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Climbing for Gold

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Climbing for Gold

Climbing is being added to the 2020 Olympics and two local athletes are vying for the top spot on the podium.

September 8, 2016

Rock climbing — once considered a fringe sport by many — has recently exploded in popularity. According to the Climbing Business Journal, the indoor commercial climbing industry grew by 10 percent and 40 new rock gyms were built in the U.S. in 2015.

Climbing fever has hit big time, and the Olympics have taken notice. In August, the International Olympic Committee announced that a climbing category will be added to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo as part of an effort to incorporate more “youth oriented” sports into the games. Skateboarding, karate and surfing are also included for the first time.

Sidney tackles a difficult bouldering route at Vertical World Seattle.

But there’s a catch. Current climbing competitions, such as the USA Climbing Nationals, let climbers pick and choose which types of events they want to participate in for individual scores — think gymnastics or running. However, the proposed format for Olympic climbing specifies a combined score from three separate events.

These three events are lead climbing (climbers use a rope to scale massive walls), bouldering (no ropes, intricate puzzle-like routes under 15 feet), and speed climbing (a set course with only one goal: get to the top the fastest).

Coach Tyson discusses the next steps in training with Drew.

“It’s like having a sprinter also compete in a mile and a triathlon. It never happens. It’s really hard to get good enough to compete at a world cup level in all three, let alone an Olympic level,” says climber Drew Ruana.

Drew, 17, is an up and coming star athlete in the world of climbing. At 15, he became one of the youngest climbers to tackle Just Do it, a treacherous route on a cliff in Smith Rock, Ore. Drew recently placed third in speed climbing in the youth division at nationals. He’s mainly focused on outdoor climbing over the years, but says he’s shifting that focus due to the recent Olympics announcement.

It’s like having a sprinter also compete in a mile and a triathlon. It never happens. It’s really hard to get good enough to compete at a world cup level in all three, let alone an Olympic level.

“Because of the format of the Olympics — just the nature of how hard the competition will be — I’m probably going to resort to climbing indoors more to train for it.”

Drew’s teammate Sidney Trinidad, 18, has been climbing for nearly 10 years and is currently training for the world youth championships, taking place in November in China. Sidney was ecstatic when she heard the announcement that climbing had made the Olympics.

Drew clips his rope into the wall while lead climbing.

“When I heard climbing was added to the Olympics I got really excited,” Sidney said. “I was with all my climbing friends so we just celebrated that because it’s been a long time coming, actually.”

Drew and Sidney’s coach, Tyson Schoene, says that even if there are varying reactions in the climbing community, adding climbing to the Olympics is a game changer.

“I think it’s going to obviously put us on the world stage. More people are going to have an understanding of it, more people are going to come to climbing,” Tyson explained. “More people are going to have questions about it and I think that in itself is just going to give us the opportunity to grow the sport without, you know, getting in the way of the core values of what climbing can mean.”

Sidney practices her speed climbing on the standardized route.

Tyson says that Sidney, Drew — and any other climbers that decide to train for the Olympics — are going to have to completely dedicate themselves to training if they want to make the cut.

“It’s a long road to becoming an Olympian, because the reality is these are the best of the best. And there’s really only one first place,” Tyson said. “I’m incredibly proud when it comes down to the achievements of these kids.”


Rebecca Starkey

Rebecca is a graduate of Highline College with a degree in journalism. Currently, she attends Central Washington University majoring in film with an emphasis in production. She is also the president of Wildcat Films, CWU's student-run production company, and was the recipient of the Rising Star scholarship for film. Rebecca has a strong sense of visual storytelling and hopes to pursue cinematography after graduation. When she is not behind the camera, Rebecca can usually be found rock climbing or painting.

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