“ GET INSPIRED BY OTHER CLIMBERS, YET GO YOUR OWN WAY’’ – KILIAN FISCHHUBER

Kilian Fischhuber (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Kilian Fischhuber (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Born in Waidhofen/YBBS on Aug 1st, 1983, moved to Innsbruck in 2002 and started career as a professional climber; 1.75m tall and best known for a versatile style of climbing with penchant for powerful and dynamic moves. Relaxed but determined in approaching goals; foremost relaxed……

The above is how Kilian Fischhuber has described himself on his website. One of bouldering’s most successful competition climbers with quite a few victories at the World Cup and European championships to his credit, Kilian is from Austria. No stranger to India and Indian climbers, he has climbed in Hampi and Badami. In the run up to the first World Cup in bouldering to be held in India (at Navi Mumbai, May 14-15, 2016), Kilian granted an interview by email to this blog. Excerpts:  

What are your memories of your first World Cup?

My first World Cup was in 1999. I travelled to France for rock climbing in Ceuse, Orpierre and the like. I joined the event in Gap without any expectations or pressure. There was no such thing as an Austrian team. As far as I remember, my friend Reini Fichtinger who I was travelling with also competed. I ended up 22nd and thought there might be a potential to enter the finals (at that time, 20 people went to the second round which was the finals).

You are one of the most successful competition climbers in bouldering. What did you do to stay fit and competitive? How much time did you invest in climbing? People spend hours at offices. Can you tell us how a day in climbing’s office was like, for you, in your World Cup years?

I trained more in my early twenties; less later. I needed to build up strength and work on my weaknesses. By the time I turned 25 I had developed a solid climbing style and was one of the stronger athletes in the field. The years after that I profited most from my experience and trust in oneself.

Climbing is a powerful sport, taking breaks is necessary and rock climbing can help you develop your technique and style. I usually trained five times week. Always two days on, one day rest.

Kilian Fischhuber, Anna Stohr and Jakob Schubert (Photo: courtesy Kilian Fischhuber)

Kilian Fischhuber, Anna Stohr and Jakob Schubert (Photo: courtesy Kilian Fischhuber)

Which were your finest moments in the sport at the competition level?

That would be – winning my first World Cup by a large margin in Erlangern, Germany in 2005, becoming European Champion in 2013 and winning my last World Cup in Innsbruck, Austria in 2014.

How intense is the competition at the World Cup? Were you and your fellow climbers at World Cups always competitors seeing each other so, or did you pick up good friendships that have stayed strong past your competition years?

I always saw the other competitors as people to learn from. At the end of a round you were in a good position if you performed well, no matter what the others did. In climbing you don’t have a direct opponent. You are challenged by the `problem’ / route and yourself.

What does ` competition’ mean to you? Do you see it as a phase in an athlete’s life or is it what you always live by? If it was a phase, then what is the driving force for you in climbing nowadays?

I probably did 100+ World Cup events and I feel confident saying that I am not a competitive person, I actually shy away from comparison. Competing was always a sort of game, interaction with others and yes, a challenge. The uncertainty and the pressure to perform well at a certain moment of time always held something alluring for me. Nevertheless, I am glad I got rid of the pressure.

Can you explain what difference you find between competition climbing, done typically on artificial walls, and climbing in the open, on natural rock as you do often now? Is there a drift to the purer ethic in this and is the purer ethic being out, free and climbing rock?

For me, both are climbing. I prefer climbing outside, especially when combined with trips and longer stays. But gym climbing can also be very entertaining. I am against a strict classification that goes hand in hand with how to value what.

While it is good to be sponsored, as a competition climber how did you handle the knowledge that sponsorship is dependent on performance and if performance falls, sponsors may stay away? Was that ever a source of pressure?    

Well, sometimes, especially when under-performing you might feel pressure. In my case though, I could always rely on sponsors who saw beyond single achievements. Most of the companies have been supporting me for more than five years. Long term cooperation definitely helps to reduce the pressure.

Kilian Fischhuber at an earlier edition of the World Cup (Photo: courtesy IFSC)

Kilian Fischhuber at an earlier edition of the World Cup (Photo: courtesy IFSC)

You were a top athlete in a sport that wasn’t part of the Olympics. If all goes well, climbing may debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Do you see climbing’s entry into the Olympics as a major development? If so, what impact will it have on the sport?

This will very much depend on how climbing will be implemented in the Olympic circuit. If the IFSC prefers to push for an Olympic discipline that has never been tried and does not exist, then I see it rather critically.

The first set of young people aspiring to be full time climbers has just emerged in India.  Some of them will be participating in the Navi Mumbai World Cup. What advice would you give them, both in terms of how to handle themselves at top level competitions like the World Cup and in terms of making climbing their profession?

Get inspired by the other climbers, yet go your own way. Don’t be pushy but take your time. In competition climbing a lot depends on experience, hence time is of the essence.

What climbs occupy you nowadays? When do we see you in India next?

I am currently teaching in high school, I even showed my students some pictures of Hampi and Badami. I will climb professionally again after July, when school ends. I hope to make it back to Badami in December.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. Please visit the Ganesha series of articles on this blog for more on Kilian Fischhuber.)

TWO FILMS

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

I watched The Jungle Book for the first time in Bengaluru.

