Sport climbing’s ultimate all-rounder Sean McColl is in prime position for Tokyo 2020
Sean McColl is a rare, but extremely happy breed of sport climber. The 29-year-old Canadian is a four-time International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) World Cup overall combined rankings champion. In short, he is as close to a hot favourite as you can get three years out from the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
“It’s something I have been dreaming of my whole life,” said lead, bouldering and speed specialist McColl, who has already put the label “future Olympian” on the front page of his website. “I love climbing, competing, testing myself. I compete in almost every competition I can.”
This passionate affair with sport climbing started when McColl was just 10 years old. From the beginning, he found himself drawn to all three disciplines. In an era when the sport has been developing at an extraordinary pace and the vast majority of his peers chose to specialise, the multifaceted McColl has always stood out from the crowd.
“I know the more competitions I do, the more relaxed I am going to be when executing my technique and going through my mental preparations, and therefore the stronger competitor I will be,” he said. “Also, I love travelling and getting on planes and seeing new cultures. I don’t mind eating different foods. I am very laid back; if I get to a place and something has gone wrong, I just think ‘this is how it is’ and I just get on with it.”
With the IFSC bouldering season taking place in the first half of the year, and lead in the second six months, the multiple World Cup winner also relishes the chance to make up for any poor displays in one discipline with stellar results in another. But he is well aware that it takes a Herculean effort to excel in all three.
“Speed climbing is my weakest of the three disciplines,” McColl said. “I don’t train in it as much. It is much closer to running than lead and bouldering – so it is something I will have to focus on more and more in the lead-up to competitions that will serve as Olympic qualification.”
I love climbing, competing, testing myself. I compete in almost every competition I canSean McColl
For a man whose focus is unashamedly on all things Olympic, McColl’s habitual schedule was uprooted by the news that he would have a chance to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
“The biggest change is that now I am working on a four-year cycle, which is strange. I have been so used to working on one-year cycles since I was professional,” the Canadian explained. “This year, the first of four, I need to do a lot of testing in order to refine those techniques in 2018 to make sure in 2019, the qualifying year, I know exactly what I am doing and I will be the strongest in climbing I have ever been.”
On the verge of turning 30, McColl is aware he is in a strong position.
“To be a good lead climber or boulderer you have to have climbed for at least four or five years. It’s not to have learned the movements or learned how to climb; it’s actually just to be weighting your fingers for that many years in order to build up the strength in your tendons,” he said.
“So climbers who do lead and bouldering already have that strength in their fingers and can basically be taught to run up the wall and get the technique. They can learn that much quicker than a speed climber; someone who is naturally very good at running and has fast twitch muscles, but might have climbed for just two years, could learn lead and bouldering. They just don’t have the strength in their fingers.”
The almost unimaginably miniscule size of the handholds and footholds are very much part of the reason behind this need for practised strength. And McColl is very hopeful that it is an element of the sport that will reach television viewers and live spectators alike in 2020.
“The [hand] holds are as little as 1cm or 0.5cm and you have to move your body – 90 to 120cm – and the footholds are often terrible; you can barely put your feet on them,” he said. “I am really hoping with technology, with the cameras and maybe the interviews and the commentary, people will be able to see that climbers make the moves look really easy but they are really not.”