Q&A With Brooke Raboutou, The First American Climber To Qualify For An Olympic Games
by Devin Lowe
Brooke Raboutou competing in the women lead event at the 2019 IFSC Climbing World Championships on Aug. 18, 2019 in Tokyo.
After decades of climbers pushing for their sport’s inclusion on the Olympic program, the climbing community’s dream was realized when the International Olympic Committee announced in August 2016 that the sport would make its debut at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. Nearly three years to the date, as climbers took their first shot at securing their Olympic quota spots at the IFSC Climbing World Championships in Hachioji, Japan, 18-year-old Brooke Raboutou climbed into history as the first American to qualify for the Olympic Games.
Raboutou, whose parents also are accomplished climbers, grew up scaling rock faces in Boulder, Colorado, preparing for a dream she never expected. Read on for more details about her introduction to the sport, her most challenging climb and what it means to represent Team USA.
How did you first get into climbing?
Both of my parents were professional rock climbers, so I started as a kid growing up, and my brother does it as well. It was always a family outing. I probably started climbing when I was around 2, when I could walk. I didn’t start competing until I was around 7, which is obviously still pretty young. They have a really good youth program and competitions [in Boulder].
What do you love most about climbing?
I think, for me, I love that it’s always changing. In most sports, you practice one thing, and that’s what you compete, that’s what you do. But in climbing, you practice for the unknown, because you don’t know what’s going to be in front of you and every climb is different, every hold is different. So it’s always changing and it’s cool to test your limits with that.
What challenges you the most in the sport?
In a way, the fact that everything is changing. You don’t know what’s in front of you, so you have to train for it in ways that most sports haven’t really seen before. I think that’s definitely a challenging aspect.
Which Olympians do you admire?
I used to do gymnastics, so I followed that during the Olympics. I would say that’s one of my favorite Olympic sports. Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin were two big names I looked up to.
What is the most difficult climb you’ve ever completed, and what made it challenging?
One of the hardest climbs I’ve ever done was this outdoor climb in Rodellar, Spain. It’s a 5.14c rating and it was just so challenging. It was so long, so there were so many different things to think about while I was climbing. I had to have this “just keep going” mentality through this very hard finish.
The Olympic competition will combine three distinct climbing disciplines: bouldering, lead and speed. Which do you excel the most at? Which is your favorite?
I think I’m best at lead climbing [because] naturally, I have really good endurance. But my favorite’s actually bouldering. I love them all.
How did you feel when you learned that you qualified for the Olympic Games? What does that achievement mean to you?
It was a crazy moment; a lot was going on with scores and a lot was happening. My body kind of just shut down, and I couldn’t really process it. But it’s still crazy to me and it still hasn’t fully sunk in. I’m very excited to represent my sport as a new one in the Olympics and to represent my country.
What does it mean to have support from your family, friends and Americans around the country as you prepare for Tokyo?
It’s awesome to see the support I’ve gotten. I’ve always had a pretty good support group and I’m thankful that they’ve stuck with me through everything and that they’re going to be here for this next adventure. My mom and brother are coming to the Games, and my dad and extended family also want to come, as well. I can’t wait. I’m just excited to keep doing me and reach more people with the sport.