It’s the newest Olympic sport, and it’s something you probably tried as a kid, and might have recently re-discovered as an adult.
Twenty-eight-year-old Tom O’Halloran will represent Australia in sport climbing in Tokyo, after qualifying at the International Federation of Sport Climbing Oceania Championships in Sydney last year.
“It’s going to be awesome just to show the world what rock climbing is. It’s something that’s base and primal – it’s a pretty natural thing, the desire to climb – and I think people will really connect with it,” he told Wide World of Sports at the official launch of Australia’s Olympic uniforms.
Rock climbing and bouldering have surged in popularity in recent years, with new facilities popping up all over the country. There are dozens in Sydney alone.
“When I started climbing in 2004 there were two climbing gyms in Brisbane, maybe two or three in Sydney. It’s insane to see that explosion and I think we’ve seen how people connect with it,” he said.
O’Halloran climbed anything he could from an early age, and showcased his skills with strong performances on Nine’s Australian Ninja Warrior in 2017 and 2018. But he never thought his passion would result in anything like an Olympic Games appearance.
“I’m an outdoor rock climber so there’s no professional path there, you’re just on your own, doing your thing in the forest. So to see it become an Olympic sport is pretty surreal,” he said.
“I still feel like the kid who started climbing in 2004 and now here I am with five rings on my chest.”
The climbing schedule in Tokyo will consist of three disciplines – speed climbing pits two climbers against each other, both climbing a route on a 15m wall. Bouldering, where athletes scale a number of fixed routes on a 4.5m wall in a specified time, and lead, where athletes attempt to climb as high as possible on a wall measuring over 15m in height within a time limit.
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O’Halloran said his best discipline used to be lead climbing, but his speed climbing has improved.
“I see myself as a bit of an all-rounder really, which pays off in this type of competition,” he said.
The announcement of all three forms being amalgamated into one event drew ire from many in the climbing community – some likening it to forcing swimmers to compete in several strokes rather than individual events.
“[Bouldering] is the ability to decipher movement and to make it up as you go along. It’s a test of how to solve a problem that’s in front of you, whereas speed climbing is the same course all over the world, and has been for ten years,” O’Halloran said, adding that speed climbing had grown on him significantly.
“When they announced it was going to be an Olympic sport, I didn’t really feel good about the format and it was a bit of a bummer. But you can’t just give up on that dream – so I tried speed climbing and saw that this is truly a show of who is the best overall rock climber in the world.
“People don’t see the connection between real-life climbing and speed climbing – and I was one of those people to be honest, but the more I’ve done it the more I’ve fallen in love with it. It’s insane, action-packed drama.
“To put all three disciplines together really is a show of who’s the best rock climber in the world, rather than being niche at one particular thing.”
O’Halloran said he’s feeling strong and focused, and hopes remain high that he can secure a medal in the inaugural showing of this event.
“I feel good, I’m uninjured, I feel stronger than I ever have and we’ve still got lots of time to go. Given the nature of it all, the three disciplines, it’s kind of like throwing the dice in the air and seeing what happens. It’s really anyone’s game on the day.”
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