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Sport climbing star Lettner set to wow crowds in Buenos Aires

2018-05-16 20:24:13

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The Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) will be overflowing with top-class athletes but even among this melting pot of global talent, sport climber Sandra Lettner may just stand out.

Despite her youth, Lettner has been defying gravity for as long as she can remember.

In April 2018, the 16-year-old Lettner took part in her first senior World Cup bouldering event, held at Meiringen, Switzerland, and promptly finished fourth. The Austrian beat the 2016 and 2017 World Cup bouldering champion, Shauna Coxsey, among many others. It was an extraordinary performance and one that has caught the imagination of fellow athletes and fans across the globe.

“My goal was to top just one boulder, so I could say, ‘I topped a World Cup boulder’,” Lettner revealed. “And after the first qualification boulder I reached my goal. So then I tried to just enjoy it. Before the first boulder I was quite nervous but then I thought, I have nothing to lose and it’s so great to be in a World Cup final, so I tried to have fun".

She certainly succeeded. And it is to sport climbing’s immense credit that Lettner’s senior rivals welcomed the young upstart into the fold with open arms.

“It was quite funny because in the athletes’ zone we talked a little bit and they said, ‘It’s great you are in the final’ and they also said I could ask them any advice or talk to them if I was a bit nervous,” Lettner recalled.  “And as we sat watching the other finalists, Fanny (Gibert, FRA, fifth) congratulated me and then Shauna (Coxsey, GBR, sixth) and then Janja (Garnbret, SLO, second) too".

Lettner has reacted with charming modesty to her quite remarkable performance, but do not be fooled, this is a young athlete full of inner steel and clear-sighted determination. You do not get to be world and European youth champion – both titles Lettner claimed in 2017 – without those attributes. And now she has her eyes firmly set on the YOG in October.

“I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I will just think, ‘I can do it, I did it in Meiringen and last year in Innsbruck (2017 Youth World Championships) and I can do it again’,” she said. “But anything is possible, I could come last or first.”

Despite her youth, Lettner has been defying gravity for as long as she can remember.

“I had a bunk bed and I was always doing pull-ups and climbing. In the garden I had a big tree and I built a tree house, when I was seven or eight. My father said, I should start something,” Lettner laughed. “A friend of his climbed in the gym, so then I tried it when I was six and I loved it from the beginning".

What Coxsey and her fellow World Cup-winning climbers will know is that there is so much more to come from Lettner. With the programme at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, and indeed Buenos Aires 2018, combining the speed discipline with bouldering and lead, the Austrian is adamant she has to tune up her skills in the speed. The fact that her coach will not let her spend much time hanging off a finger-strengthening board because her digits are still developing is a clear sign of the room for improvement Lettner possesses.

For the youngster herself, there is also the alluring world of outdoor climbing to discover at some stage, but not yet. For now it is all about Olympic glory.

“Two years ago, I climbed on rocks for the first time,” Lettner said. “At first I didn’t like it but now I love bouldering outside and lead too, although I am not that good at it yet. I don’t know if I would like to climb the big mountains, certainly for now I prefer to climb on the plastic".

Photos: International Federation of Sport Climbing

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