Hang Time: Canadian climber McColl tinkers with training for Tokyo Olympics


TORONTO — Shake hands with Canadian climber Sean McColl and you can quickly tell his workout routine includes unique training moves.

The firm grip doesn’t come by accident. McColl’s fingers are as strong as they come thanks in part to deadhang training.

Imagine jumping up and squeezing a pull-up bar at the gym. Now instead of a full-size bar, McColl uses his taut digits to let his body hang from a ‘hold’  — in this case a flat, one-centimetre edge — and he might add weight or use just one arm to make things more difficult.

It’s all part of an interesting regimen for an athlete who’s a medal hopeful in sport climbing, which is making its Olympic debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

McColl also plans to incorporate sauna training into his routine over the next year. He’ll also practise climbing in hot conditions so that he’s ready for the high temperatures expected in Japan.

“I’ll be doing all these tricks so that when I go to the Olympic Games, it’s no big deal that I’ll be competing in 30- or 35-degree weather.”

The 32-year-old from Vancouver booked his Olympic ticket last August at the world championships, an event held indoors in Hachioji, Japan.

Sport climbing at the Tokyo Games — a combined event that includes speed climbing, bouldering and lead climbing — will be held outdoors at the Aomi Urban Sports Park.

Karate, skateboarding and surfing will also make their Olympic debut next year. Baseball and softball will return to the Olympic program.

In climbing, the speed competition is like a sprint up a wall. Two athletes go head-to-head in a race to climb the holds and touch the timing pad first.

In lead, athletes climb a fixed course on a wall within a specified time frame. Bouldering is done on a shorter wall with a mat below as climbers rely on their explosiveness and use jumps and swinging techniques to their advantage.

Plenty of hand chalk is used and climbers wear special shoes as they contort their bodies on the various grips and holds.

Many athletes choose to specialize but McColl, a four-time world champion, regularly competes in all three disciplines.

“Everything is basically on track,” he said.

McColl, who is five foot six and weighs 132 pounds, plans to compete in four more events before taking an off-season break in November. He’ll resume full training in January in the leadup to Tokyo.

“That gives me a solid seven full months,” he said. “A bit of tweaking and then get ready for the Games.”

Athletes will have two other Olympic qualification events before the Tokyo field is set. Locking up a spot early means McColl doesn’t have to worry about peaking on one or two other occasions and can instead fully prepare for the Games.

Competing in hot conditions is rare on the climbing circuit.

McColl recalled that the heat was a significant factor at the 2013 World Games in Cali, Colombia. He learned to adjust the start time of his warmup so that his hands didn’t sweat and had time to rest.

“It does affect us but everyone is in the same playing field,” he said. “It’s not like it’s going to vary by 10 degrees in between climbers. So I’ll definitely do a little bit of training to figure out what works best.”

McColl’s profile got a boost with a four-year run on the “American Ninja Warrior” television series starting in 2014. He competed for Team Europe because he was living in France at the time.

“I’m kind of hoping that after the Olympics, maybe come 2021, they’ll let me create a Canadian team,” McColl said. “That would be really fun to get maybe a professional gymnast (as well), just something to create a Team Canada because the show itself is really fun to go on.”

McColl was one of several Canadian athletes on hand Monday for Empire Company’s partnership launch with the Canadian Olympic Committee.


Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press