbing sooner tend to perform better.


The y-axis and the dots are the rankings – the lower the better. The x-axis from left to right is the starting position; essentially time. The blue line is the trend line, which shows that better rankings are favoured by earlier start times. The most relevant plots are the ones below the 20th rank line because they are the climbers who advanced to the next round.

80% of the climbers who advanced to semi-finals started in 50th position or less

This kind of makes sense considering that the climbers in isolation longer are further susceptible to fatigue, anxiety, loss of focus, and even boredom. Furthermore  the condition of the holds for the 124th climber is going to be much different for the 1st climber despite the multiple brushing/cleaning breaks through the round. The crowd size near the end of the qualification round was nowhere near as large as at the beginning. That’s less cheering and psych that some competitors thrive on.

This is just a high-level look at the impact that isolation time has on competitor performance. The chart above assumes a random selection for the start list and doesn’t account for climbers’ abilities. In other words, it’s possible that by chance, the “better” climbers just happened to start earlier, which would also explain the distribution in the chart above.

This is something to discuss for future ABS National events if the competition wants to give an equal opportunity for every climber to perform their best.



  1. 1

    Not to be too nit-picky, but you cant claim “The results clearly show that competitors climbing sooner tend to perform better.” without some stats other than that trend line on the graph. R squared? P value? These are things you should include if you want to start making some claims about the results.

  2. 2

    Trend line on that graph looks like a real stretch as the basis upon which to claim a trend. You can draw a trend line through any random scatter but that doesn’t explain how much of a trend it is with regards to correlation. With utmost respect, I would suggest that scatter plot shows quite the opposite; that there is surprisingly little impact of isolation on performance.

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