Sydney Kozak has been climbing since she was just 17-months-old, and to see the sport represented at the Games in its Olympic debut on Tuesday will be a big deal.
"I've been watching the Olympics ever since I was a kid, of course, but I've also been watching local climbing competitions," she said. "The fact that now climbing competitions get to be a part of the Olympics, I'm super excited."
Climbing has been growing in popularity for years, and the IFSC Climbing World Cup series draws about 20,000 spectators each year. But the sport is still young — which is a great thing, said Mark Kozak, president of the Alberta Climbing Association.
Kozak said that athletes from Alberta and B.C. usually have a strong showing at national competitions. Calgary's proximity to the mountains, combined with a young population, means that there's potential for future Olympic prospects.
"The fact of the matter is climbing is a very young sport," said Kozak. "There could be the next Olympic athlete out there that's maybe 13 or 14, but they haven't tried climbing yet and they get into the sport and they excel really fast. And it's exciting to watch that."
Evan Lau is one Calgarian who will be following the Olympic climbing debut. He first tried the sport seven years ago, and he's been competing for the last five. He said the creativity of climbing and a friendly, welcoming community are two reasons he got hooked, but he'll be watching the Games for a different reason.
"Not just for entertainment, but for training purposes as well," said Lau. "I just want to see what they do that I don't, so it helps me improve."
There are three separate disciplines in competition climbing. At the Olympics, a combined score from all three will determine medal winners.
In lead climbing, where athletes are attached to a rope, they attempt to climb as high as possible on a wall that's over 15 metres tall. Bouldering is when climbers, unattached to a rope, scale as many fixed routes on a 4.5 metre wall as they can in a certain time. And in speed climbing, two athletes race each other up the same route on a 15 metre wall — which takes them about five seconds.
Canada is represented by B.C.'s Sean McColl and Alannah Yip, who grabbed two of the 40 qualifying spots for the Games. The men's competition kicks of tomorrow, with the women's starting on Wednesday.
With sport climbing now an Olympic event, Mark Kozak said the Alberta Climbing Association is looking forward to a surge in interest in addition to their already growing numbers.
He said that climbing is most popular among young professionals in the 20-35 year old range, but anyone from kids to seniors can give the sport a try.
"People think you need a lot of upper body strength to climb. That's not necessarily true," said Kozak. "You actually do most of the lifting of your body with your feet, so footwork is very important. It's a great physical workout."