Born in Waidhofen/YBBS on Aug 1st, 1983, moved to Innsbruck in 2002 and started career as a professional climber; 1.75m tall and best known for a versatile style of climbing with penchant for powerful and dynamic moves. Relaxed but determined in approaching goals; foremost relaxed……
The above is how Kilian Fischhuber has described himself on his website. One of bouldering’s most successful competition climbers with quite a few victories at the World Cup and European championships to his credit, Kilian is from Austria. No stranger to India and Indian climbers, he has climbed in Hampi and Badami. In the run up to the first World Cup in bouldering to be held in India (at Navi Mumbai, May 14-15, 2016), Kilian granted an interview by email to this blog. Excerpts:
What are your memories of your first World Cup?
My first World Cup was in 1999. I travelled to France for rock climbing in Ceuse, Orpierre and the like. I joined the event in Gap without any expectations or pressure. There was no such thing as an Austrian team. As far as I remember, my friend Reini Fichtinger who I was travelling with also competed. I ended up 22nd and thought there might be a potential to enter the finals (at that time, 20 people went to the second round which was the finals).
You are one of the most successful competition climbers in bouldering. What did you do to stay fit and competitive? How much time did you invest in climbing? People spend hours at offices. Can you tell us how a day in climbing’s office was like, for you, in your World Cup years?
I trained more in my early twenties; less later. I needed to build up strength and work on my weaknesses. By the time I turned 25 I had developed a solid climbing style and was one of the stronger athletes in the field. The years after that I profited most from my experience and trust in oneself.
Climbing is a powerful sport, taking breaks is necessary and rock climbing can help you develop your technique and style. I usually trained five times week. Always two days on, one day rest.
Which were your finest moments in the sport at the competition level?
That would be – winning my first World Cup by a large margin in Erlangern, Germany in 2005, becoming European Champion in 2013 and winning my last World Cup in Innsbruck, Austria in 2014.
How intense is the competition at the World Cup? Were you and your fellow climbers at World Cups always competitors seeing each other so, or did you pick up good friendships that have stayed strong past your competition years?
I always saw the other competitors as people to learn from. At the end of a round you were in a good position if you performed well, no matter what the others did. In climbing you don’t have a direct opponent. You are challenged by the `problem’ / route and yourself.
What does ` competition’ mean to you? Do you see it as a phase in an athlete’s life or is it what you always live by? If it was a phase, then what is the driving force for you in climbing nowadays?
I probably did 100+ World Cup events and I feel confident saying that I am not a competitive person, I actually shy away from comparison. Competing was always a sort of game, interaction with others and yes, a challenge. The uncertainty and the pressure to perform well at a certain moment of time always held something alluring for me. Nevertheless, I am glad I got rid of the pressure.
Can you explain what difference you find between competition climbing, done typically on artificial walls, and climbing in the open, on natural rock as you do often now? Is there a drift to the purer ethic in this and is the purer ethic being out, free and climbing rock?
For me, both are climbing. I prefer climbing outside, especially when combined with trips and longer stays. But gym climbing can also be very entertaining. I am against a strict classification that goes hand in hand with how to value what.
While it is good to be sponsored, as a competition climber how did you handle the knowledge that sponsorship is dependent on performance and if performance falls, sponsors may stay away? Was that ever a source of pressure?
Well, sometimes, especially when under-performing you might feel pressure. In my case though, I could always rely on sponsors who saw beyond single achievements. Most of the companies have been supporting me for more than five years. Long term cooperation definitely helps to reduce the pressure.
You were a top athlete in a sport that wasn’t part of the Olympics. If all goes well, climbing may debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Do you see climbing’s entry into the Olympics as a major development? If so, what impact will it have on the sport?
This will very much depend on how climbing will be implemented in the Olympic circuit. If the IFSC prefers to push for an Olympic discipline that has never been tried and does not exist, then I see it rather critically.
The first set of young people aspiring to be full time climbers has just emerged in India. Some of them will be participating in the Navi Mumbai World Cup. What advice would you give them, both in terms of how to handle themselves at top level competitions like the World Cup and in terms of making climbing their profession?
Get inspired by the other climbers, yet go your own way. Don’t be pushy but take your time. In competition climbing a lot depends on experience, hence time is of the essence.
What climbs occupy you nowadays? When do we see you in India next?
I am currently teaching in high school, I even showed my students some pictures of Hampi and Badami. I will climb professionally again after July, when school ends. I hope to make it back to Badami in December.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. Please visit the Ganesha series of articles on this blog for more on Kilian Fischhuber.)