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Hugo Hornshaw talks Olympics, Australia and youth climbing

Australia’s young climbing maestro, Hugo Hornshaw caught up with Sportageous to share his story, a potential Olympics berth, the Oceanic Qualifiers and more.

In partnership with Sport Climbing Australia, we bring you another feature with professional climbers from across Australia, vying for a spot at the Olympics from the region.

Hugo Hornshaw looks up at a climbing wall
Hugo Hornshaw on a lead wall (Source: Andres Photography)

Kinza Tahir: Tell us about yourself outside of climbing?

Hugo Hornshaw: I am 16 years old and am one of six kids in my family. I am just completing my first year of part-time university, studying Japanese and business units. Before that, I was home educated and my climbing achievements helped me get a full scholarship to university. I am also working in climbing gyms doing route setting and coaching.

How did you get involved in the sport?

Our family was really into outdoor activities like caving and canyoning and then we tried outdoor climbing and I loved it. I did a grade 22 (6c+) climb on my first day. Then we started going to the kids climbing lessons at our local climbing gym and entering competitions.

READ: Mia Weeda: Australian climbing, vying for the Olympic spot and her future

Which athletes do you look up to the most and why?

I always learn a lot from Adam Ondra. He is not only a great climber, he is really good at demonstrating and analysing climbing on his Youtube channel. He seems equally passionate about doing hard outdoor projects and taking a professional attitude to competition training and doesn’t neglect one or the other. He also seems like a really warm and genuine person.

What would it mean to you if there is a potential qualification for the Olympics?

It is exciting to see climbing becoming an Olympic sport. I think this will help to expose the wider public to our sport, and people will like what they see. I think sport climbing will grow from this.

I would like to be able to make a career out of climbing. Nobody has really been able to do that in Australia and not many overseas either. People coach and route set and work in gyms, and I like doing those things too.

And it is great to have places reserved for climbers from Oceania, as that will give Australians and New Zealanders somebody to watch and cheer on.

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What has your preparation been like vying for the Olympic spot?

I was thrilled to qualify for a spot in the Australian team for the Oceania Championships. Eight of the ten places were decided at last years nationals and I scraped through in eighth. At 15 years old I was the youngest male qualifier by four years. With Olympic qualification in sight, my training has been even more intense and I have included speed climbing in my program. Since the postponed schedule, I have had a full year to prepare and train.

How has the COVID-19 affected your fitness, nutrition and training regime?

I think I have done pretty well despite COVID. I have a home ‘woody’ boulder wall and was able to train on that during the lockdown. It also helped me make changes to make my training more efficient. Since then I have been ticking some good outdoor climbs.

READ: Tiffany Melius talks Climbing mentorship and withdrawing her Olympic bid

What has been the most challenging moment of your career and why?

I was pretty disappointed to miss out on selection for the Australian Youth Climbing Team in my first year in Youth B. It is disappointing for any competitor who misses out.

I made the youth team in my second year though. In 2020 I made the Open lead climbing team and already had a flight booked to Europe to compete in the World Cup circuit. So it was very disappointing when COVID struck and overseas travel was cancelled.

If there was a facility that was dedicated to elite training and competition it would take us a long way as a sport.

What are the important things to remember when overcoming any kind of barriers when you’re climbing?

I think climbing is a sport that requires a combination of focus on what you are doing, while also being cool-headed and unbothered by anything. You need to try to avoid thinking about what you can’t do and just do it.

Hugo Hornshaw climbing
Hugo Hornshaw climbing at Sublime Point (Source: Supplied)

How do you believe the opportunities and platforms for potential climbers can be improved in Australia?

Our sport has a long way to go in Australia. We are very reliant on private climbing gyms and the gyms are reliant on walk-in customers and recreational climbers – catering to elite level climbers is not very profitable.

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If there was a facility that was dedicated to elite training and competition it would take us a long way as a sport. On the plus side, we have some great outdoor climbing opportunities in Australia, and no matter how strong you are there is always something harder to climb.

READ: Campbell Harrison talks Olympics, pro-climbing in Australia and his career

Do you think climbing has changed since you started climbing?

It is hard to say how climbing has changed because I am still quite young and new in the sport. I think it is growing but has a long way to go to catch up with other sports. I think the exposure we will get from the Olympics will help though.

At a young age, climbing must bring in a lot of hurdles as you are still exploring. How do you think changes can be made for young athletes to get them more involved in the sport?

I think the first thing we need is for people to actually see it as their sport. A lot of people climb for fun or fitness, but if you mention sport they think of soccer or cricket or tennis etc. I would love to see people taking climbing seriously, being part of a climbing team and training with the same focus that people have in other sports.

What are your aspirations for the future?

I would love to represent Australia at the Olympics one day – I think Paris 2024 is a realistic aspiration, I want to be a regular World Cup and World Championships finalist, and I want to continue to push my grades on the rock.

And I would like to be able to make a career out of climbing. Nobody has really been able to do that in Australia and not many overseas either. People coach and route set and work in gyms, and I like doing those things too.

But it would be great to be able to ‘turn pro’ like they do in other sports. For that to happen we need climbing to be more popular with the general public.


Follow Hugo Hornshaw on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.
For more climbing related content, visit Sportageous.
You can follow Kinza Tahir here on Twitter.

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