SPORT CLIMBING: Around 250 athletes aged nine to 19 converged at the Sydney Indoor Climbing Gym last weekend in what was the country’s largest National Youth Sport Climbing Championships.
Since it was announced in late 2016 that Sport Climbing would make its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020, the sport has seen a big increase in participation rates in young athletes around the country. As more athletes registered for this year’s National Youth Champs than ever before, the event was a true example of just how fast the new Olympic sport is growing.
The Olympic format of the sport will be contested for the first time at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires this October, ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The format will see athletes having to compete in all three climbing disciplines – Lead, Bouldering and Speed – in pursuit of a podium finish.
Traditionally, climbers have specialised in one discipline, as the three events all require very different tactics, physic and skills. However, since the announcement of the Olympic format, Bouldering athletes are attaching a harness and reaching for new heights on the Lead wall, while slow and precise Lead climbers are training their fast twitch muscle fibers to clamber up the 15m Speed wall in under 10 seconds.
Director of Sport Climbing Australia, Romain Thevenot, said he was blown away by the standard of climbing at the event and is excited about the future of the sport in Australia.
“The youngest kids (under 10 to 14 years-old) have demonstrated the best performances we’ve ever seen and this is really promising for the future of Australian athletes at an international level,” he said.
“Most of the favorites in contention to be selected for the Olympic Team competed over the weekend and we brought in an international expert to work with our coaches on athlete talent identification and Olympic preparation for the next two weeks.
“The event was run with all three disciplines in a similar way and level of complexity to the World Youth Championships. This is really encouraging as Sport Climbing Australia is working on strategies to bring such international events to Australia.”
One such Tokyo 2020 potential athlete expanding her climbing repertoire is 15-year-old Oceana Mackenzie.
Mackenzie, who is one of four young Australian athletes with Olympic Scholarship to work towards the 2020 Games, took out the Youth A Female category on the weekend and flushed every climb.
“I spent a lot of time preparing for this comp as it’s the qualification event for the Australian Youth Climbing Team,” Mackenzie said.
“To climb so well with my family and friends there to support me was amazing and motivated me on the wall.
“I personally really like this format, as I train all three disciplines. I find it better to do all the disciplines in a weekend rather than spreading them out, as you get more people trying different disciplines because they are already at the event. So this adds to the competitive game.”
Not only is the youngster a shoo-in for the National Youth Team, the climber from Warrandyte, Victoria, has made it onto the Australian Open Team and will compete in her first Open World Cup in Japan in a couple of months.
Also on top of the podium was Ned Middlehurst for the Junior Male Category. Middlehurst is hoping to make history as the first Australian to compete at Sport Climbing at the Youth Olympic Games, after the 17-year-old secured the Oceania quota place for Buenos Aires 2018 in November 2017.