‘Quite a spectacle’: Tolworth coach leads call for sports climbing to become Tokyo 2020 Olympic sport

Strength, technique and skill are attributes needed in many sports, but one demands them more than most.

Climbing is the ultimate test of an individual’s physicality and it may now reach the next level and become an Olympic sport.

Alongside karate, skateboarding, surfing and baseball, sports climbing is vying to become a new Olympic sport for the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Indoor walls have been influential in climbing’s evolution over the last 20 years, and the sport now stretches across 140 countries — with an estimated 35 million participants worldwide and an average age of 23.

Olympic recognition is the next logical step and one proponent eager for the sport to spread its wings is Jonathan Redshaw, the competition squad coach at White Spider Climbing Centre in Tolworth.

“It’s quite a spectacle in terms of technique and feat of strength,” he said.

“Rock climbers are some of the strongest people in terms of power-to-weight-ratio and in terms of physical strength.

“I think that conveys very well across to the audience. It’s also very easy to understand.”

But before the audience can marvel at the athletes, the International Olympic Committee will have to approve its selection in Rio de Janeiro in early August.

Climbing was passed over for selection in 2013, but it was chosen by the IOC as a demonstration sport at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China and Redshaw has seen first-hand the sport’s popularity take off.

“In the last few years it’s really grown in popularity with indoor walls booming,” he said.

“They’re packed with adults, but especially kids, all absolutely loving it.”

The sport’s popularity is not just limited the UK — the Japanese city of Kazo staged the World Cup in April where stars like Akiyo Noguchi wowed passionate crowds.

Redshaw coaches athletes approaching Team GB level and is confident that Great Britain is building from similarly strong foundations.

“The competition scene in the UK is one of the healthiest in Europe, meaning if it went through to the Olympics there would be a lot of climbers in the UK aiming for it,” he said.

“Certainly around here we’ve got more members of the British team based in the London then across the rest of the country.”

Clearly the talent is certainly here. White Spider’s own Imogen Horrocks has joined Team GB, while Hackney youngster Jim Pope is a member of the junior British climbing team.

With stars like Shauna Coxsey and William Bosi also prominent on the scene — the future looks bright.

If climbing were to make the cut, the three proposed disciplines of bouldering, lead and speed combined climbing would offer the whole spectrum of the sport.

And, perhaps unlike other current Olympic sports where some other competitions still mean more than Olympic glory, there would be no question of its prestige in climbing.

“The Olympics would be the pinnacle of competition climbing. It would no doubt be the one medal everyone would want to get,” Redshaw said.

The long-term development of the sport and inspiring the next generation is another obviously plus point that Olympic involvement would bring.

“The exposure would be great, it would encourage more people into the sport and to take it seriously,” Redshaw said.

“The standards will be pushed up, the sheer difficulty of what people can climb will go up and that’s got to be good for the sport.”

The time certainly looks right for the sport to climb to the very top and achieve Olympic status.

Image courtesy of Jonathan Redshaw, with thanks

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