Until recently, the strongest climbers in Switzerland met at the NLZ National Performance Center near Biel. At the beginning of February 2020, before the outbreak of the Corona crisis, we had the opportunity to take a look behind the scenes and speak to Kevin Hemund, national coach of the elite.

Three years ago, the Swiss Alpine Club SAC officially opened the National Performance Center NLZ. Since then, the Swiss elite has been training four days a week in an old industrial hall in the east of the city of Biel.

The NLZ, as it is officially called, the young athletes call each other “La Cuisine”. “We feel at home here, we feel comfortable. At the same time, it is also a place where we have to get actively involved and have our 'Ämtli', just like back home in Mama's kitchen, ”describe the members of Swiss Climbing.

La Cuisine - the national performance center of Swiss Climbing.

The center offers the Swiss national team a protected framework within which they can fully concentrate on training. Except for the training wall (picture above), the walls are covered with only a few, often large handles. Just as you often see in competitions. That is the idea of ​​the center. The NLZ in Biel serves the elite as an exclusive place to prepare for competitions. Kevin Hemund, elite coach, told us more about the national team's national performance center.

The interview with Kevin Hemund was conducted by Remo Schläpfer

Why is a national performance center for the Swiss elite needed? Why don't you train in an existing hall?
The most important reason is that the needs diverge more and more. The needs of a competitive climber are not the same as those of a person who climbs after work. This is not only due to the difficulty of the boulder, but also to the handle material and the style. It is true that some halls also have competition-style boulders, but not in the amount and frequency that we have here.

And since the opening of the NLZ we have also noticed how valuable it is that we can do what we want and when we want. We can turn handles and turn boulder around when it suits us. We can train undisturbed, do not burden the already tight spaces in the public halls in many places and our athletes can also let their emotions run free - for example in competition simulations. You can be undisturbed here. It is incredibly valuable.

Kevin Hemund (pictured) looks after the Swiss elite national team together with Pirmin Scheuber.

But this luxury also entails tasks. We clean the mats independently after training, wash the handles regularly and so on. The athletes therefore also make their own contribution, thereby enabling them to have such a unique training opportunity.

The Innsbruck climbing center is one of the largest and most modern halls in the world. The Austrian national team trains here regularly. (Picture Alpine Club Climbing Center Innsbruck GmbH)

The Austrians and other teams often train in Innsbruck. Is it an advantage for Austria Climbing that you can train in Innsbruck?
Innsbruck has an impressive climbing hall, a top modern performance center. Undisputed. Whether it is an advantage to say difficult. You will certainly benefit from having such an infrastructure and training opportunity. But I don't think it's the only way to train well. We go to Innsbruck every now and then to train. After a few days we are always happy to be able to train here in Biel again. Because in a hall like Innsbruck you are under constant observation. What if you're frustrated, have a bad day? You are exhibited in a public hall, many watch you, watch you. It almost always has other athletes, the competitive situation, the mutual comparison is omnipresent.

“In a public hall you are as if you were on display. With the National Performance Center in Biel, we have a space to train in peace. ”

How regularly do you train here in Biel?
We are here four times a week. Accompanied training takes place on these four days. Due to the place of residence and the individual training or professional situation, however, very few athletes are involved in all training. Everyone also trains at other locations, be it in the Bern or Zurich region, in French-speaking Switzerland or in Valais.

What kind of training do you do here at the NLZ?
Differently. There is a technique training in which we train specific movements on the competition walls. Then there are physical trainings that we do on the training wall and then there are the competition trainings like we had today. Strength training, apart from the campus board, we do in the nearby fitness center. We often train here in the NLZ for half a day and then switch to the fitness center in the afternoon.

On the day of our visit, competition simulation was in the National Performance Center.

Why does it have a section of the speed wall here?
In addition to the competition wall, the “speed wall” is one of the most important things we have here. Speed ​​climbing is a study of movements. You have to climb and grind it hundreds, even thousands of times. And you don't do that all the time on the 15-meter wall. Imagine you want to practice the middle jump and you always have to start from the bottom. Here, specific sections can be rehearsed and refined, without a rope. We can practice the jump 20 times and don't have to climb up every time. This is something of the best, especially with regard to the 2020 Olympics.

