Often lauded as the best climber in the world, you won’t want to take your eyes off Czech Republic’s Adam Ondra at Tokyo 2020. But how much do you know about the sport climbing sensation?
Here are five titbits to whet your appetite before the Games.
1 – He was born to climb and loves to climb
Ondra was born in 1993 to climber parents and from an early age his life revolved around the sport. By thirteen, his prodigious talent was obvious for all to see as he scaled 5.14d/9a – a difficulty level reserved for elite climbers.
And not much has changed in the years since, with Ondra still as in love with the sport as ever. When The Pill Magazine asked him about his passions outside of climbing, Ondra’s reply was resolute and revealing.
“Climbing, then bouldering,” he said. “I don’t have many because I already climb a lot, I dedicate 6/7 hours a day to that, then I have to eat and recover and at that point the day is over.”
And it seems even the gruelling training regime is something Ondra enjoys, as he explained In an interview with Olympics.com:
“To train hard is not a sacrifice. I just climb a lot and train a lot because I love it. I don’t need to convince myself that now I need to train hard because I want to be good at this competition, I just train because I love to train, because in the end, most of the time, training climbing is climbing.”
2- He is the only male climber ever to win world championships in lead and bouldering
The climbing competition at Tokyo 2020 is a combination of three formats – speed, bouldering and lead. Speed climbing pits two climbers against each other, both climbing a route on a 15m wall. In Bouldering, athletes scale a number of fixed routes on a 4.5m wall in a specified time. In Lead, athletes attempt to climb as high as possible on a wall measuring over 15m in height within a specified time.
For many climbers who excel in one format over others, this combined format represents a real challenge.
Less so for Ondra.
The Czech supremo is the only male athlete to have ever won the world championships in both lead and bouldering. And if that’s not impressive enough, he achieved both feats in a single year (2014).
Ondra has also won the World Cup series in both lead and bouldering, with three victories in lead (2009, 2015 and 2019) and one in bouldering (2010). It’s an immense set of achievements for a climber who is still only 28 years old.
However, if there is one discipline in Tokyo that may cause him more problems than the others, it would be speed. For someone who is so thoughtful in his approach to climbing – he often studied routes as a child before climbing them so he would know every aspect of the challenge that awaited him – the super-quick reaction-focused elements of speed are not such a natural fit.
3- He speaks more languages than your average tour guide
When you climb all over the world, it helps to be able to communicate with the people you meet along the way.
Fortunately for Ondra, languages seem to come almost as easily to him as climbing. Currently, he’s fluent in five: Czech, Spanish, English, Italian and German.
In an interview with star.Montana.cz, Ondra was his usual self-deprecating self as he described his skills as a linguist:
“I’m lucky that because of climbing… I could travel a lot because of that and I think I would have to be really stupid not to learn English – that is a must. I also wanted to learn Italian so I wished [for] an Italian textbook for Christmas and thanks to some travels with my Italian friends I even learnt something in Italian. I know Spanish as well.”
Now with Tokyo 2020 just around the corner, he may just have time to brush up on one more language that will help him on his quest to become Olympic champion. Japanese, anyone?
4 – He has a degree in Economics
As if climbing superstar and avid linguist weren’t enough, Ondra also somehow found the time to study for a degree in Economics.
During an interview with trainingbeta.com, he talked about the benefits he garners from dedicating his time to something outside of the climbing world.
“Well, I’m studying economics, business management, and I pretty much love it,” he explained. “I think it can be useful at a certain point in my future. I think it’s good to have some kind of back-up and to know something more than just climbing.”
However, when asked whether he’d give up climbing to concentrate on another field of work, Ondra was clear he’s not likely to be switching careers any time soon.
“I’m pretty sure I’ll be climbing as long as I can move my hands and feet,” the Czech phenom exclaimed.
5 – He uses his head and neck to aid his balance
In 2018 Ondra undertook a fascinating study. Wired up with sensors all over his body, his climbing performance was measured to ascertain just how he does what he does so incredibly well.
Among a list of intriguing results – he can hold 1.1 times his body weight, his pulse lowers to 70 bpm on certain sections of climbs – one finding stood out as stranger than the others: Ondra uses his head as a pendulum to increase his balance.
“Note what Adam does with his head at the end of the move,” remarked Martin Zvonař, a biomechanics expert who was analysing the results of the study. “He uses it as a lever: once he has finished a movement he tilts his head back. The centre of the lever is in the centre of gravity and as a result his feet cling better to the wall.”
It may not be the first lesson in a sport climbing training session, but with Ondra scaling the heights of his sport – both literally and metaphorically – this may just be one tip that up-and-coming climbers may want to take note of.