Interview: Rustam Gelmanov

Elite Russian climber Rustam Gelmanov has had quite a rollercoaster year. During World Cups he couldn’t always perform as well as we’re used seeing from him and at the World Championships in Munich he didn’t even make semi-finals. However, during the World Cup in Laval he made the finals look like a walk in the park. It was about time we sat down with this top athlete and looked back on his season!

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Strangely enough, two of Holland’s best climbers – Jorg Verhoeven and Nicky de Leeuw – live and train in Austria, while one of Russia’s best climbers lives right here in The Netherlands. A few years ago, while in Holland to compete in a World Cup, he fell in love with a fellow Russian living here, whom he may now call his wife. Moving was the only option, which ultimately resulted in the bouldering champion overall of 2012 walking into a local coffee joint in Eindhoven to tell Siked! about his season.
Then the Germinator sets off…



The year was so incredibly busy for me. I’ve visited as many as 17 different countries! It all started in Finland with the opening of a new climbing gym, for which I was invited. Before and after this I spent a couple of weeks in Slovenia with my personal trainer. Then of course there were all the World Cups and the World Championship: China, Azerbeidzjan, Switzerland, Canada, USA, France, Austria and Germany. I’ve also spent some time in the Ukraine, where the situation is of course quite troubling at the moment.


Furthermore I was the chief routesetter at a big local event in Singapore. It was an awesome experience but it cost a lot of time and energy. We spent four nights from nine in the evening ‘till five in the morning setting problems, since the gym wanted visitors to be able to climb during the day. During those days I set over 25 problems for the comp. It’s pretty challenging to gauge the local level and make sure the problems are in tune with that. The setting was quite an educative experience, I may do it more often. It’s great to understand how setters think and how different climbers will attempt the same problem.

After the World Championship I travelled to Russia for some events and work. My sponsor needs me to do some workshops and lectures in several Russian cities throughout the year. At the end of the year I’ll also be spending some weeks in America with my wife, which will be the first real vacation of the year. Thereafter, my wife and I are thinking about getting our own house at the end of the year.

I also spent some time in Spain to film a project for Red Bull. It’s called Rock & Rocks, The Journey of a Rock Climber Told Through Music. It’s a music video where you can see my battle with a route.


World Cup results

It hasn’t been an easy year for me. During the first world cup in China I ended fifteenth, which is way below my level. In Laval I didn’t feel very strong. Just before the World Cup I was working on the Red Bull project, which is why I didn’t have much time for training. I was mainly doing pull-ups and some other simple exercises. At that time I was also doing a lot of mental training, by visualising the competition and the problems for example . Just before Laval I didn’t feel very strong physically, but I did mentally. While everyone said that it was the easiest qualification of the season, it felt very difficult for me. The semis went better and in the finals I was only thinking about climbing. Winning, or the performance of others were never in my thoughts. What may have helped is that I skipped the second world cup in China. Possibly the other guys were a bit more tired, while I was filming outdoors in the sun. At the same time, that wasn’t quite a holiday either; we usually got up at six in the morning and got into bed by one o’clock at night. The World Championship in Munich did not turn out very well for me. I was out in the first round; the qualification problems just didn’t go very well. This was a heavy blow for me, but luckily I could get my mind off it because my agenda was packed for the next few weeks.





Jan Hojer was very strong this year, but it wasn’t a surprise for me. Last year he already performed very well and mentally he’s very strong. This year he lost some weight and physically he is also very strong, and tall of course, which he benefits from at times. He can reach holds without jumping and on top of that he can crimp! That actually really surprises me sometimes; when I see his tall body crimp the tiniest holds I think: watch out, you’d better be careful!



In Vail I rode horseback with Wouter Jongeneelen and Vera Zijlstra. I didn’t wear a shirt and we were high up in the mountains. I may have suffered from a heatstroke. I had some problems with my stomach and didn’t have much strength to climb. The qualifications went quite well but during the semi finals I suffered from a fever. I had to decide whether I would climb the finals. In the end I tried it and it went surprisingly well.


Reachy moves

I see a trend in route setting for world cups: there are less crimps in the problems. The holds tend to be very large and the moves are reachy. This year it has happened a few times that the moves in a problem were too reachy for me, especially in Switzerland and Canada. I’m usually able to make the move but actually sticking it is not possible, because my arms are completely stretched. I had to give all my strength to manage these moves and this has led to some muscle problems. Sometimes these moves are super hard for me and in the least case I need more attempts for the problem.


