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Boulders Gym has strong representation as climbing makes Olympic debut

Canada's first two Olympic sport climbing athletes are representing a vibrant B.C. climbing community in Tokyo this summer
McColl and Yip - credit Christopher Morris - Team Canada - web
Lifelong family friends Alannah Yip and Sean McColl are the first two Canadians ever to compete in sport climbing in the Olympic Games.

In a testament to how much the ground-breaking Boulders Gym meant to the then-fledgling sport of climbing during its formative years, 12 of the 40 climbers competing in the sport’s debut at the Tokyo Olympics have trained in the Central Saanich facility.

“I am almost in tears [thinking about it]. These are 12 Olympians, from many nations, who have stayed at my house and trained in our facility,” said Boulders Gym Climbing ­Society chair Kimanda ­Jarzebiak, who is providing the colour ­commentary for CBC’s coverage of Olympic climbing.

“And even more of the Olympians, up to a third, have competed at Boulders in events.”

The big draw among the 12 Olympians who have trained at Boulders Gym is Libor Hroza of Victoria, now the Canadian high performance program head coach.

Boulders opened as an outdoor wall in 1993 when few had heard of the sport, became indoors in 2004, and underwent major upgrades in 2011.

Sean McColl of North Vancouver, a frequent Boulders Gym user over the years, placed 17th in the men’s event in Tokyo. McColl is on the athlete’s commission and was among those who lobbied to get the burgeoning sport into the Olympics.

“It’s hard to put into words,” McColl said, after competing Tuesday in the Games.

“We’ve worked hard since 2012 to get it into the 2020 Games. When announced in 2016, I was among the first to say: ‘I’m going to go for the Olympics.’ I qualified. But because of the pandemic, the last 18 months have been crazy. But we made it. The ­Olympics made it. Tokyo 2020 did a phenomenal job and climbing made its debut. We’re here on the ground. I’m proud. It brings tears to my eyes. I pass Canadian athletes in the hallways and elevators and I get giddy because I know they won a medal and I’m afraid to ­introduce myself.”

But his sport has now ­introduced itself to the world.

“People gathered around and were glued to the screen ­watching the climbing [in the Toronto CBC studios, where most of the Canadian TV ­commentators are making their calls] and that to me was the best piece of feedback about our sport,” said Jarzebiak.

“There were comments like ‘Spider-Man has nothing on this.’ And they were blown away by the speed event. You know the track 100 metres? We’re faster.”

Alannah Yip of North Vancouver, another Boulders regular over the years, is Canada’s climbing representative in the women’s event today: “This is an amazing experience. The energy in the Athletes Village is electric. There are so many people from all corners of the globe. It’s really inspiring. I’m excited to represent my country and my sport for the first time. I can’t wait for my sport’s debut ­showing on the world stage.”