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Neal Harding on the NZAA Top 20 climbers ranking

Richard Tregoweth - Tuesday, October 05, 2010

For those of you who do not know, Neal Harding is the man behind the NZAA Top 20 climbers ranking system. The Top 20 is generating plenty of debate in the climbing community - for and against. The revised Top 20, following the Wellington Regional TCC on Saturday, will be released tomorrow and there are bound to be a few changes to the rankings!

Neal offers us some insight into the mechanics behind the ranking system below (and a chocolate fish to the winner of the tree climbing quiz - see second to last paragraph).


"It has been very interesting reading all the comments on Treetools blog – as well as talking to various of you over the weekend.

I’m not much interested in whether those on the ladder are real arborists (although it was laugh-out-loud funny when that bloke (Reuben Drew) in Wellington did one of his climbs carrying a chain saw). I’m also not keen to argue for or against some sort of national or international circuit – or whether you can or can’t pick up a gig in Auckland without being on the list. Fun though it is to read what you all think. I’m also not interested in debating who deserves to be where on the ladder. In fact I’m much more interested in the theory of the ladder – than who sits where.

I’ll post the revised top twenty tomorrow.  

Before I do that I wanted to explain some changes that I have made – that will be reflected on tomorrow’s list. Those of you with ranking points earned at last years Nationals, or this years International will wake up tomorrow morning to discover that their ranking points have increased – possibly without even climbing this weekend. This is because a notional/earned system is now in use. It too is borrowed from Golf.

The best three results are still used. I chose three because whilst it puts an extra burden on those who do one qualifier and the Nationals – it only imposes a minimal extra burden. It is also to encourage climbers to climb, and to recognise the efforts of those that do. Golf uses all events over the last two years – Tennis the best 16 results in the last twelve months. So three a year is not that onerous.  

The changes – on a great minds think alike sort of story takes into account some of the things that Joe Harris raised. I agree with Joe that Golf is the best analogy – because like tree climbing it is as much about a battle with yourself and the terrain as it is about a battle with your fellow competitors. I did think about a par system – but the difference in trees and judging toughness between tournaments caused me to think it wouldn't work (golf is objective – you either get the ball in the hole or you don’t – tree climbing is more subjective) – also it takes a loooong time to improve your handicap in golf – where as tree climbing improvements can be made reasonable quickly (by comparison). A par system would be slow to reflect a climber’s hard work - especially for improvements at the lower end of the ladder (ten extra ranking points can jump a climber from 62nd to 55th for instance. That’s not important for you blokes in the top twenty – but it may mean something to the bloke in 55th place).  

The new system means that it is less likely for a person who has never climbed at a national event to make the top twenty (although as you see tomorrow it is not impossible). It also limits the ability of a person to get a good ranking based on climbing at a whole heap of minor qualifiers.    

The new system also treats our Nationals as the benchmark event. I am sure everyone aims to do their best at this event. (it wouldn't surprise me if most Olympic athletes go to the pub the night before the Olympics - certainly most of them smoke a packet a day). If you do well at the Nationals it is reflected in your rankings.  It is also important to do well because it is the moment when a theoretical ranking becomes a factual ranking.       

Another thing to remember is that it will take a few more months for the system to bed in properly.  The regional competitions from March this year are probably a bit heavy (as they occurred early in the application of the ranking system), next year the ranking points at these events will be more on a par with those obtained in this year’s Waikato and Wellington regional competition’s.  

The ITCC is also treated as if the 39 climbers at Lisle (2010 ITCC event) were the best 39 climbers in the world. Anyone who has seen a world’s knows that this isn’t actually true. We know that the number one climber from the Greenland Chapter wouldn't have qualified if he had been from the much superior Ascension Island chapter. However I don’t think it matters and here’s why:  

Firstly Jimmy (Kilpatrick), Scott (Forrest), and Grant (Cody) deserved the rich haul of ranking points they got at the world’s because they were good enough to qualify – James especially deserves his rich haul because he finished third in the world (the bloke from Greenland finished dead last and got 80 ranking points which would have put him in fiftieth place on our ranking table).  

The second point is that performance in the worlds impacts on very few people – only eight local climbers have competed in the world’s in the last ten years (a chocolate fish to the first person to name them! See Treetools to collect the fish). So if someone else qualifies for the world’s from our chapter then they will and quite justifiably jump up the ladder. If they do as well as Jimmy did this year – then they'll get an extra boost. All of which in my view would be utterly deserved.

Thirdly the climbers clambering to qualify for the masters at the World’s are very good (eight climbers were within five points of grabbing the last two masters’ spots) – both the bloke from Ascension Island and the bloke from Greenland were never really in the hunt.

A new “how it works” will also be posted tomorrow".

Wellington climber Reuben Drew, showing he is a 'real arborist' at Wellington Regional TCC on Saturday, 3 October. Photograph courtesy Mark Tantrum Photography.

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