In some way I think it’s a pity that these kinds of problems give me a disadvantage. On the other hand they are also interesting. If I want to be able to make a move that far, I’d have to be two times as strong as other climbers. I think I’m quite strong now but apparently not strong enough yet; I have to train even harder, especially mentally. If the route setters think they’ve made a nice problem for the show, I have to present them with an answer. Moreover, if the setters were to set a problem just for me, it would be a boring competition: it’d probably contain very small crimps, and maybe only I would be able to finish it! Crimps are really my thing, if I see a problem with crimps, I know I will finish it.


Remarkable moments during the World Cups

When I won the competition in Laval I was very happy of course but I just felt very strong at that time. Actually, I was more satisfied with my performance in Innsbruck! I came in third after Kilian Fischuber and Adam Ondra. It was a large surprise that I came in third that day. Especially the third problem was amazing, I managed to make a huge jump to an enormous volume in my last attempt. When the four minutes of climbing ran out, I fought for another three minutes to finish the problem. I constantly tried different methods, rested and finally found the solution. I stood up straight, face to the crowd and managed to match the end hold. That moment I could feel the crowd being satisfied with what I did.

Kilian is a very special climber by the way, one who knows how to climb a World Cup. Before and after Innsbruck he wasn’t very strong this year but it looks like he saved it all for his home town.

In Switzerland I was – with the exception of the last problem – very disappointed. I couldn’t really finish the problems, the moves were too reachy, while I felt very strong at the time. In China I also reached a disappointing result – a fifteenth place is ridiculous for me. The first competition after winter is always tough for me and the result is always different, because I’ve been training on my own for a long time.


During comps

When I climb I think about the energy in my body. Body and spirit are working together flawlessly. What makes climbing competitions so special is the short window of time in which you have to climb the problem. Then you get to rest about twenty minutes in which you should relax but stay focused. After I climb a problem, I try very hard to forget it as soon as possible – independent of how I performed – and focus on the next one. In Toronto I did very well in the qualifiers and the semis but the finals didn’t go so well; I was thinking too much about the results. Not only about my own results but also about those of the other climbers. I was counting how many attempts my opponents needed for example. Usually I don’t count at all, I rather listen to music on my headphones.


If I flash every boulder, it doesn’t even matter what other climbers do. You actually don’t even need to hear if the crowd cheers to know if a climber has finished a problem, you can see it on their faces. Jan for example is extremely happy when he comes back after topping a problem while he can be quite mad if he needed a lot of tries or didn’t finish one. Sometimes I put on my pokerface when I return to isolation. At the same time the climbing community is very friendly and sportsmanlike. Jan is usually very supportive in the finals, he really cheers you on in isolation. Guillaume and Dmitrii are more introvert, while Sean is also very social. Sean, Jan and I usually encourage each other.



I don’t like to talk about the future too much, so I don’t often venture into making predictions. Usually I think I’m very strong and then during a comp the opposite seems to be true. Climbing is an interesting sport, a lot can happen in a week. For me, in the short term, there is a lot to gain in mental training. I don’t have any top secret tricks for this; I mainly try to relax and avoid difficult situations with friends and family for example. Negative emotions are something I can’t have. I try to be relaxed and “zen”; keep my strength and train on a mental level.



My goal is always to get stronger; not only physically but also mentally. I think that in the field I’m not the strongest climber – Dmitrii is stronger for example. Mentally I think I’m very strong though. During my training I try to relax a lot and try to top problems in a fast succession, during a competition it’s no different. I train and travel with the Dutch team. Wouter (Jongeneelen) arranges everything for the team and also for me. He arranges the journey, the accommodation and he also talks with me in isolation and makes sure that I get everything I need. Wouter is also quite tall, which means he can make up problems that are quite difficult for me. Wouter climbs the boulder very quickly, while I sometimes spend a week on it! I would like it if this relation could last longer somehow, now that Wouter is no longer coach of the Dutch climbing team.


