Women's Sports: Meet Britain's Tokyo-bound climber Shauna Coxsey

Shauna Coxsey

You won’t find a more qualified climbing teacher than Shauna Coxsey.

The British boulderer, 26, has been climbing since she was four and has many indoor climbing competition wins to her name. She has won the Bouldering World Cup twice in 2016 and 2017 as well as having won four golds at the British Bouldering Championships. 

Then there are her achievements this year – Coxsey became the first British person to win a climbing medal at the Climbing World Championships, taking home bronze in the bouldering event. Then she doubled her haul, winning bronze in the combined event, where climbers compete across three forms of the sport. Through qualifying in the first position for the combined final she also secured qualification for the Tokyo Olympic Games.

She might have been climbing for 22 years but talking to her it is clear that she is still as excited to be climbing now as she was when she first started, after being inspired by the exploits of French climber Catherine Destivelle.

I’m here, not just to talk to Coxsey, but also for her to give me some tips on how to climb. Her excitement is infectious but watching her warm-up on the climbing wall, I’m getting nervous. She moves so elegantly and effortlessly from one hold to the next that it looks like she is flying across the wall. I’ve only climbed a little bit before and with an aversion to arm-day in the gym, I’m not sure I will be able to replicate anything like that.

It is reassuring that despite climbing for most of her life, Coxsey says she still feels fear up on the wall: “I’m only human.” I suppose when you are practically performing gymnastics on a vertical wall, often leaping to reach a hold, there is no way you can eradicate fear completely.

Coxsey clearly manages that nervousness to great success given her impressive competition record. Even she can’t quite believe what she achieved at the World Championships in August. “It still seems insane,” she says laughing.

Instead of being a pressure, training for the Olympics is an exciting new challenge. “To know I’m qualified and to know I’m going to be able to go to the Olympics is a relief,” reflects Coxsey.  

For Olympic climbing, athletes need to compete across three disciplines. The first is bouldering, Coxsey’s main sport, where you climb up problems on a wall without a rope. Coxsey will also do lead climbing, where you make your way up a wall that’s multiple storeys high secured with a harness and a rope. The third discipline is speed climbing where you sprint up a route that always stays the same, again attached to a rope – the goal is to be the fastest to reach the top.

Taking on two new disciplines was just the challenge Coxsey needed: “For me, in my career, it came at a really good point because I’d achieved what I wanted to achieve within bouldering.”
It is not something that she has done by half either. As well as bagging two bronzes and an Olympic spot at the World Championships, Coxsey also added a new record to her collection – the British speed climbing record.

As well as being infectiously enthusiastic, Coxsey is humble – she says she’s not sure how she did it, explaining that her times in training weren’t anywhere near the 9.141 seconds she sped up the route in to claim the record.

When Coxsey started, professional climbers didn’t really exist but taking a leap of faith isn’t exactly something unusual to her and so she decided to try and forge a career on the wall. She says that it is thanks to her sponsorships with brands like Red Bull that she has managed to turn her passion into a career. 

IFSC Climbing World Championships - Day 8: Combined Women's Qualification

Back on the wall, thankfully for me, Coxsey is an encouraging teacher, explaining exactly what I need to do step-by-step. It is hard work carefully considering how you place your toes (on tiptoes), where to move to next and trying not to use your arms too much (Coxsey says it is important to use your legs as they are much more powerful muscles).

It is fun and while I’m not sure I looked as effortless as Coxsey does, she was generous enough to call me a natural – a compliment that I’m definitely going to roll out at every opportunity I can.

The message Coxsey keeps coming back to during our time together is that everyone should climb: “I think everybody should try it because it’s so much fun. As a kid you climb trees, you climb climbing frames, there’s no reason why you have to stop as an adult.”

With that sort of logic, it is hard to argue otherwise. When Coxsey takes to the wall in Tokyo next year, I suspect there will be lots of young girls watching on TV who are going to be begging their parents to take them climbing, just like she did when she was four.

To find out more about Shauna Coxsey head to her athlete profile page on RedBull.com

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