Taking aim at the summit
Chung Man-hei of Hong Kong competes in the bouldering competition during the Second Youth Games in Taiyuan, Shanxi province. [Photo by Wang Zhuangfei/China Daily]
As a fashionable new addition to the Olympic roster, sport climbing has been steadily scaling new heights in recent years.
Its growing popularity was abundantly evident this week in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, where the nation's best young climbers tested their skills at the Second Youth Games of the People's Republic of China.
"It's my summer vacation, and it's great to come here to compete," enthused ninth-grader Chung Manhei from Hong Kong.
"I practice climbing three days a week and each day I spend four hours training for the sport."
The 15-year-old has ambitions to reach the very top in the grueling discipline.
"For sure, I want to become a pro climber," said Chung. "One day my father told me he read news about the opening of a climbing gym in Hong Kong, and he took me to have a try. Ever since my first climbing experience three years ago, I fell in love with the sport.
"Both strength and skills matter for a climber, and my priority now is to build better body strength. I'm a rookie, there's still a gap between me and the true pros. After I get into high school, I'll keep chasing this dream."
Fellow 15-year-old Zhang Jiajie, from Shanghai, one of Chung's opponents on Wednesday, harbors similar dreams.
"I usually train for one hour each day after school and spend half a day doing sports each weekend," said Zhang.
"I train in Shanghai and travel to different places for competitions. The next big tournament for me will be the Asian Combined Youth Championships later this year.
"Climbing is now an Olympic event. I'm confident I will be picked for the national team, and my family will always support me to do climbing. It's hard sometimes, but I just need to keep going."
The Youth Games also attracted a local Shanxi team that was established last October.
"I only started to climb last year," said 16-year-old Liu Keyan, one of the team's most promising members. "It's been a tough journey, but I always put in extra effort and push myself to be better and better."
That sort of dedication is a must in this unforgiving sport.
"The climbers need to have great body strength," said Zhao Jiang, the Shanxi squad's team leader.
"It also requires flexibility and very strong elbows and muscles. Conditioning takes time. Usually, it takes three to five years to become a mature climber."
The Youth Games provide athletes with an ideal opportunity to get used to the competitive environment.
"I don't have enough experience in competitions. The Youth Games is my second big tournament," Yang Weiyuan, another member of the Shanxi team, told China Central Television. "I still get nervous, but I'm working on solving that problem."
Climbers at the Youth Games all shared the common goal of one day competing in the Olympics - vindication for the IOC's decision to include the sport in its package of new events for the Games that also includes baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding and surfing.
"We want to take sport to the youth," said IOC president Thomas Bach of the additions.
"With the many options that young people have, we can't expect they will automatically come to us anymore. We have to go to them.
"The five sports that have been added to Tokyo 2020 are an innovative combination of established and emerging, youth-focused events that are popular in Japan and will add to the legacy of the Tokyo Games."