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A Conversation with Guy McNamee, the 2022 Canadian Nationals Double Champ

We talked with McNamee about the National Championships, his day-to-day climbing, and his plans for 2023

Photo by: Evan Zucker/FlashFocused

Guy McNamee is one of Canada’s top competition climbers. At the 2022 Canadian National Championships in late November, McNamee earned the title of double champ, winning gold in both boulder and lead events. We recently sat down with him to get his thoughts on his time at the comp. We also touched on his weekly climbing routines, outdoor climbing, inspiring climbers, and his 2023 season.

About Guy McNamee

McNamee is 20 years old and lives in Vancouver, BC. Originally from Haiti, he and his twin brother Kindar moved to Canada when they were 20 months old. Kindar is also a top comp climber in Canada, often competing alongside McNamee in national and international events. This year was not McNamee’s first time winning a Canadian National Championship. In 2019, he won the Lead Nationals and in 2020, he won the Boulder Nationals. McNamee’s success in Canadian youth and open comps have led to his inclusion in Canada’s national High Performance Program, an elite group of athletes training to represent Canada in IFSC World Cup and Olympic competition.

McNamee participated in the IFSC World Cup circuit in 2022, competing in four lead and five boulder events. His best performance was in the second Salt Lake City boulder World Cup, where he came in 15th. He also competed in the IFSC World Championships in Moscow in 2021 in both boulder and lead. Pre-pandemic, he competed in numerous IFSC youth comps, as well as World Cup lead events in Briançon and Chamonix in 2019.

2022 Canadian Boulder National Championships

McNamee had quite the comeback story at this year’s Canadian Boulder Nationals. “There were definitely some ups and downs,” he said, thinking back to the comp. “For the first two rounds, I struggled to find my footing I guess, but then luckily I managed to pull it together in the finals.”

In the qualifiers, McNamee placed surprisingly low, coming in 19th. With only 20 athletes moving to the semi-finals, he just squeaked into that second-last spot. One problem in particular gave him trouble, putting him behind his competitors. “I kind of messed up on the final climb,” he said, analyzing his performance. “I didn’t trust my feet enough and I couldn’t commit near the start, so I didn’t reach the zone. It was difficult for me to make up for this mistake by doing well on a different climb because most of the other climbs were more simple. Most of the top 20 competitors topped the other climbs.”

After the qualifiers wrapped up, McNamee wondered whether he had made the semi-finals. Results are typically posted quickly, but comp organizers were having technical difficulties uploading the results. McNamee waited and waited to find out whether he was competing in semis the following morning. Finally, at around 10:00pm, he was elated to see the results. He remembers thinking, “I’m going to fight tomorrow. It’s going to be a good day.”

McNamee in the qualifying round. Photo by Evan Zucker & Flash Focused

In the semis, McNamee placed fifth, again grabbing the second-last spot to move on to the next round. Although the result wasn’t exactly what he was hoping for, he kept positive. “I definitely felt better just because the climbs were harder, and I could show my strengths,” he said. “There was one climb that a bunch of the other finalists topped, but I didn’t. But then I managed to top another climb that not many others did, so that felt like my redemption.”

His brother Kindar took the top spot in the semis, and the stoke for the two brothers was high. “From barely making semis to getting in to the finals, I was just really excited,” he said, recounting his emotions. “I was especially excited for Kindar who was going to be in his first open boulder final at Nationals. It was the first time we had both made boulder finals at the open nationals together so we were pretty psyched.”

McNamee loves competing with Kindar but he also explained how it can bring forth additional pressure. “I feel like it’s maybe a bit more stressful since I almost have two people that I’m looking out for,” he explained. “I really want Kindar to do well. But I also want myself to do well. So I need to balance caring about what he does but also try to not care too much. I have to focus on myself and not worry too much about whether he’s falling behind or doing really well.”

After getting some lunch and taking a rest, the twins headed back to gym for the finals. McNamee recalls feeling good —he says his daily training is physically much harder than a competition round. However, he skin was an issue. “In comps, the holds are new and super textured and we’re climbing really hard on them,” he said, describing the problem. “I dealt with [my bad skin] by wearing tape during my warm-up so that I could sorely use my skin for the finals. I feel like this happens a lot. In all the recent comps I’ve been to, there’s always someone bleeding.”

Coming into the final problem of the evening, McNamee, his brother Kindar, and Finn Battersby were neck-in-neck. All three had two tops and three zones. The fourth and final problem of the night was going to determine gold, and it was a wild one. A coordination jump start led to a big dyno to a jug. The athletes then had to perform a press-up mantle onto the jug with no feet for assistance. After securing a heel on the jug for balance, they could very delicately match the tiny final hold.

Stepping out to the final problem of the evening, McNamee knew how tight the results were. “I thought if I flash the climb then I would win but if I got it my second go then that would potentially leave the door open for Kindar or Finn to beat me. We figured that whoever flashed the climb would win.”

After analyzing the problem, McNamee felt confident he could flash it. He ran up and pushed upwards into a volume to start the problem, smearing his feet and keeping his hips into the wall. He figured this was likely the most low-percentage move on the problem, and he had just stuck it. He quickly made the awkward rightward throw to the jug. He had enough power to pull off the footless mantle first go, secured a heel for balance, and matched the final hold. He had done it. He flashed the problem, securely putting him in first.

