Olympic Climbing is Happening for the First Time Ever
By Scott William Ladley
In April of 2020, about a month into the reality of a worldwide pandemic and the possibility of a postponed Olympic games, CEC High Performance Director Andrew Wilson said to newly minted Olympians Alannah Yip and Sean McColl “I’m going to give you the final word and the gospel from the Canadian Olympic Committee. We’re not going to pay attention to anything else until the Olympic Committee confirms the message”. A coach’s job is many things but now having to manage expectations and sit with a calendar where days and months were a blur of uncertainty beyond basically anyone’s control? This was new territory.
Wilson’s move that April was a powerful one ensuring his athletes that it was full gas unless they heard otherwise. “They have to trust me and they have to trust their training,” he said. “What hurt was that when it was all a bit settled, we had to build a ½ year training plan beginning in November of 2020.”
This page will give you some insight to Andrew, Alannah and Sean’s experience ahead and what sort of things may be a little different. You’ll get some quotes from Andrew and hopefully some perspective for a rather monumental first for Canada, the Olympics and let us not forget a seriously weird past 18 months.
Who is going?
Andrew Wilson, Alannah Yip (qualified Feb ‘20) and Sean McColl (qualified Aug ‘19). Canada qualified 2 of a possible 4 competitor spots for the games. More information on the IFSC Website. Canada is also providing a Judge, Paul Ledet from BC.
“A smaller group is great; less logistics to manage and I’ve known them both for so many years. It’s too bad they won’t have their families and friends close but we’re each other’s family on this trip”. -AW
- Most Canadian teams are sending 5-10 athletes or more and then their support team of 5-10 coaches, therapists and others
- No spectators following the latest State of Emergency in Japan
- A typical IFSC World Cup event can have a field of up to 140 climbers in each gender. This has 20.
- This may seem inconsequential but the smaller field has big effects on scoring and an athlete’s potential to move throughout the standings (READ: high drama!)
- All participants must pass two COVID-19 tests before leaving their home country. They’ll be tested upon arrival, and then athletes, and those in close proximity to athletes, will be tested daily.
- Pfizer and BioNTech donated vaccines for Olympic athletes. Andrew, Alannah and Sean are fully vaxed.
When and Where?
The whole Olympic Games run July 23rd-August 8th. Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of EST, 16 hours ahead of PST; check this CBC page for viewing.
CEC will have a Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) Media Attaché on site that will takeover our Instagram and Facebook accounts for the duration of the games. Follow the action live through #CANclimbOlympics
Andrew, Alannah and Sean fly into Tokyo on July 20th, arriving on the 21st(!). They will enter athlete village in Tokyo July 28th. Training available on comp wall 29th-2nd. Men’s qualifications on August 3rd, women’s on August 4th at the Aomi Urban sports Park. built brand new (same venue for skateboarding) . Finals on 5th (men) and 6th (women).
“It’ll be a whirlwind; faster than we thought! Not being able to be there for opening or closing ceremonies is kind of a bummer. We still get a nice patriotic outfit and package from Hudson’s Bay Company on the 28th; there are very strict rules on what we can wear and when!” -AW
- The trio will stay seven hours north (“up island” to use the lingo) of Tokyo in Morioka for a week
- Booked well before Covid; this will be nice to avoid the crowds and mess of the city before the games
- They have a climbing facility and routesetter at their disposal
- Much of the training here will be light and no real high-pressure simulations
- Athletes can only enter the village six days before their event (Rio 2016 had athletes arrive 12 days or more before opening ceremonies)
- Athletes must leave Japan no more than 48 hours after elimination in their sport. (typically athletes stay to ah-hem, party, until closing ceremonies)
- No alcohol in the village
- Only clapping or silent screaming will be allowed
The Combined Format will be used at the Olympics.
Speed climbing will be contested on an IFSC-standard 15-meter speed wall. The bouldering wall will be four meters in height, and the lead wall will be 15 meters high. Completing them in that order, a climber will be shuttling between the wall and isolation, nothing new for Sean and Alannah (or anyone competing for that matter, except maybe South Africa).
Climbers may wear whatever hardware they want (i.e. no rules about chalk). The Olympians’ uniforms have been designed, and are provided, by Arc’teryx through CEC’s four-year partnership with the apparel company. The uniform includes the harness and chalk bag.
