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Sport climbing: Climbing to greater heights

Sport climbing may not be that familiar to Singaporeans, but the sport is on the rise.

The Republic will host the Asian Youth Championships for sport climbing from July 4 to 9, with the winners of the event guaranteed automatic qualification for next year's Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

"I'm hoping to qualify for the YOG, and I definitely want to do better than fourth place," said Mark Chan, 17.

He finished fourth in the male Youth A (17 and below) Boulder event in last year's Asian Youth Championships in Iran.

"With the help of my coaches, I'm set on getting on the podium or even winning the championships."

Mark, who first started climbing in 2013, is "kind of confident" that he will qualify for the YOG, with Singapore's own selection trials still an avenue if he does not win the Asian Youth Championships.

I'M GOOD ENOUGH

Even though I'm young, I won't let age define me. It's good to pit yourself against older opponents and learn from the veterans.

EMMANUEL RYAN PAUL, who is gunning for the speed and boulder titles in the youth category before moving up to the junior level.

Asked what attracted him to the sport, he said: "First, it's fun, and it would appeal to any child. It brings out the mental and physical best in people, high performances are required and it's challenging. That's why I got attracted."

The Springfield Secondary School student initially took up climbing as a co-curricular activity (CCA) and nothing more. He was surprised when he was recruited into the national team.

Another climber who has his sights on winning this year's event is 18-year-old Emmanuel Ryan Paul, who was second and third in the Youth A Speed and Boulder events last year.

"It's always good to aim high. The placings last year weren't too shabby but I'm hoping to win it all on home soil."

However, even if Emmanuel does win at the championships in July, he will not be eligible for the YOG as he will be moving on to the junior (19 and above) category.

Nonetheless, he has his sights trained on the future as he is also aiming to qualify for the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang.

"Even though I'm young, I won't let age define me. It's good to pit yourself against older opponents and learn from the veterans."

The duo are part of a squad of 20-25 training for the Games. Part of the reason for the climbers' confidence is that they now have the National Boulder Training Centre to call home. Based at Snow City in Jurong, the facility opened last month. Previously, the national climbers had to secure training venues by gym hopping.

The new home is a boost for a sport that has enjoyed steady growth in recent years. Currently, around 50 schools offer sport climbing - a significant increase from the meagre 20 a few years ago.

"We had problems with training," said Singapore Mountaineering Federation secretary Rasip Isnin, 56. "External gyms had no competition routes on the walls and we were not allowed to change the tiles.

"Here, the climbing association did the route and it was set up by coaches and the technical team, which gives the athletes the actual feeling of a competition wall.

"The athletes feel more ownership and can climb without any interference from the public climbers."