Olympics 2020: What Will It Take to Put a British Climber on the Podium?

With the news that climbing has been short listed for the Olympics in 2020, I thought I’d ponder a situation that on the one hand is hypothetical, but on the other if climbing reaches its Olympic Dream; then is the UK capable of attaining a podium is a reasonable question to ponder.

As unlike world championships, commonwealth or other sporting competition, the Olympics has a special place in the history of the sports that make up both summer and winter Olympic games. The reason for this is whilst the world championships are held on a regular basis, the Olympics 4 year cycle, makes the athletes from around the world go the extra mile.

If we take stock of where we are in the UK and the current time, then to be honest if the results from the recent IFSC (International Federation of Sport Climbing) World Climbing Championships, means that we are more likely to be an also ran than a winner. In lead climbing we seem to be lucky to make the top 50, whilst bouldering we have made it into the top ten and even a recent podium for team events when we were on home soil.

So as a nation we are far better at bouldering than routes, which is interesting, and possibly explained if we take a look at two of the big guns in the Competition Climbing scene, Adam Ondra and Roman Julian. Both have been on the podium for more than their fair share of the limelight. Both are also phenomenal outside as well, with multiple F9a and harder routes under their belts. They also climb full time, and tour the Europe’s best sports climbing venues as they move with the tour.

So the most obvious differences seems to be the ability to climb full time and access to simply thousands of hard sports routes across Europe. Just a look at the new rockfax guide to Provence when your next in an outdoor shop, and some crags have more F7c routes and harder on them than LPT has routes. Ask yourself if you are going to stay motivated to climb at your limit would you a. do it in an indoor wall on another route set for that week, month, year or do it outside on routes that have an internationally recognized name, grade and reputation?

The access to hard and challenging routes is a difficult one in the UK, as our traditional ethic and not to mention the lack of the steep limestone venues that are two a penny on the continent simply aren’t in abundance in the UK. However climbing outside certainly seems to help the top climbers on the circuit, and whilst it must help physiologically, I also suspected that it also helps keep climbers motivated to climb at their limit week in week out, as the added incentive of climbing classic hard routes, keeps many of the top climbers on the circuit motivated to a higher level, than it can possibly be indoors. Why, because there is a greater chance for the ego to be polished, not that these guys are egotist, it is just a human trait that we can’t ignore.

Without a ready access to hard sport climbing then the UK based competition climber needs to have an excellent training facility. Sadly there are few appropriate lead climbing venues in the UK, Ratho in Scotland is probably the one that is the closest to an international competition wall.

However in terms of bouldering we are not only getting there in terms of our performance but also really starting to mount a good fight. This is probably due to the facilities in the UK. First we have now got many dedicated bouldering walls like The Works in Sheffield. More than that though whilst we don’t have those steep overhanging limestone, we do have some of the best bouldering in Europe on a massive variety of rock types and styles.

So other than Money to free up a potential climbers time to train on facilities that are few and far between in this country. There is also the question of who is going to coach this new breed of competition climbers, fortunately the Mountain Leader Training Boards have been tasked with developing coaching awards aimed at developing the grass routes coaching of children and others. However they won’t be about until a few years from now, and in any event these awards will at best help people coach regional teams.

The current GB team, has a great selection of volunteer coaches whose knowledge is excellent, however what can be done to improve this ad hoc base of skill and knowledge to bring it together into one cohesive base, for international training?

The question is whether British Climbers are willing to front up the money to either send our climbers to ‘training camps’ in Europe, or build some better lead climbing walls. Not to mention front up some money for the GB climbing team for coaching and training. As at present not only do some of the team need to maintain motivation, but also there is a certain amount of self-financing that goes on.

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