Britain’s leading competition climber and twice overall World Cup bouldering champion Shauna Coxsey announced this weekend that she is starting training for the Olympics in 2020. Whilst this might seem a long way off for this announcement, climbing’s first appearance in the games will be as a new ‘triathlon format’ with medals awarded to combined performances in Bouldering Lead and Speed, and the level of preparation in all three sports will be a multi-year process. Climb caught up with Shauna to find out the story behind her Olympic dream and what she really feels about the new controversial tri-discipline format?
Did the Olympics inspire you as a youngster?
Yes definitely, I’ve always watched the Olympic Games. During the London Olympics I had planned to be in Switzerland for the whole summer but broke my leg out there and ended up sat on the sofa at home watching the games. It was incredible and super inspiring, it made me want to train like an athlete and not be a climbing bum. I was 18 at that point and making the decision whether to go to university or whether to pursue climbing, so that was quite a pivotal moment. Sitting there watching Jess Ennis destroy the Olympics – unbelievably inspirational. Although I never thought the Olympics would be part of my journey because I’m a climber, I didn’t think climbing would be part of the games, but now it is. It’s a massively different direction than what I thought I would do but it’s like this huge door has opened and it’s exciting to see what is behind it.
Did the decision to commit to the Olympics take much deliberation?
When the announcement was made that climbing would be part of the Olympic Games, and that it would be 3 sports [bouldering, lead and speed] that was quite a lot to think about. The announcement came during my competition season where I was really focussed on wining the overall title and seeing the full season through, plus it was my comeback season from surgery so I was quite focussed and it was hard to see past those competitions. I really wanted some space to make the right decision, and to really consider everything that goes into training for the Games.
I think I’m really fortunate to have such a strong team around me and to have made my decision now and be really confident in that decision. I’m the sort of person that when I commit to something then I want to get fully behind it. That’s why I wanted to take time and space to think about my decision, and if I’m training for a medal at the games then I will be putting everything into it…. There’s just a lot of work to put in now.
There’s been a lot of talk about the triathlon format, because it’s new and no-one has done that before…?
I guess we are all in the same boat really, no-one exactly knows exactly how to train for it, there’s no-one to give advice on what has worked in the past..
Was it a surprise when they first announced the format?
It was definitely a surprise when they announced it was going to be three sports and it would be a combined medal. But after hearing the reason why – the IOC I believe said that climbing could have only one medal, and that the IFSC had to choose one of our three sports or we could go in as a combined event. I believe the combined event is the best way to showcase our sport, and the best way to showcase all of the disciplines, so it makes sense to me that that was what was chosen to be part of the games. I think it would be amazing to have all three disciplines with a medal for each one, but that wasn’t on the cards.
In terms of the three disciplines, you’ve done OK at the bouldering…(laughter). Did you do lead comps as a junior?
Yes up until about the age of 16. I’ve done a lot of fitness training in the past, and I’ve just started training fitness and it comes back quite quickly. It’s quite natural for me to be anaerobic its not too daunting. Speed climbing though will be something completely new. My initial fear was how would I balance training for all three sports, how would I possibly have time to do all these things. But my coach, who has worked on Olympic programs before, was really confident, and I have every faith in her. It’s going to be a challenge but it’s really exciting, it’s a good opportunity to see how physically strong I can get and that’s what really motivates me. So by using all three disciplines to train I can become a much stronger, fitter, better athlete.
For me right now my focus has shifted to lead climbing. I will be competing at a lead world cup in November [In Kranj in Slovenia], so I’m just focussing on fitness at the moment, but it won’t be long until I’m on the speed wall and training that side of things. I can’t tell you how that might go. I’ve no idea. I’ll let you know!
You’ve not done a lead competition for a while what are your thoughts ahead of Kranj?
I’ve never done a lead World Cup, this will be the first one. I’m really excited, for the past few years I’ve wanted to compete at Kranj but not been able to because I’ve been away or been injured. This is the first time I’ve finished a World Cup season feeling good. Obviously it’s impossible to compete over a full circuit and not pick up niggles here and there. But it’s the first time I’ve finished the season thinking OK I want to train and I want to see how it goes. I’m excited, it’s totally unknown, I’ve got no idea how I will do. I’m going to go there and see and hopefully it will be a fun experience.
Have you a plan for first speed climbing events?
My coach has got a plan for absolutely everything and I’m only privy to certain parts of that, I have total trust in her so what I need to know I know and what I don’t I don’t. There’s only so much I can have in my head when I’m training. It will be at the right time for me going towards the Games.
Do you think training for the 3 disciplines is likely to adversely affect your individual bouldering performance, and if so is it worth it?
I want to train and be able to maintain my current level in bouldering. At the moment we are just working through the plan and putting the structure in place – so it’s kind of impossible to say that until we see how my body responds to all the training. I still want to compete in bouldering, and I still want to climb outside and they’re important things to me. I think both speed climbing and lead climbing will really compliment my training for bouldering, so I don’t see them as a detriment more a positive thing.
Shauna is sponsored by Adidas, Five Ten, Red Bull, Entre-prises, The Climbing Hanger, Friction Labs & the BMC.
Download or read online the Oct/ Nov edition of Climb Magazine with a 6 page interview with Shauna on her amazing 2016 World Cup winning season, her training secrets including keeping the fun in training and how she met her hero Catherine Destivelle. You can read the issue via