It will be different. From better financial backing through to a new national Training Centre, Team Canada is primed for what will become the greatest year of development in Canadian competitive climbing. With several blossoming athletes, a new Olympic format, and a developing High Performance Program (HPP), Team Canada has become a professional organization of athletes unique from its previous iterations.
In the past, Climbing Escalade Canada (CEC) struggled to support its athletes. Although they provided as many resources as they could, the impossible expense of sending climbers to World Cups in Europe and Asia prohibited many from practicing on the World Cup stage. As such, many competitors found their own ways to these events through fundraising by whatever means necessary.
Although this method saw some athletes compete on the World stage, it made it difficult to push World Cup climbing in Canada. In an unprecedented shift, the explosion of climbing at home and abroad has allowed for an increase in funding. Between the recent, athlete-specific funding from Arc’teryx, and the additional funding from the CEC and Sport Canada, HPP athletes will have more opportunities to compete on the World stage than ever before.
The HPP is a program that exists to find the best athletes to represent Team Canada. It is a pool of Canada’s best competition climbers as determined by the Continuous National Ranking (CNR) system. The CNR changes perpetually based on an athlete’s performance at select competitions. These competitions include the North American Cup Series (NACS), Nationals, World Cups, World Championships and the Olympic Games.
The athletes who compete at World Cup events are then chosen from the best qualified athletes in the HPP. The first three roster positions go to the athletes with the best CNR for that event. The final two positions are awarded to athletes who qualified for the Combined team. The Combined team considers both Lead and Boulder and conflates their scores in a manner that could suggest the best qualified athlete for a Combined competition such as the upcoming Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
Like most National Sport Federations (NSF), and the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC), the CEC has positioned itself around the Olympic Games. A hope exists that the Olympics will grow climbing in the international space. At a National level, strong medal performances from your country’s athlete at the Olympic Games could generate further support for your team at home.
The simple inclusion of Sport Climbing in the Olympic Games preceded an increase in funding for Team Canada. A portion of this came from having Canadian Olympians qualify. Furthermore, McColl and Alannah Yip received sponsorships from non-climbing-related brands in advance of the Games. Olympians have advertising value and elevate the sports with which they are associated. A person need not look further than snowboarding to see the rapid development of a sport following its inclusion in an Olympic Games.
All of this speaks to why the CEC has decided to prioritize athletes with Olympic potential for the upcoming World Cups. High Performance Director Andrew Wilson spoke to this point in describing one of the goals of the 2022 season.
This year will function as a talent identification year, Wilson said. He mentioned that they hope to find their Olympic team for 2023. This year, every athlete attending a World Cup will receive the same funding as every other athlete, per event. An athlete will only receive more funding than another athlete if they end up attending more World Cup events.
Athletes who make two semi-finals in both Lead and Boulder, or the top 16 in Speed, will earn a spot on the Olympic Team. Olympic Team members will receive extra funding in 2023. This incentivises Canadian athletes in a consequential and unprecedented manner. In the past a climber would hope to climb well, and perhaps sponsorship money would come along to support them. Now, through the CEC, funding is guaranteed given a certain level of performance.
If an athlete does not receive those results by the end of the 2022 season, but manages by the beginning of the 2023 season, they too will receive additional funding. “We’re trying to leave the door open,” Wilson said. “For as soon as an athlete has significant results, extra funding kicks in and they get a little bit more support to take it where they need to go.”
Although the significance of funding is difficult to overstate, the development of a National Training Centre is of similar importance. The US National Training Center made for massive improvement in the US Team over the pandemic and into this year. Other nations have experienced similarly beneficial results from their national training centres or programming. Having a place where internationally competitive athletes can convene to train with and against one another increases the level of those present.
The Oval is an ideal location. It hosts a World Cup ready Lead wall, six other sports’ national teams, and a host of physicians, dieticians, and athlete support structures. The Oval plans to build out their bouldering to improve the training capacity of the facility. Furthermore, the CEC plans to host four- to six-week training programs where athletes can have exclusive access during peak hours to the facilities they require.
While this development is incredible, Wilson noted plans and hopes for a second National Training Centre. Ideally it would exist in the east so athletes would not have to come from so far away. For now, the Oval will function as an improvement off the centre-less system the preceded the pandemic.
Many of Canada’s best climbers have already begun to move out west as BC reclaims its status as Canada’s competitive climbing hub.
Featured image of Madison Fischer by Jan Virt.