Gordon McArthur flew to Sochi, Russia last month to participate in the ice climbing showcase at the 2014 Olympic Games. Here is a recap of his experience.
It’s hard to even begin a post about the Sochi Olympics, because the entire experience was such a whirlwind. How do you explain a surreal period of time? The training and planning cannot prepare you to walk through the Olympic Park entry gates and climb in front of the world. No, there were no medals, and no, we were not official Olympic athletes, but ice climbing was given a special chance to showcase how awesome the sport really is. And I was there, in the thick of it.
Everyday thousands of people would come in and out of our arena, watching and cheering. We even had 3 to 60-foot walls of real ice climbing for the public to climb on and swing ice tools. And even through the consecutive days of 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit!), the wall was truly an amazing work of art – a lead climbing structure for athletes to demonstrate what we do, how we compete, and exhibit the gymnastic movement that the sport entails.
Several years ago, talk of pushing ice climbing into the Olympics began to surface. Rumors were leaked, and before you knew it, the World Cup athletes were buzzing about the potential possibilities. Finally, talk turned into discussion, but even up to the point of walking through the Olympics gates in Sochi, there was still a level of uncertainty. Many took this idea – the Olympics and ice climbing – as something of a joke; it wasn’t worth the efforts. Some shrugged it off as a waste of time. And up until the point of seeing our actual venue, questions still hovered over me, circling with hesitation.
We had a simple job to do: wow the Olympic Park. We needed to leave an impression – on spectators, media sources, IOC representatives – and they needed to leave knowing that this is a sport to support. And the crowd came by the hundreds. A sea of people would be lined up daily, for hours upon hours to try their hand at ice climbing.
There were ice walls and lead walls – two perfect displays of what our competition world looks like. Every day, athletes from each discipline – speed climbing and technical lead climbing – would climb. From 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., there was no shortage of excitement.
Broadcast stations would show up daily, wanting to cover the event. The Korean Olympic Committee even turned up and told us that they want the sport as a medal sport in 2018. As 2018’s Olympics are in Pyeongchang, Korea, our jaws dropped. (There are more details about the process of induction, but it’s best not to say anything more, as I don’t want to present any false ideas.) But it makes sense; extreme sports are breaking down the walls of the Olympic rings. This year alone, the slopestyle and halfpipe competitions drew some of the biggest crowds. Ice climbing is on the doorstep.
Our Olympic family came together and made it happen. Day in and day out, we all made this dream a reality. Yes, it was sunny and warm, and yes, some of the crew would spend all night packing ice (shipped over from the hockey arena) to make sure the three ice walls were in tip-top shape, but these people that I got to spend two weeks with will forever be remembered as game changers. We were a group of true ambassadors that took a risk and came through victoriously. I was honored to be a part of this movement.
Here's to 2018!