Kindar and Battersby were unable to get the flash. They both topped the problem, but it took them multiple tries to figure out the tricky start that McNamee made look easy. McNamee took gold, his brother silver, and Battersby bronze.

When asked how it felt to be standing on the podium with his brother by his side, McNamee’s response was immediate. “It was a dream come true.”

2022 Canadian Lead National Championships

After a rest day, the Lead Nationals began. McNamee performed well in the qualification round, placing seventh. The following morning, which happened to be his and Kindar’s 20th birthday, he also climbed well in the semi-finals, coming in third and securing his spot in the finals later that day. His brother did not make it past the semis. “I was definitely pretty bummed that Kindar couldn’t join me,” McNamee said, recalling his feelings. “I was sad.”

Despite his performance in the early bouldering rounds, McNamee said he felt more confident going into the boulder finals compared to the lead finals. “I always feel more stressed going into lead competitions,” he explained. “I guess it’s harder for me to trust my abilities and just find flow on the wall. For bouldering, I just have this confidence after competing a lot and finding various levels of success. [Starting a bouldering comp], I can just be like, ‘I’m ok. I got this. I can make it to the next round.’ I haven’t found that kind of confidence yet for lead.”

In the face of all of this, McNamee’s mind was in a surprisingly good place. “I was there with the mindset of having some fun, and tried not to care too much about the result. It was just a really relaxed state.”

As he walked out to climb the finals’ route, he looked up at the draws to see which ones were swinging. Like any top-level athlete, he knows how to turn on his try-hard when he needs to. “I knew where [the previous competitor] had reached. It was sort of in the middle. It felt possible for me to get there. I feel like when I see that people haven’t gotten super high, it gives me more confidence. I was excited.”

His climbing was calm and smooth and he even flashed a smile for the camera while resting on a sloper. He then experienced some difficulty getting through a series of slopey pockets, likely making the sequence more difficult than it needed to be. He amazingly chalked up while on a very overhanging pinch to confidently reach hold 25—the highpoint of the current leader. He quickly found an ingenious left heel hook—a move he discovered in the heat of the moment—allowing him to securely grab hold 26, a highpoint that no other competitor reached, winning him gold.

Within the span of three days, he once again stood at the centre of a podium with a gold medal around his neck. What did he do to celebrate his double champ victory and 20th birthday? “We went back to my older brother’s house in Kitchener and we had a chocolate raspberry cake,” he said, with joy in his voice. “So that was pretty nice.”

Plans for 2023

McNamee is back to training for his next big comp, at the end of January 2023. After that he’s heading to Austria for some lead training. His schedule for the rest of the year depends on if he makes the national team and gets invited to participate at IFSC World Cups. When asked about Olympic aspirations, McNamee said, “It’s kind of hard to shoot for that when I haven’t had the most experience with international competition. It feels like I can have that as a goal to help push me. It’s ok to reach for big goals because even if you don’t achieve them, you can still learn something in the process if you fully commit to it.”

Regarding his day-to-day climbing, McNamee explained that he climbs primarily at various Hive bouldering gyms sprinkled across Metro Vancouver. He also trains lead at the Richmond Oval. He currently doesn’t have a climbing coach, climbing and training mostly alone with his brother. They climb five days a week plus one day of off-the-wall training. This amounts to 16 to 17 hours a week of climbing, with 14 of them being spent on the wall. Other than climbing, he spends his time working at Starbucks, as well as resting, recovering, and stretching for the next day’s session.

McNamee in Squamish. Photo by Anthony Walsh.

Historically, McNamee hasn’t climbed much on rock. His interest appears to be growing though. “This year, I didn’t really get a chance to climb outside at all. I’m hoping next year I can after competitions. I’m hoping that I’ll be invited to the [World Cup] boulder season. After that, I’m hoping to get a month to just have fun outdoors and hang with some pals before I get back into the training phase for the following season.” Squamish’s famous The Method V12 is one on the list. He made good progress on it when he tried it back in 2021. “It’s kind of cool to not have gone outside for such a long time because outdoors you can really feel the difference in your strength. It’ll definitely be interesting to see where we are at on old projects.”

When asked about climbers that inspire him, his initial response is what you’d expect. “The Canadian Olympians. Those two are big inspirations.” But after thinking a bit more, he had a deeper response:

“I really like seeing people who’ve not necessarily been at the top since they’ve gotten on stage. Like, let’s say Natalia [Grossman], for example. She’s been on the circuit for a while but only in the last two or three years has she really been picking it up, and that’s something that’s quite inspiring. Most of us don’t storm onto the world cup stage and get a medal at our very first world cup or win the overall season. It takes time and work. It’s quite cool to see people who are little bit more relatable. Like a climber who wasn’t always at the top of the game, but they put the work in, went to a few world cups, failed, had a few successes, and then that helped them build up to greatness. That is quite inspiring.”

McNamee’s final performances in the 2022 Boulder and Lead National Championships are timestamped in the videos below:

 

Lead photo: Evan Zucker/FlashFocused