“Imagine you want to practice the middle jump and you always have to start from the bottom. With our wall you can study individual sections in concrete terms. ”

IFSC has defined all handles, volumes, etc. that will be used at the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Do you integrate these handles into your range during training?
Not even we Swiss can afford all these handles (laughs). No, it doesn't make sense to have everyone in the range. We clearly looked at the catalog and we will also purchase the very special handles. But a bar is a bar and remains a bar.

Of course there are special volumes that you should have in the range. Fortunately, we have a good cooperation with the handle manufacturers Flathold and Cheetah. That helps us a lot. But of course, we have to increase and follow the trends, we are also talking about preparing for the Olympics. And we do that too.

In the National Performance Center, volume and large handles are not in short supply.

Variety is key for an athlete. Who is screwing here in the NLZ?
We have, especially this year, a lot of different people, also from abroad, who screw here, bring their ideas and require other skills in their routes. This is very important, but also extremely time-consuming. Before today's competition simulation, three route screwdrivers were here to screw the boulder. Manuel Hassler from Flathold is the one who unfortunately doesn't screw here anymore. As an international route wrench that will also be used at the Olympia, he does not want to be criticized and therefore no longer works for the Swiss elite.

How does Switzerland stand in terms of financial support compared to Austria or Japan?
I have the feeling that we are doing very well compared. If our athletes qualify for the competitions, the Swiss Alpine Club pays all expenses. This is not the case in many other countries. You often have to pay for it yourself. We have increased the number of physiotherapists compared to last year, so that we no longer only have physical care for major events. We also get great support from Swiss Olympic and the athletes from Swiss Sports Aid.

Sascha Lehmann also benefits from the support of Swiss Sports Aid. (Photo by David Schweizer / SAC

Adam Ondra, elite teams from numerous nations flew to Tokyo to train. Do you have a trip planned?
No we have not. We have been to Tokyo a few times. It's great and we always like to go to Japan. However, we were of the opinion that we should change our focus and not travel to Tokyo again before the Summer Olympics. We are preparing for the Olympic Games as we do for other major events.

Why is everyone going to Tokyo, what makes Tokyo so special?
It undoubtedly has good halls and it has an incredible number of strong climbers in Tokyo. The route building is cool, varied and has its own style. Also from the handle material. But the Tokyo Summer Olympics are not being screwed on. Sure, Japanese will also screw, but the handle material is defined, the infrastructure is new.

I think it is certainly the spirit and mentality in Tokyo that you can benefit from during your stay. Japanese people have a very positive way of doing things and they see a lot of things as an exciting challenge. We can definitely benefit from this and learn something.

“Japanese people have a very positive way of doing things.”

What does a typical training week for the Swiss elite look like?
The training plans are of course very individual. But we have the four training days that are fixed. On Monday we always have technique training, on Tuesdays we have a "double-physical training" with bouldering and weight room, Thursday is similar to Tuesday and on Saturday we often train in the competition area and on specific elements. And of course, every now and then, of course, everyone trains for himself.

Trainer Kevin Hemund discusses the solution of a boulder with the athletes.

Do you have training plans for all elite climbers?
That differs and is solved individually from athlete to athlete. We ensure that everyone is optimally looked after. If someone trains with another or additional trainer, we make sure that it is coordinated with our trainings.

Petra Klingler and Sascha Lehmann are in the Olympic pool. What does that mean for the two?
We support Petra and Sascha individually, in areas where there are needs and opportunities. However, the two do not receive additional financial support or the like. We had some combination training sessions with Sascha in autumn to prepare him for the qualification event in Toulouse. There are certainly individual trainings with the two, for example in speed but also in other areas, if that makes sense and is desired.

The two are of course very important to us because we as an association are also measured at the Olympics. We have defined clear goals with Swiss Olympic and logically, as an Olympic sport, participating in the Olympics is top of the list of priorities.

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