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Villach, Austria. On the mats with nearly 100 climbers from five nations, Troy Anger was on his own. Though the other countries — Austria, Germany, Serbia and Spain — all fielded teams of multiple military athletes and coaches, Anger was the lone American soldier tying in. But it wasn’t surprising. Military climbing competitions have been occurring in Europe for over a decade, but 2019 is only the second year the U.S. military fielded a competitor, after First Lieutenant Tyler Casey bagged third place at the same comp in 2018.
This was his first time in a sport comp and he had no coach or supporters, but 24-year-old Anger was in his element. Though he is approaching five years of military service, Anger was a climber long before he became a soldier. First on the wall at age seven, he tore into the sport after high school, and was sending V10 boulders and 5.13 sport routes by age 18. A skilled dry-tooler and ice climber, Anger also competed with the U.S. Ice Climbing Team in the 2019 UIAA World Cup.
Despite the military setting, Anger said the atmosphere was no different from any other comp he’d attended. “Climbers are climbers, wherever you go,” he said. “They’re all just chill people who love to climb and love to talk climbing. Even if you’re not part of their country or on their team, they still cheer and are stoked when you send. The only part that made it feel like a military comp is that people happened to be wearing military uniforms.”
Competitors were given an initial day to project routes to climb for qualifiers, but when qualifiers began the next day, Anger worked all his hard routes first and found himself out of time to work the others he’d planned. So he blasted onto two new 7b/+ (5.12b/c) climbs before the buzzer, and managed to onsight both.
“So going into semis I was pretty tired,” said Anger. “I’d been climbing for about four days straight.” The 8a (5.13b) semis route moved from a face climb into a difficult slight overhang on slopers that eventually brushed him off, but Anger’s performance was strong enough to send him into finals. The finals line, however, was a brutal 8c (5.14b), by Anger’s reckoning. “It was just one hard move after another,” he said, and it rebuffed all comers.
Anger topped the ranks in his division, which consisted of all the foreign climbers, but was beat out for the overall win by an 18-year-old Austrian, who “climbed all the routes except for the finals one with his shoes untied. He’s a beast,” Anger said.
Given the U.S. presence in international civilian climbing competitions, it might be surprising that only two U.S. soldiers have competed in international military competitions. But compared to countries like Austria and Germany, where alpine mobility and expertise is necessitated by geography, the U.S. military has a much smaller emphasis on mountain training.
Though the U.S. no longer has a designated mountain unit, it has the U.S. Army Mountain Warfare School (AMWS). Located in Jericho, Vermont, only twenty miles from Anger’s hometown of Burlington, the AMWS is the principal institution for mountain training in the U.S. military. The school trains select soldiers from across the country in basic and advanced mountaineering, equipping them to assist their unit with mountain navigation and mobility. Major Nathan Fry, Executive Officer at the AMWS, spoke to the future of competitive climbing for the military. “We really hope to be sending teams in a couple years,” said Fry. “With guys like Troy, we’re testing the waters to get a world-class military climbing team started soon. We’d hope to send these guys to international competitions in the future, potentially the Olympics.” Given the smashing performances the only two American competitors have made in the Austrian Military World Championships, it certainly doesn’t seem out of reach.
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