Members of the Austrian National Youth Team train daily
text: Rebecca Müller, photos: Johannes Mair
Since the beginning of this year, they have been preparing even more intensively for the upcoming World Championships. Training venues include Kletterzentrum Innsbruck (climbing centre), where the World Championships will be taking place, and - because of the approaching Olympics - in disciplines they would not otherwise devote so much attention to.
The Youth World Championships, taking place from 30th August to 10th September at Kletterzentrum Innsbruck Climbing Centre, can boast of some impressive figures: over 1,000 athletes from over 60 nations, live TV broadcasts to Japan, twelve event days, four disciplines for the first time, 200 helpers, 5,000 climbing grips and young talent, who have to be able to blank out all of this external information and concentrate on the task in hand, because for them, it is all about their sport.
Four athletes from the Austrian squad are permitted to compete in each individual discipline. In addition to the disciplines of lead, climbing, speed and bouldering, the combined discipline is the championship’s most recent addition, after being accepted as an Olympic discipline. A maximum of four Austrian athletes are permitted to compete here too. Several criteria are decisive for participation in the World Championships. These include previous competition results, training performance and, last but not least, trainer assessment. The young athletes are naturally aware of these criteria and prepare themselves accordingly. At several training camps, amongst other things - one of which took place a few weeks before the WC, from 15th to 18th August, at the Kletterzentrum Innsbruck Climbing Centre.
While some members of the squad were still able to qualify for the World Championships in Innsbruck during this training camp, others had already secured their spot on the team. These included Franziska Sterrer, Jan-Luca Posch, Nikolai Uznik and Eva Maria Hammelmüller. For Sterrer and Posch, both 19 years old, the upcoming Youth World Championships will be their last. At the same time, both have their eye on 2018 and the forthcoming World Climbing Championships, which also take place in Innsbruck. "The idea of participating in two home world championships is very motivating," emphasises Franziska Sterrer.
The young sportswoman, who comes from Vöcklabruck in Upper Austria, moved to Innsbruck at the age of 16 - in pursuit of her sport. Not an easy step for such a young girl: “Thanks to climbing, however, I have made lots of new acquaintances”. Franziska attends the Federal Sports College here. “I still have one more year to go”, she says. She feels very comfortable here, because the city is of a manageable size: “After having to move away from home at the age of 16, Innsbruck was ideal for me. A metropolis like Vienna would have scared me at such a young age”.
Franziska Sterrer has already won numerous medals in all youth categories. Her greatest successes include Gold in the European Championships and Bronze in the World Championships in bouldering - her strongest discipline. Last year, she also proved herself in the general category for the first time and climbed to eleventh position. A performance she repeated this year at the European Bouldering Championships.
Franziska Sterrer has high hopes of success at the World Championships in Innsbruck. She is well aware of the fact that a major event, and one in front of a home audience, has rules of its own, but: “My performance in training and previous contests is satisfactory. I hope I can deliver the same at the World Championships”.
“My performance in training and previous contests is satisfactory. I hope I can deliver the same at the World Championships”. Franziska Sterrer
Bouldering is also Jan-Luca Posch’s strongest discipline, on which he focussed during preparations for the championships. The combined discipline is important for the Olympic Games, something of which the young athlete is well aware. “A strong main discipline is the prerequisite for a good result - and that includes the combined”. The Olympic Games, which will take place in Tokyo in 2020, are his big goal.
“A strong main discipline is the prerequisite for a good result - and that includes the combined”. Jan-Luca Posch
Before the Olympics, however, come the World Championships, where the 19-year-old from Imst, will join the line-up as local matador. He came second in the 2016 European Youth Championships. Moreover, before the World Championships, the World Cup in Munich presented another welcome challenge for Jan-Luca Posch: “In the general category of bouldering, we are not allowed to watch our competitors. We have to think for ourselves and solve the boulder-problem alone”.
Independence is also a big issue in training. It is important for both youth trainers from the Austrian Climbing Federation, Hannes Brunner and Martin Klingler, as well as regional trainers for their boys to achieve sustainable developments in their performance. This means not pushing too hard, keeping an eye on the athletes’ health and ultimately guiding them towards independence in training. Training takes place almost daily and all year round, with several training camps and intensive sessions in preparation for major events. The Climbing Federation considers the fostering of young talent to be its core purpose.
After climbing was accepted as an Olympic discipline, training changed for many in the squad. That includes Eva Maria Hammelmüller. The young athlete could qualify for the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Buenos Aires 2018 at the Youth Climbing World Championships. Ten places for the YOG are up for grabs in total at the World Championships. "Of course it would be a great honour if I were to represent Austria," said the young sportswoman. The fact that Hammelmüller has good chances in not only the lead and bouldering disciplines, but also in the Olympic category of combined, were amply proven in the Youth European Championship last year, where she won gold in the lead and combined.
"Of course it would be a great honour if I were to represent Austria," said the young sportswoman Eva Maria Hammelmüller.
During preparations for the World Championships, Hammelmüller focussed on lead and bouldering. However: “Because of the YOG, speed has become an increasingly important factor for me”. The 17-year-old, who won bronze at the last Youth European Championship, waived competing at the European Bouldering Championships in Munich. Intense preparations for the World Championships has meant that time for bouldering in particular has suffered. “It is a shame, of course, that I had to forgo my chance to compete, but I simply could not take part in enough competitions”, explains Eva Maria. Even at the beginning of a sporting career, you have to set priorities.
Eva Maria Hammelmüller therefore does not begrudge the situation - moreover, she intends to tackle all impending challenges with positivity. As far as possible, she tries to blank out all the hype surrounding the World Championships, the stress and expectations placed on her, the local audiences, TV cameras and pressures of the looming YOG. “I try to concentrate on myself and just climb for me personally”. She likes to listen to music before a competition, for which she also chooses a positive approach: “I like motivating music that is fun, and also like to listen to older tunes from the 80s”, says the 17-year-old climbing talent. She doesn’t allow herself to think about possibly qualifying for the YOG. The World Championships are her primary focus right now. “Let’s take one step at a time”, she says, laughing.
Like Eva Maria Hammelmüller, Nicolai Uznik also has the chance to qualify for the YOG at the World Championships. The 17 year-old lad from Carinthia has found his metier in the lead and bouldering disciplines, but is currently achieving better results in the lead. “Anything can happen, especially at a major event”, knows the young sportsman from experience. In order to qualify for the YOG, he believes you need to be strong in two disciplines. And: “You need to deliver a good overall performance”.
„Anything can happen, especially at a major event." Nicolai Uznik
Over the past few months, he too intensified his speed training and took great advantage of the training camp in Innsbruck. As a member of the youth team, he knows Innsbruck well - its amenities are used regularly for training purposes. Nicolai Uznik started climbing at the tender age of six. His mother introduced him to the sport. “I didn’t really want to, to start with. But my mum thought I might like it”. And she was right: “I loved it from the word go, and have never really stopped since that very first day”.
These World Championships, says Heiko Wilhelm, Managing Director of the Austrian Climbing Federation, are the first Youth World Championships without compromise. And it is in this manner in which his young protégés are tackling the task in hand. They are giving their all - for the sport, for the World Championships, for a ticket to the Olympics, for themselves.