In the gym I usually climb on the training wall, which has a random assortment of holds instead of preset problems in one color. I come up with my own problems and do specific exercises. If a new hard circuit has been built (7C-8A) I first try to flash all problems. After that I climb them again but with extra weight on my body. Finally, I try to climb them with less holds. Actually I don’t climb in a lot of different gyms.

In my garden I constructed a small climbing wall. Axis sponsored me with a big load of holds to fill the wall. Futhermore I have a pair of slopers above my doorway. My Slovenian coach Roman gave me these and I noticed during the World Cups that I had less problems with these sorts of holds. The last two years these sometimes posed problems for me. In Laval for example I easily finished the last problem, which consisted of a few big slopers, while the other guys had quite some trouble there.


A few months ago I climbed in Puenta La Reine in Spain by the way. Rell Bull organised a competition named Creepers in which some of the best climbers deep water solo-ed a bridge on which pilgrims have been walking for centuries. I trained with Chris Sharma there and it was incredible to see how professional he was.

In Moscow there are over 30 climbing gyms around, including one that’s really big. I am more of a fan of smaller gyms with lots of holds on the walls. I have also been in very dirty halls, for example in Slovenia. You couldn’t sit on the crashpads, you had to either stand or climb


Climbing outdoors

I would love to spend more time climbing outdoors but it is very difficult to combine this with the World Cups and my projects for Red Bull.  A few weeks ago I was in Berdorf (Luxemburg) and I tried the hardest route, Nikita. People say this route is not very difficult but it has a difficult boulder crux, so it seemed just my cup of tea. It was very tough with lots of monos and dynos. Unfortunately I didn’t finish it but I’d love to come back for it. Some time ago I climbed Action Directe in the Frankenjura in Germany. It might be the easiest 9a in the world, but it’s a beautiful route. Last year I multi-pitched El Capitan in Yosemite but I have to admit I found the crack climbing in Indian Creek more fun. Fontainebleau is not really my style of climbing. The problems are very hard but I usually find them a bit boring. A lot of blocks are very low and have little crimps and lots of slopers. I could climb there for a few days and really improve my sloper skills even more but it’s just not that interesting for me. Sometimes I like to do some lead climbing. Getting pumped in my arms feels good. If you train for bouldering, you aim at making a few extremely difficult moves and you climb relatively fast. When lead climbing you have to be slower and more methodical. When I was young and living in Moscow I also did some speed climbing. Although I won quite a lot, I missed a real challenge. It is however very cool to feel like Jacky Chan racing up the wall once in a while.



I have been a vegetarian for quite a long time, but nowadays I sometimes eat some fish and meat. It is better for my energy. Also, it’s not always convenient not to be able to eat meat in foreign countries or with other people for example. There was a period when I didn’t eat salt but currently my diet is actually quite normal. I probably eat an above average amount of vegetables and fruits. Sometimes I take food supplements, only minerals and vitamins, but to be honest, I tend to forget to take them. In Russia I worked with a nutritional doctor but it is difficult for him to help me while I’m in the Netherlands. Email is not really a solution, although he sometimes provides me with valuable tips. A while back a Dutch dietitian tried to help me but we discovered that I knew nearly as much as he did.


Married man

I got married a year ago. It was like a dream. We had the entire wedding in Montenegro. It’s a beautiful country with the added benefit that our parents and friends from Russia could visit without a visa while our friends from Europe could also easily attend. The nature is very beautiful and life there is affordable. The wedding lasted for three days: on the first we all came together in a large house and had the ceremony there, which continued with a boat trip. On the second day we did some wild river rafting in the mountains and on the third day we went off-road driving in Jeeps. And no, we did not go climbing!



The Netherlands and Russia

I now have a five year residence permit for the Netherlands. Until last year I had to leave the country every 90 days, although that doesn’t actually get checked. I may have missed a few of these deadlines…

At the end of this year my wife and I are thinking about getting our own house. I’m considering changing my nationality, especially with the current situation in Russia. It makes me pretty scared since it’s going from bad to worse. All layers are corrupt, for some money you can get all documents you want. I do love the people and the nature in Russia a lot, but I’m not fond of the government.

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Bram Berkien

Mede-oprichter van Siked! Verzorgt fotografie en een artikel hier en daar. Daarnaast ook zelfstandig werkzaam als active lifestyle fotograaf. Na een begin als boulderaar kan hij nu ook de lokroep van het sportklimmen niet weerstaan.