“Training at the Richmond Oval doing simulations has been great. Between what Sean procured through sponsorships and what the Oval has, we basically have the entire catalog of holds they may encounter at the games. We’ve relied heavily on Simon Parton and his experience for setting and Victoria resident Paul Ledet for his experience as a judge.” AW
- An Olympic simulation is a way for the athletes to visualize themselves in the actions at the games. It allows them to practice being at the games 4 different times before actually being there. Simulating for one discipline is one thing; simulating a day for all three has been a big part of Andrew, Alannah and Sean’s process.
- Own The Podium has provided CEC with a grant to host these simulations.
- The Richmond Oval in BC is one of the only facilities in the country that has all three disciplines in one place. They’ve got the lights, the timing system, PA system, signage. The simulations are legit.
Each athlete’s overall standing will be determined by multiplying their ranking in each discipline, lower number’ rankings (i.e. 1, 2, 3) are best. Hypothetically, if a competitor places third in speed climbing, first in bouldering, and fifth in lead climbing, that competitor’s final combined score would be 15 (3x1x5). If another competitor placed second in speed climbing, second in bouldering, and third in lead climbing, that competitor’s final score would be 12 (2x2x3) and thus win over the previous climber—12 being a lower score than 15.
Here is what the Olympians will go through on each competition day (once for Qualifier, once for Finals).
- Athletes will have 2 hours to warm-up for speed. Unlike a World Cup, in this Olympics, there are no practice races. Athletes race twice and the fastest of their 2 times is used for ranking.
- The two qualifier races are head to head (one race on each side) and matchups here have yet to be announced. Stay tuned as who Sean faces and who Alannah faces can play a big factor! We should know these early August.
- There will be a mandatory 30 minutes between the last speed run and the 1st boulder attempt.
- Five minutes to reach the top of each boulder in a set of four; same format you may be used to watching. Same beep sounds!
- There will be a mandatory 2 hour break between the last boulder attempt and the 1st lead climber.
- 6 minute observation time; 1 route, get to the highest point!
ALL OF THE ABOVE IN ONE DAY! JUST ONE DAY!
FINALS (2 days later)
- Top 8 after qualifying round. Same order—speed uses a knockout round (#1 speed goes against 8). This creates a top bracket and a bottom bracket. Mandatory 15 minute break. 3 boulders in IFSC finals format (2minute observation, each boulder climbed by each climber). 15 minute break, 1 lead route.
“We’re hitting a level with Sean and Alannah that feels pretty good. We do a lot of debriefing, lots of talk about energy levels, managing room noise and even throwing some curveballs. By manipulating some scoring possibilities, we can even do some emotional simulations (if you slip on your first speed attempt or your opponent slips etc..).
The tactical and mental prep in the last month before an event has more impact on your ability than the physical elements. Sean and Alannah understand tapering and ramping up the mental game. For the day of, they know not to go nuts with the food spread in ISO or to have too much coffee or something silly like that. They’re both world class and have taken the time to research every part of their training.” AW
The Covid Effect
As Canadians, Sean and Alannah haven’t been able to do a lot of World Cup trips in preparation. Sean did Salt Lake City in May of 2021 but it’s only because he knew coming back into Canada, he could quarantine at home where he had built a wall and his training wouldn’t be interrupted. The wall he built within a month of the pandemic’s start is covered from the elements, is 12 feet high, 15-20 feet width and around 30 degrees at some points. Something he also did was contact the holds manufacturing companies from the Olympic sport climbing catalog and asked for sponsorship so he could train on the actual holds he needed. The man knows how to prep!
Alannah did not travel to Salt Lake and opted to stay in Canada for her preparations (she doesn’t have a home wall and some vaccine logistics at the time made this a complicated travel plan). She trains with Andrew 3x per week and always stays in close touch about her training (even slips out to Squamish to throw down).
The two of them are active social media users but also speak to Andrew about the potential pitfalls and distractions. As Andrew has said, they’re world class and at this point, the mental focus for them is paramount.
On August 3rd and 4th, Sean and Alannah will put on their shoes one at a time just like you and me, use a chalk of their choice and ascend into history as Canada’s first Olympic climbers. Be sure to tune in – strong coffee in hand (remember, 13hrs ahead of us!), force your young ones to watch and take notes as they’ll need to recount the moments for generations. The scoring setup and format promises some serious drama too; it’ll be very exciting!