Climbers from Karnataka did well at the 19th National championship

The 19th National Sports Climbing championship held in Bangalore recently provided a fascinating glimpse of art and science of climbing. About 140 climbers from across the country, representing South, North, West, East, North East, and the Services vied for the honours. The South Zone, represented largely by climbers from Karnataka emerged as the overall champion with 22 medals followed by North and North-East Zones.

Sports climbing, involves conquering an artificial wall, made of epoxy resin, towering over 60 feet. Competitors in three categories called Lead, Bouldering and Speed climbing, which have different obstacles and holds have to find their way to the top and are judged on their skill, technique and speed.

The sport as such holds immense potential. Few other sports could give such an adrenaline rush and at the same time be as accessible as sport climbing. In an age where people do not have much time for leisure, it makes for an ideal hobby.

Sport climbing also aids the development of an athlete both physically and mentally. Physically, the athlete must have tremendous strength, balance, and coordination. “The great thing about wall climbing is that it is accessible,” says Keerthi Pais, the country’s top trainer and the man instrumental in conducting the championship in Bangalore. “Sport climbing started in India with the setting up of a climbing wall at IMF, Delhi with a grant from JRD Tata. Ever since, the sport has made steady progress with over 150 walls built across the country and the sport percolating to places across the country.”

Keerthi’s wards basked in glory at the meet and the outstanding performer at the meet was Sadhavi Prem Kukreja, one of his trainees, who won gold in all three events — lead, bouldering and speed climbing –in junior girls section.

“Though in the men’s and boy’s section, two climbers, C. M. Praveen and Mimar, achieved that feat in past, it is for the first time that a girl has claimed such a unique distinction,” says Keerthi who has been Sadhavi’s mentor for five years. “She has the potential to become a world class climber if she persists with her training and stays focussed on the sport. Her peak is yet to come.”

There were quite a few climbers from Bangalore, who made their mark. Neha Prakash, took gold in both lead and bouldering in the women’s section, while C. M. Praveen was the winner in bouldering among men and Lokesh, claimed a gold in bouldering for junior boys. Shivalingha and Chea Amelia struck gold in speed climbing in the the men’s and women’s sections respectively. Chea, who has been consistent performer for Karnataka and South Zone for past few years, made it to the meet despite having college exams. Another trainee, Bharath Periera, has been winning gold in lead climbing in the sub-junior section for the past couple of years;

Sports climbing, despite its growing appeal and fan following, is still not deemed a full-fledged sport and lacks government grants. Sports climbing in the county was nurtured by Indian Mountaineering Foundation and it was has been recognised by IOA. There was a bid to include it in the 2020 Olympics, but it unfortunately lost out. What the administrators of this sport seek is government recognition, especially from the Union Ministry of Sports. “They contend that we should have a proper federation. It is easy to form one, but as IMF has promoted the sport all along we are waiting for them to make the first move,” says Keerthi.

Bangalore’s success, owes a great deal to Vikas Kumar, Director of Directorate of Youth Services and Sports, Karnataka, who readily agreed to sponsor half the cost of the event. “It was timely help and we could make a grand show of it, thanks to his gesture,” says Keerthi.

Climbing a vertical wall standing 60 feet tall, might look risky. But Keerthi explains “Every sport has a risk. Sports climbing is as safe as any other sport. All safety precautions are taken.Equipment is bought from Europe. We also safety course for climbers and their coaches.”

Though the sports climbing has not grown the way it should have been in the last 16 years, Keerthi now sees a huge surge , thanks to proliferation of several gyms springing all over the country, with specialised training for climbing. “I see a huge potential commercially and as well in terms of popularity and in next five years we would see a record number of sports climbers.”