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Sean McColl and Alannah Yip are Canada’s Olympians

Team Canada's Sean McColl and Alannah Yip have climbed together from the beginning. The two athletes have prepared to make an impact

Perhaps it begins in Tokyo. Maybe this event, at 4:00 a.m. on Aug. 3, 2021, will become the moment climbing shows itself ready for the next generation of crushers. With all the build-up, commitment and sacrifice climbing’s Olympic athletes have dedicated to these last years, it can be easy to forget just how far the sport has come. It can be easy to forget how far each athlete has gone. Join the CEC Facebook group to watch the event with other Canadian here, it includes a link to download CBC Gem where you can steam it for free.

Alannah Yip – Photo by Daniel Gajda

Team Canada’s Sean McColl and Alannah Yip have each devoted most of their lives to what was a niche sport. The two athletes grew up as family friends, each training under the guidance of their coach Andrew Wilson.

McColl would begin climbing at the age of 10 where Yip would begin at age 9, both in Vancouver, B.C. McColl would begin competing almost immediately while Yip would win her first National title at the age of 12. The two would descend on Climb Base 5 and the local outdoor areas, tackling progressively more challenging projects and eventually moving into the international circuit.

Amid the pressures of a competitive climbing life, they would both go to school and graduate from their respective universities. Although McColl dreamt of the Olympics for over a decade, he and Yip would not finally see their opportunity to compete until 2016 when the sport became confirmed for the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Alannah Yip

McColl immediately set his sights on the event, while Yip pushed her World Cup ranking further and further. Yip would notably improve in each the three disciplines in 2016, 2018, and 2019. She would compete in the combined format in 2018 and 2019, also improving her position.

Although Yip qualified during the third round via the Pan-American Championships, Yip has an opportunity to perform at these Olympic Games. She has become Canada’s dark horse simply due to the fact that she is unranked for the 2021 season. Where many Olympians toured the World Cup circuit, Yip focused on progressing through training back at home.

The Canadian Olympian would forgo the trips to Meiringen and Salt Lake City, instead turning toward her single goal: the Olympic Games. Although her absence from these events may lead a person to question her level of preparedness, the skilled athlete has only seen progression in her international presence.

In 2016, Yip concluded the season 16 in Boulder, 43 in Lead and 38 in Speed. By 2019, her results would reflect 7 in Boulder, 38 in Lead and 29 in Speed. Yip clearly performs well in Boulder which could definitely play to her advantage in the now-shorter 6-minute time constraint of Lead Climbing. This requires athletes to move quickly through difficult sequences as opposed to resting and moving through slower cruxes.

To that effect, Yip has seen her outdoor bouldering develop with the ascent of Room Service, a difficult V12 in Squamish. The biggest question of this last year comes down to Yip’s Speed development. If the Canadian has made some strides, her already strong performances in Boulder, alongside the new Lead format, could make her an athlete fit for contention in Finals. Add along her experience, and Yip has the capacity for a strong result in Tokyo.

Alannah Yip – Photo by Daniel Gajda

Sean McColl

McColl also features a great deal of experience, having competed for more than two decades. Unlike most competitors, McColl began early and has had enough love for the discipline to remain in competition. Often, climbers will become fatigued by the mental stress, but McColl’s strong head game and disciplined approach to his goals has long made him a competitor on the World Cup circuit.

Gripped spoke with McColl a bit about his tactics for Tokyo earlier this year, but his results also speak for themselves. In his eight appearances, McColl has become the World Champion in the combined format four times. He successfully defended his title twice in the biennial event, winning in 2012, 2014, and 2016 without interruption.

McColl has earned a total of 34 World Cup medals and has likely climbed the most, or near as many, competitions of the Olympic qualified climbers. After a testing period at the World Cups in Salt Lake, McColl cemented the fact he can climb World Cup boulders. He now looks to climb them in fewer tries.

To that effect, the World Cup Boulders will likely differ from those we might see in the Qualification round tomorrow. The greatest reason for this comes from the fact that Speed specialists will also participate in this Olympic Games. As such, there exists a presumption that the boulders will see many people reach further through the problem than in a conventional World Cup Qualifier. This remains to be seen, however, it could make McColl’s experience invaluable. Reaching Zone on a first attempt could well become the separator between Finals and Qualification.

With all of this excitement, each climber will approach their Qualification round with pride. For now, there exists no after the Olympics. There is only what will become the most spectacular event in competitive climbing.

Sean McColl – Photo by Eddie Fowke

Watch the Men’s Qualification Round here.