Our Road to Tokyo series continues with Shauna Coxsey, Britain’s most successful competitive climber.
Climbing fever hit Shauna Coxsey at a young age. She was inspired to take up the sport by Catherine Destivelle after watching the French mountaineer on TV.
“My dad and I were always watching the adventure sport channels, I saw her climbing these cliffs in Africa without ropes,” Coxsey explained. “I said to my dad, ‘Dad, I want to do that’. And then about a year later we found our local climbing wall and I started at the kids group.”
With the sport set to make its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 this year, climbing fever could soon take over the country. Coxsey is excited about that possibility, describing her participation in the Games as a “privilege”.
“The Olympics is the most prestigious sporting stage in the world, so for my sport to be represented there, it means so much on so many levels,” she said.
“I think the more people that see climbing, the more people that try climbing, the better. That’s so good for our sport and it’s so good for individuals who find something they’re passionate about.
That’s what it’s all about, the Olympics transcend boundaries, it inspires people.
“The fact that climbing is going to be part of that, the fact that people will see it and find something that they’re passionate about, I think is such an exciting prospect, and for me to be part of that is such a privilege.”
The inclusion of climbing at the Olympics was initially something of a disappointment, however. Athletes were left dismayed when it was announced in 2016 that the Olympic climbing event would be a combination of all three disciplines – bouldering, lead and speed.
“At that time, the combined wasn’t really a thing, we didn’t have combined athletes,” Coxsey confirmed. “Most climbers focused on one, or maybe two of the disciplines, not all three. So when it was announced, I think there was an initial disappointment in the sense that the individual disciplines wouldn’t be represented.
“But as time went on, we understood why that decision was made. There was only one set of medals available, so it was choosing one sport or combining all three. And I do think combining the three is the right decision, so we can showcase what our sport is competitively.”
Coxsey has always excelled in bouldering herself. The 28-year-old is a four-time British bouldering champion, a two-time winner of the Bouldering World Cup, and finished with bronze in the discipline at the 2019 World Championships.
Although her expertise lies in bouldering, Coxsey is now confident she can perform in the combined when it matters most. She qualified for the Olympics back at the World Championships in 2019, when she also placed third in the combined event.
“The first combined event I did was actually the Olympic selection, so I was going into that event, I guess to some degree, uncertain as to where I would be at against the other athletes,” Coxsey explained. “At that event, I wasn’t in the best shape I wanted to be. I was carrying a few little niggles, and I also got the flu when I got to Japan, so I was really not very well.”
“Then I walked away from that event with an Olympic qualification and the bronze medal.
So, to go to that event with a lot of unknowns and to walk away feeling accomplished and satisfied with my performance, I’d say yes, for sure I feel confident in the other disciplines and confident in the combined as a format.
It has been nearly two years since Coxsey qualified for Tokyo 2020, although the wait was never meant to be that long. The postponement of the Olympics to 2021 has wreaked havoc on the schedules of athletes around the world, and there is still uncertainty about whether the Games will even take place.
Coxsey admitted the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent disruption had made preparations difficult, but ultimately she has been able to keep her focus on Tokyo 2020.
“I’m a really goal orientated person. I love having a goal set and a distance, and lots of little goals along the way, she said. “I think when the Games were postponed and moved a year, it was just that the goal shifted by a year and we had to put some new goals in between.
“It’s been difficult at times to plan around the changing restrictions, and to modify training, but that’s why I think I have such an amazing team around me. I’ve been able to keep training and stay motivated because of them.
“So, of course it’s been hard, but I think having the goal is what is really important to me, so having the Olympics to keep me motivated throughout lockdown has been essential really.”
Many will sit down to watch climbing for the first time this summer. It is rapidly increasing in popularity as a hobby, but has not yet made the jump over to a sport widely available to view on television. When asked why people should choose to watch climbing during the Olympics, Coxsey was eloquent in her answer.
“I think there’s a lot of reasons why climbing is fascinating to watch. Climbing is something that’s so natural to us – as kids we want to climb all over the sofa, all over climbing frames.
“We just want to climb, it’s so ingrained within us and that doesn’t change as adults, it just becomes more unacceptable to climb all over the place, unless you are at a climbing wall. I think it’s something that we can connect to. It’s something that’s very natural within us.
“Climbing at the Olympics will also meet the Olympic motto of higher, faster, stronger. With lead climbing, it’s about how high you get. With speed climbing, it’s about how fast you are, and with bouldering, it’s so much about strength and technical ability. So we have everything within the Olympic motto under one sport, so I think it’s going to be incredibly fascinating to watch and be part of that as well.”
We’ll be sure to be watching Shauna Coxsey go higher, faster and stronger at the Olympics this summer. For more information on Shauna, please visit her athlete profile on redbull.com.