A successful animation film with several re-releases to its credit, I saw the movie in the early 1980s. It was screened at Rex Theatre on Brigade Road. I recalled this ahead of watching the film’s 2016 version at Mumbai’s Sterling Theatre, replete with 3D animation and contemporary movie stars providing voice to the characters. Further, keeping aside Jason Scott Lee’s Mowgli from the 1994 version, the main protagonist of Rudyard Kipling’s book was a human being on screen and not an animated character. While some people have said that the old 2D animated version is their preferred benchmark, things have changed for me – I embrace Jon Favreau’s creation as benchmark in my times with one difference: I thought Baloo’s song (The Bare Necessities) was more enjoyable in the earlier film. Maybe it’s because I was a lot younger then, less cynical, less critical and more spontaneous. Years later, as life took its twists and turns, among them bringing me to the outdoors and the mountains – I have often wondered: if not the bare necessities, what is it that I am seeking?

Image: courtesy Disney India

Image: courtesy Disney India

One knew that after Richard Parker, the tiger in Life of Pi, Shere Khan would be convincing despite animation. What one did not anticipate was Idris Elba. His Shere Khan remains for me, a force haunting Kipling’s jungle. From the menace Elba creates, flows the dark, ominous mood of the film, a trait that sets it apart from the more child friendly approach of the earlier version. But then, today’s child growing up with smartphone, is also arguably a more media immersed junior, for whom the earlier film may at best be fodder for a submission in class on how technology evolved. Of the people who voiced the characters in the earlier movie, only George Sanders was known to us at that time. In days preceding the Internet, old film magazines brought home Hollywood and Sanders was there in some of the issues I used to thumb through. Even then, a few of the voice actors in The Jungle Book, including Sanders, were no more by the time the curtain raised that evening at Rex Theatre. In the 2016 version, I could appreciate the main voices for these were actors of my time. I could also appreciate what seemed to me paradoxical choices that clicked beautifully. Thus for instance, Ben Kingsley’s voice – even and measured in how it registers aurally, seemed apt choice for Bagheera. Christopher Walken as King Loius – I wasn’t sure. Till I experienced it and felt the psychopath sort of terror – so not Shere Khan like – that Walken’s laidback, negotiator of a voice can bring. Bill Murray as Baloo was a breeze. What didn’t convince was Kaa, the python. It had one mesmerizing scene all to itself and then, was gone.

Above all, this will be for me a Neel Sethi movie. After seeing the earlier version, I was left with memories of Bagheera, Shere Khan and Baloo. With the 2016 version, Mowgli joins that list. Sethi does not essay his role harking of innocence. He brings an element of smart contemporary youngster to the frame, creating in the process, a bridge between city and jungle. I suspect, for a generation experiencing The Jungle Book in the age of reading’s progressive decline and walking as they do through its plot with Sethi’s Mowgli for company, Favreau and Disney may have replaced Kipling as creator of the story. In the business of making an impression, that is a measure of how effective you were.

In the latter half of the 1980s, I saw a remarkable film at a film festival in Thiruvananthapuram. I went to see The Mission because of Robert De Niro but came off knowing the talents of Roland Joffe and Jeremy Irons as well. For me, Irons is among the great classically trained British actors of his generation; the sort with commanding screen-presence. Indeed in his case, that presence literally lurks in the frame waiting to explode. A few things define the Irons of cinema – an apparent discipline, intensity and voice. It is hard to have him in a supporting role and not lose the film to him. But if you are a film buff, you don’t mind that for losing a film to an actor of Irons’ calibre is rarely a bad experience. That’s what happened with Race; that’s what happened with The Man Who Knew Infinity. In the latter, it also helped flesh out and establish the respective characters of G.H. Hardy (played by Irons) and S. Ramanujan (played by Dev Patel), not just for the individuals they were but also the backdrops shaping them.

Jeremy Irons (left) and Dev Patel in The Man Who Knew Infinity (Please note: this photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the movie.)

Jeremy Irons (left) and Dev Patel in The Man Who Knew Infinity (Please note: this photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the movie.)

I do not know much about Ramanujan beyond what I gleaned of him from the film. In the movie, he comes across as gifted in an almost mystic way; his mathematics by intuition versus Hardy’s math by proof, his tendency to spontaneously get started on equations and that dialogue – that his goddess, Namagiri, puts numbers on his tongue. There is always a bit of struggle in how the visual arts and directors, actors therein, portray genius. A similar struggle exists in The Man Who Knew Infinity and Ramanujan occasionally felt contrived. At times the mathematician’s earnestness, isolation and genius seemed tad overboard in the portrayal. But then like I said, I don’t know how Ramanujan behaved in real life. Those who researched know best. Wikipedia describes Ramanujan as an autodidact, a person who is self-taught. A lacuna to my mind, in the film, was the dearth of material on how Ramanujan reached the level of proficiency in mathematics he had by the time he wished to publish. That proficiency may have drawn much from things deeply experiential, like the relationship between self and ecosystem with math embedded in its living traditions. Equally, in conservative society with life and lifestyle rigidly defined, the abstract world of numbers may become a liberating private refuge. All this went unexplored in the film, which starts with the adult Ramanujan finding a mentor in his boss, Narayana Iyer.

Matthew Brown’s movie was more about the Hardy-Ramanujan-Cambridge equation. Not for a minute am I saying that the Cambridge chapter is unimportant or uninteresting. The characters in that chapter have been presented well; the ambiance created by Hardy, J. E. Littlewood and Bertrand Russell is wonderful. Had it not been for them, we won’t have Ramanujan the way he is known today. Still, Cambridge is where the man was vindicated; he was formed elsewhere. Can a story of genius vindicated be complete if the formation of genius is not explored? This film deserves to be seen. Reports said that the movie was a challenge to make because funding was hard to come by. It is a good effort and as usual, Irons is a class act.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)