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In some circles, this month’s “Player” needs no introduction. He’s become a bit of a staple in Canada, no doubt, mentioned in the same breath as another well-known Canadian climber, Sonnie Trotter. And if you’ve paid any attention to climbing.com’s news reports, his name consistently pops up. It’s Sean McColl. He’s a 19-year-old Vancouver native.
McColl recently won two competitions at Youth Worlds, lead climbing and speed. He finished with gold in 2002, 2003, and 2004, as well. Sean redpointed his first 5.14 at age 12, and recently has sent as hard as 5.14b. Climbing snagged the Canadian pitbull right after his Youth World’s competitions.
Q: Who is Sean McColl?
A: Well, I’ve never really been asked that before. I guess you would say he is an avid rock climber, soccer player, and piano player. I’ve played soccer for 15 years, and only climbed for nine years now, but climbing is my passion. I train year round for climbing, whereas soccer is more of a way to stay fit.
Q: Hey, congratulations on the two huge wins at Youth Worlds, by the way!
A: Thanks, I was really hoping that I could make the podium this year. Being my last year, it was kind of my last effort to prove myself in the Junior competition scene. When I won worlds, it was the best feeling of my life .. like all natural highs are. The next day, when I won speed, it felt like something out of a movie. I kept advancing to the next round, barely beating my opponent.
Q: You won the “Lead” and “Speed” competitions, right? What does that mean?
A: I think that this is the first time that it’s ever been achieved. Most climbers either focus on difficulty or speed individually, like I do. I’ve never ever trained for speed, unless you count a five-minute seminar led by Mike Doyle moments before the competition started. I find that I’m naturally fast running and I try to convert it up the wall. I find that you must be incredibly strong and quick at thinking to do well at speed. Lead climbing is entirely another story. I’ve been training this whole year, getting ready for this competition, and I guess it’s paid off. I came to Europe at the end of May so I could climb outdoors with all the European climbers and compete in as many world cups as I could, before this competition. I’d been traveling for three months before the competition, and I think it was exceptionally good for my mental state and climbing style. I found that when I came to Europe I learned to climb in a completely different style.
Photo by Mike Doyle – www.mikedoyle.ca
Q: Did you take any kind of prize home for the wins?
A: Being a junior, the rules say that we can’t win any prizes. I did get two really nice trophies, though. They are probably the nicest trophies I’ve ever won!
Q: What does a big international competition look like?
A: Well I can’t tell you how different it is to a competition in North America. For beginners at Worlds, it’s such a unique experience. In Canada, we’re lucky if we have 60 competitors in six categories for our Junior Nationals. At Worlds, there’s at least 60 people in each category. Also, the routes are hard all the way up and usually at least 15m. At home, the biggest wall I can train is on 13m, but the architecture is nowhere near to that of the walls in Europe. To do well at a competition like Worlds, you have to be physically fit, smart, and have good endurance. I find that the routes in Europe are not as straightforward as routes I’ve climbed in competition in North America. Also the setting is very different. In North America, you can usually identify a crux in the route, where a lot of the field will fall. In Europe, since their walls are so high, they can just make the route consistently hard and the fitter/stronger people will climb higher.
Q: How many comps have you participated in total?
A: I got to Europe on May 25 and since then, I’ve competed in nine international competitions. Before Junior Worlds, I went in two Adult Boulder World Cups, one Adult Lead World Cup, one European Youth Cup, an International invite-only competition in Serre Chevalier, an Adult Swiss Boulder Cup, and the Petzl Roc Trip in Millau. After Worlds, I was invited to the Arco Rock Master.
In the next two months, I’ll be competing in three more Adult Lead World Cups, and another Petzl Roc Trip in Kalymnos, Greece.
Q: Geez, that’s a lot … you probably don’t get nervous anymore, right?
A: Well, I still get nervous at the Adult Cup World level, I mean these are the best climbers and boulderers in the world we’re talking about. I’ve always thought it’s good to be a little nervous, though. If I’m too relaxed, I don’t take it seriously and I’ll make mistakes. Even though I’m nervous at all these comps, I really have nothing to lose yet at the adult level in Europe, so I usually climb my best. Also, once I’m climbing on the wall, I’m totally in my zone.
Q: Do you get outdoors much?
A: During my stay in Europe, in the past three months I’ve only actually trained indoors about eight times. I’ve been climbing outdoors as much as I can, mostly onsighting. I went to Ceüse for three weeks, and all over Switzerland, in various bouldering and climbing places. By trying to onsight as much as you can, you teach your body to relax while climbing long routes. You also get to practice reading a route and adapting while on-route. Onsighting outdoors is very similar to onsighting the finals route at a comp. I find that onsighting outdoors is a lot harder, so by practicing something that’s harder than what you’ll be doing, onsighting indoors should feel easy when that time comes.
Photo by Mike Doyle – www.mikedoyle.ca
Q: What are you working on — what are your current projects?
A: I don’t have many projects at the moment, but I guess you could say Biografíe (5.14c), in Ceüse is one. I’ve fallen on the third-to-last move! Another project, when I go home, will be Chris Sharma’s Dreamcatcher. I’ll probably have to wait until spring to get on it again, though. Everything will be wet when I get home at the end of November.
Q: Besides comps, do you travel?
A: I don’t travel much other than for climbing, except holidays of course. For me, climbing is holidays!
Q: What’s an area you want to go to but haven’t gone yet? Why?
A: There are tons of areas I’d love to go to. Some of the areas include Frankenjura, Germany; Rodellar, Spain; Gorges Du Tarn, France; El Chorro, Spain; Siurana, Spain; Rumney, US; Misja Pec, Slovenia; Arco… It’s just hard planning all the trips … and the money.
Q: What plans do you have for the future?
A: Well when I get home, I’ll be heading to the North American Championships on Nov 24 and 25. After that, I’ll be saving up money and planning my next trip. I’m also trying to find a university with climbing scholarships but haven’t been able to find any. My dream would include going to university on a climbing scholarship! This way, I could study, climb, and travel all at once.
Q: Anyone you want to thank?
A: My trip to Europe this summer was only made possible by my sponsors. Without them, I couldn’t climb nearly as much as I’d like to. For this trip, Nature’s Path and Petzl have helped me out financially the most! My other sponsors include: Blurr, Flashed, FiveTen, and Sterling Ropes.
Q: Good luck, Sean.