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Josh Levin IFSC/Eddie Fowke
Tokyo 2020

YOG role model Levin focuses on Tokyo 2020 dream

Any of the world’s best young sport climbers wanting some serious life advice at next year’s Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Buenos Aires need look no further than Athlete Role Model (ARM) Josh Levin.

He may be only 23 years old, but Josh Levin has already interned at NASA, dealt with the pressures of being a TV star, become the USA’s most decorated junior climber of all-time, and faced up to some monumental life decisions of his own. “I did another internship, doing manufacturing design; and I got an amazing offer from them which I turned down to train for the Olympics,” Levin revealed. “It’s really cool, I have opportunities to do stuff beyond the scope of climbing, which is awesome; but now is the time to pursue climbing as much as I can. It was a tough call – do I want to take this amazing job offer or pursue my Olympic dream?”

Levin’s parents, having watched their son win a record 19 youth national championship titles, resisted the urge to push the youngster towards the security of a career at one of the world’s leading companies, and instead threw their support right behind his Olympic aspirations. In amongst his busy schedule, the YOG have played an important role in the Californian’s journey to date. The engineering graduate was part of the sport climbing team at the Nanjing 2014 YOG Sports Lab. His role was to show off the sport’s unique attributes and get as many visitors up on the wall as possible.

Josh Levin IFSC/Eddie Fowke

“We helped local kids, IOC members, even athletes themselves try out climbing for the first time,” he explained. “It was an incredible experience, reminding me of the first time I ever tried it. We were there for the whole Games. We could really get a feel for it. Not only did we see high-level athletes competing at the best of their abilities in their respective sports, but the spirit as a whole was really inspiring.”

The work Levin and his colleagues put in certainly paid off, with sport climbing at the Buenos Aires YOG approved as a medal event and, of course, now part of the programme for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. “When my youth career was in full swing I did all three disciplines, which I loved, so when the Olympics announcement was made (confirming that climbing’s three disciplines, lead, speed and bouldering, would be combined into one event) I was really excited and it made me think, ‘oh wow, this gives me a potentially good shot at qualifying’,” he said.

If you dream big and work hard, anything is possible. Josh Levin Athlete Role Model

A stint at NASA, contributing to the Mars Rover 2020 project, taught the young dreamer a hugely valuable lesson. “Working at NASA, you realise that the sky is not the limit,” Levin said with a laugh, before he added, “If you dream big and work hard, anything is possible.”

The five-time youth continental champion, who missed the 2014/15 season due to shoulder surgery, has certainly committed to his dream. Back in the USA men’s lead climbing team last season, Levin secured his first-ever spot in an International Federation of Sport Climbing World Cup final, in speed climbing, earlier this year. Such results have further fuelled his desire to ensure he makes it to Tokyo in three years’ time.

Despite all this success, advice on dealing with setbacks is something he particularly plans to pass on to YOG climbers next year. “Two weeks ago, I broke my hand doing a Ninja Warrior obstacle course,” he revealed, a little sheepishly. For the uninitiated, Ninja Warrior is a global TV phenomenon in which highly adventurous, mega-fit men and women take on insane-looking obstacle courses in a bid to reach national and international finals and battle against other “super-humans”. It is right up Levin’s street.

Josh Levin IFSC/Eddie Fowke

“I saw the Japanese version on TV when I was about 15 years old. I was like, ‘that looks really fun’,” he said. “It’s also pretty unique: they treat the course as a competitor itself. It’s not necessarily an individual versus another competitor.”

He took part for the first time last year, reached the Las Vegas national finals and was selected as part of Team USA. A trip to compete internationally in Indonesia followed. “It’s a different experience but equally cool to compete for the US in Ninja Warrior as in sport climbing,” Levin said. “In some ways, it’s a little more intense. You have to stay up till 3 or 4 a.m. because it’s filmed at night. You do a lot of interviews, B-roll (supplemental footage), these things they call hero shots, which are pretty cheesy. But it’s a really great community. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed.”

For Levin, it is this sense of togetherness that makes his first love, sport climbing, such a fast-growing, attractive sport. And that is another key message he intends to pass on to those striving for medals at the Buenos Aires 2018 YOG. “For me, the YOG go beyond the sport. They show that we, as a human race, are not so different from one another,” he said. “It’s such an important concept to help kids understand what other people’s beliefs, traditions and cultures are from round the world.”

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