Born 1987, Sean McColl began climbing in 1997. He has been competing for the past 18 years. Hailing from North Vancouver in Canada, he was the Canadian youth champion every year from 1999-2005. Since he started competing in the World Cup circuit, he has won four events (two in lead climbing, two in bouldering) and been on the podium another 23 times. Sean is one of those rare multi-disciplinary athletes in the complete sense. According to Wikipedia, he was overall winner in the men’s category in 2014 and runner-up in 2011, 2012 and 2013. He represents the athletes’ interests in the competition climbing world. In Navi Mumbai to participate in the 2016 IFSC World Cup in bouldering, he spared time to reply to the following questions from this blog:
You have been in competitive climbing for a long time; your first gold medal at the Youth World Championships was in 2002. How did your life in climbing move towards competition climbing? Was it intentional or something that happened along the way?
I have by nature always been quite a competitive person. Growing up, I loved sports and when I found climbing I was naturally drawn towards competitions. Winning my first World Championships in 2002 helped fuel my drive and love for competitions even more. I still love competing! There is nothing quite like it.
Was being at the Youth World Championships a fine stepping stone for you to graduate to the senior circuit, involving the IFSC World Cups and the World Championships? How long did it take for you to find your groove in the senior circuit?
Being involved in youth climbing helped me drive my passion. It also helped that because I was climbing during my growth years my muscles were driven more towards that of a climber. Someone who didn’t start climbing till 20 might have a harder time forcing their bodies towards that of an athlete. Finding my groove on the open circuit took quite a few seasons and that was before there was ANY infrastructure in place. In Canada, we still struggle to have good training for athletes after their junior days, but with the Olympic bid, my fingers are crossed that everything will get brought to a new level.
In the many years you have been at World Cups and World Championships, who are the boulderers who have earned your respect – the ones you felt were a class apart?
There are many boulderers that have since retired and some still on the circuit that I sincerely respect. To name them all without forgetting one is too risky. The person who I looked up to the most in my incremental years was Kilian Fischhuber of Austria. His patience, precision and strength in the most clutch of times are inspirational.
How intense is life in the World Cup and the competition climbing circuit particularly for athletes participating in more than one discipline like you? Does a full season take a toll on the body, not to mention repeating it year after year? Right now, are there too many World Cups or is the number apt?
I find the balance of world cups in a year, very good. This balance is carefully kept and with my position as Athlete President on the Athlete Commission, I have a big hand in debating in which order and when competitions are held. It is a balance between event organizers, the national federations, the IFSC and the athletes. Without one of these parts, competitions will not be at the standard that we strive for.
The season takes a big toll on the body, and even more so when you do multiple disciplines. I have always had the goal of doing both disciplines because I don’t like to be labelled as a certain type of climber. I am just in love with climbing and all of its aspects.
Is there anything that apex organizations like the IFSC should keep in mind from the athletes’ perspective, when they design their annual calendar of events? Is there anything they are missing now?
As Athlete President, they hold my opinion (and that of all climbers through me) in very high esteem. They count on me to bring the voice of all climbers to the board of the IFSC. When they are lacking in certain areas I device strategies to not only solve the issue but make things better. Climbing is always evolving.
You have competed and won in all three disciplines – lead climbing, speed climbing and bouldering. Are these naturally synergic; how did you manage to keep them synergic in terms of both training for the event and competing? And most important – how did you contain the resultant wear and tear on your own self?
I find that there is minimal wear and tear on myself by doing all three disciplines. As I said previously, I want to be the best climber that I can be and not be labelled as a certain type of climber. I want to be an elite athlete, not only a lead climber. I like the stamina of lead climbing, mixed with the raw strength of bouldering mixed with the fast precision of speed climbing.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently as a competition climber?
As my crew of friends live by: “No Regrets!’’
Besides being a successful competition climber, you have also been a coach. What would you tell young people taking to the sport of climbing?
I would tell them to find something in climbing that they truly love, and follow it. A coach can only bring a competitive climber so far. The willingness to get better must be rooted in the athlete. Training is not something that you do in a day, a week or month but a yearly sequence of events that shape you as an athlete.
What is your personal view on the potential debut of climbing at the Olympics? Do you also share the concerns expressed by some others with regard to the Olympic ideal reportedly seeking to recognize the best overall climber from a sport that has three distinct disciplines? Will recognition of an overall winner – something similar to being a decathlete – dilute respect for competence in the individual disciplines?
I am very excited about the possible inclusion of sport climbing in the Olympic Games. In an ideal world, we would have been given eight medals (speed; boulder, lead, combined) for both men and women. Unfortunately, the IFSC was only offered two and I agree that an overall competition will show the strength of each discipline without leaving anything out. Assuming we get the vote in August, it will not matter which `discipline’ is eventually chosen for the Olympic Games, the whole sport will be brought upwards by the decision. The end goal would be to have the eight medals I referred to offered for the 2024 games! Fingers crossed.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)