So, like many, I recall very vividly the first time I was blown away by a child prodigy. Chris Sharma had just climbed Surf Safari 5.13d/14a and I was working diligently on my 5.9 in the gym. Mind you, he had been climbing for nearly two years already but still, I thought “Jesus, 5.14? “
Like most at that time, I thought 5.14 was reserved for those of Olympic strength and years and years of scientific training behind them. It was Chris who first showed me what was possible at an early age. And I believed. What is it about Chris Sharma, was it that he trained harder? Or did he listen to his coach better? Did he eat organic? What? Me, I don’t think it’s hard to explain, Chris is just strong. He was built well for climbing with a grip strength to weight ratio that was higher than any other California climber at the time, he was already better than all of them, and a year later, he was the best in the country winning the Nationals Open category.
Today I am writing a short report about Sean McColl, one of the countries most talented free climbers. Surely you’ve heard of him. But as I was doing a bit of research, I stumbled upon this old clipping about his first 5.14a on www.planetfear.com – here is what it read…
“Ever heard of Sean McColl from Canada? If you hadnt yet, then you have now, and you are likely to be hearing a lot more of him in the near future. Sean started climbing three years ago, at the age of 10, and by the time he was 12 he´d already red pointed Pulse (at Cheakamus Canyon, Canada), weighing in at the magical grade of 5.14.a (8b+). Not content with stopping there, Seans notorious power and determination has recently seen him firmly stamp his mark on the world scene, by becoming the youngest person ever to climb an 8c.
Continued…Mike Orrs route Captain America (5.14.b / 8c) is a link up of two existing routes, also at Cheakamus Canyon. Having already seen four ascents by seasoned 5.14 climbers the route is considered solid at the grade. Although Sean had climbed the two independent lines previously, it is still impressive to note that it took him only four tries, in two days, to send the link up of Captain America. Sean plans for his future to encompass both outdoor climbing as well as indoor competitions. He is also proud to have reached Grade 8 on the Piano. Where do you get fingers like that from?”
OKAY, so then further down, I noticed this….
“Adam Ondra, from the Czech Republic, also looks on course to turn a few heads over the coming years if he keeps things up at this rate! Having already on sighted half a dozen 7cs over the past few months, Adam has now added an impressive on sight of JSFK (7c+) at Misja Pec. Climbing at that level would be pretty impressive by anyones standards but, amazingly, Adam is still only 9 years old! Not only an on-sight climber, Adam recently red pointed Funky shit, at Paklenica, to join the prestigious group of elite climbers who have climbed the once magical grade of 8a. It looks like a case of watch this space.”
And this space as we all know has erupted. Adam Ondra is likely the best all around free climber in the World right now. So this brings me to my question. When a child prodigy is “discovered” for lack of a better word, is it because they want it more, because they train harder, or have better body awareness, or is just simply because their body allows them to be better than everyone else, they just are? Maybe its rapid development, they have access to better cliffs, training facilities and coaches? Sure, all climbers work hard and develop our skills over time and we hope to reach our potential, the way Chris has done with his new 5.15’s, but what about the early years, I mean after only a few short years Chris was the best climber in North America, beating everyone who had twice the skills and twice the experience. What is that? How much of our sport (or sport in general) is based on genetics? I read in a ski magazine that the average retirement age for a professional free skier is 25, and that’s OLD. I invite you to join me in this discussion, I would love to hear other comments if you have any.
Where these climbers born strong or did they develop it?