Urban sports look to Paris 2024
MCCY Minister Tong says Singapore can excel at sport climbing, skateboarding
Watching world-class sport climbers scurry up the wall at the Tokyo Olympics, national athlete Luke Goh knew that he wanted to be among them at Paris 2024.
"It was pretty cool and it felt really good seeing it on live television. (Sport climbing) being at the Olympics is a huge step forward and I'm definitely more inspired," said Goh, 18, who is aiming for the Paris Games and next year's Asian Games in Hangzhou.
Olympic hopefuls like Goh could receive a boost in their qualifying campaigns after Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong told The Straits Times that he believed Singapore could do well in urban sports like skateboarding and sport climbing.
Mr Tong pointed to the pipeline like climbers Mark Chan, who competed at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games, and Goh, who will take part in this month's Climbing Youth World Championships in Russia.
"We do have a pipeline," said Mr Tong.
"We should see what we should do better in because urban sports are well-suited to our country and for which we can perhaps encourage the young to get offline and into the sporting arena a lot more easily."
Sport climbing was among five new sports - the others were baseball and softball, karate, skateboarding and surfing - in Tokyo. Skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing will also feature at Paris 2024 and will be joined by a new sport - breaking.
In Tokyo, four skateboarding golds were up for grabs while sport climbing had two. Singapore did not have a representative in either sport.
While Goh agreed there was potential for Singaporeans to do well, he said the lack of facilities was a key concern. The national team do not have a training centre and trains at private climbing gyms.
He said: "We have to pay for entry and the team consists of maybe 20 people, so I assume (the cost) really stacks up... that takes away funding for competitions and overseas exposure.
"Competing overseas regularly helps because you get exposure and it acts like a checkpoint. The more you go for competitions, the more checkpoints."
Rasip Isnin, secretary-general of the Singapore Sport Climbing and Mountaineering Federation, said that routes at international competitions were usually at least a Grade 8 on the difficulty level while those in private gyms here typically range from Grades 5 to 7.
He said: "For urban sports like sport climbing, physique doesn't really affect the competition, not like in athletics or football where if you're of a certain height, you have a physical advantage. It's down to the exposure and facilities.
"Exposure is not an issue because we're now working towards sending some of the elite climbers for more World Cup circuits.
"It doesn't help us much to train on a Grade 7 route because when we go for competitions, the route set is usually of Grade 8 and above. And commercial gyms can't make it too difficult either because it might discourage casual climbers from returning."
Grade 8 routes are sometimes set at gyms the team train at but they are often removed within two weeks to cater to the public.
In preparation for Paris 2024, the federation is looking to hire a speed climbing coach and Rasip, 59, will meet Ukrainian former speed climbing world champion Danyil Boldyrev to discuss opportunities when he travels to Russia with Goh this month.
At Tokyo 2020, climbers competed in three categories - bouldering, lead and speed - with the combined score determining the winners. But in Paris, speed will be a separate medal event while bouldering and lead remain combined.
Noting that Singapore now has about 40 climbing gyms, compared to half that number five years ago, Rasip said that more people are getting interested in the sport.
In order to increase competition opportunities and attract more youth, the federation is also working with schools and institutes of higher learning to organise events for various age groups and skill levels while pushing for sport climbing to be included in the SEA Games and National School Games.
- ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KIMBERLY KWEK
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