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Patxi Usobiaga: From Winning World Championships to Training Ondra

Thursday, August 30, 2018
In 2009, BD Ambassador Patxi Usobiaga was arguably the best competition sport climber in the world. That year, he won the world championships, forever leaving his legacy on the sport. But just behind him, taking second that year, was a young Czech guy named Adam Ondra. Patxi recognized the fire inside the young climber, and once again had a vision—this was the future. Patxi is still dedicated to competition climbing, and is on the road to the Olympics, only now it’s as Adam Ondra’s coach and trainer. Check out this story from Patxi on how his path has led him to the 2018 Innsbruck World Championships.

For several reasons, you could certainly blame my parents for my involvement in this incredible sport. They were open-minded, encouraged my siblings and I to have a close relationship to the mountains from the time we were little, and they didn’t fall prey to all of their friends’ and family’s criticism for letting their little 10-year-old boy dream of climbing up walls. Neither of them, not my mother nor my father, climbed. I was the one who learned how to belay with a figure 8 belay device and who taught my father how to use it. Due to the patience they both showed me, I can honestly say that now—28 years later—I still enjoy this amazing sport that continues to teach me through challenges, new types of disciplines and types of rock. Climbing is a process that never stops teaching you.

Something that I’ve found to be so astonishing is how we constantly reinvent ourselves in order to be able to wake up each day and smile, to have a new goal to work toward, and to keep growing bigger and better.

When I was just 10 years old that sensation of waking up and finding happiness was achieved by going to the local climbing gym in Eibar, putting on my climbing shoes, and trying to copy my idols that I had seen in the Desnivel magazine. I read the half page article that was dedicated to talking about climbing at least 100 times, imagining how those hard routes (Font 8s) must have been. That was a grade that I thought I’d never actually climb. I looked for colorful tights, which were common among the top climbers in the early 90s. I tried to do heel hooks, yaniros (figure fours), drop-knees, and all the new tricks that were described in the book “Learn to climb” (“Aprende a escalar” in Spanish.) Little by little, due to the ease and convenience that sport climbing provided my parents and me and since we lived close to several climbing areas, I began sport climbing more (than other climbing disciplines.) In addition, at the young age of 11 I had already felt the adrenaline rush of the competition world and that was the biggest hook for me, alongside the feeling of being able to evolve and improve. Challenging yourself against your fears and being able to overcome and win that battle was certainly the driving factor that eventually lead to World Cup and World Championship wins alongside a multitude of outdoor routes climbed over the world, with just one goal—to climb something a little bit harder each day.

Imagine this scenario: One day you wake up and you are just two months away from competing in the 2009 World Championship. You are scared, you doubt yourself, you aren’t sure if you want to continue or if you have the strength to do so, or even if it is all worth it. That is the moment when you have to remember that this is where you have wanted to be for years, in my case since I was a 10-year-old. I realized that I had reached the place where my idols had once been, the ones that taught me that anything is possible when you fight for it. I still get overcome by that feeling when I close my eyes and remember that first competition as such a small child, that first harness that was so big that it nearly fell off, and those quick draws that came down to my knees.

Images: Javi Pec

Those two months passed, and the World Championship arrived on July 5, 2009. I untied the knot after sending and lowering off the final route in the World Championship, and an unexpected but life-altering process began. There was this young climbing machine that was climbing everything that you put in front of him. In that 2009 World Championship, Adam Ondra climbed very high and placed second, but that one hold that kept him from being the World Champion, that one TOP hold that led me to victory, was the key to a new process. It was the beginning of a new chapter in my life, featuring one of the most incredible people that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing—both as a climber and a human being.

I have to say that after my professional retirement from the competition world due to a cervical injury and my distancing from the climbing world for over more than two years, the confidence that Adam had in me was astonishing. His energy was contagious and he had a fervent desire to always be better, climb higher, but most of all to conquer the personal fight to overcome any doubts about being able to climb how he really wanted to. It was a bit by accident that he provoked my return to the sport, inviting me to put the climbing shoes back on for a new challenge. The injury was a limiting factor for me and it always will be, but even with this limitation, climbing was once again part of my reality. Now I’m older, with less hair, with constant aches and pains, but that illusion is still there to experience the incredible power inside each of us.

To this day, in 2018, after an entire life revolving around climbing and more than half of my life focused on training to be able to improve as a climber, it is now a reality that climbing will be part of the Olympics in 2020. It is quite an evolution for our sport, and I hope I can be there with Adam Ondra in the most important event for all athletes, relishing in the feeling that the thing we love, we’ve prepared for, and that is the most important thing for us is finally a reality to be celebrated. Many youngsters and no-longer-so-youngsters could discover what we, the climbers, did when our time finally came to present this sport to the world. Whether it is sport climbing, aid climbing, trad climbing, competition, bouldering … whatever it may be, we all share the same end goal: TO CLIMB HARDER AND HIGHER!

--BD Ambassador Patxi Usobiaga

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