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Luliia Kaplina on speed climbing and the Olympic controversy in Russia

Luliia Kaplina is a Russian speed climber. She talks about her climbing career and clears the air about the Olympic scandal involving Russia.

She plans on focusing her energy on her climbing career, aiming for an individual speed discipline in the 2024 Olympics and furthering the name of her country in the sport. Read her story below.

Luliia Kaplina mounts a wall in top speed
Luliia Kaplina mounts a wall in top speed. Source: Leonid Zhukov

Sarah Fatima: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your life outside of climbing?

Luliia Kaplina: I’m from the city of Tyumen in Siberia, in Russia. I graduated from Tyumen Industrial University, specialising in mining engineer-geologist. But I never worked in my speciality. Now my job is sport climbing.

I have a dog called Mickey, a five-year-old dachshund. On holidays, we usually drive to the park to walk the dog.

I don’t have a lot of free time. But when I have a break between training sessions, I like to meet with my friends. We usually go to a cafe, cinema or theatre. I enjoy cooking and baking at home.

Speed athletes give more attention to leg strength. Powerful and fast legs are very important for speed climbing. In my opinion, it is the main difference between speed and other disciplines.

How did you get into climbing? And how about speed climbing, in particular?

I got into climbing late, when I was twelve. During my childhood, I tried many sports: rhythmic gymnastics, dancing, circus studio, athletics, etc. But none of these sports suited me. My uncle told me about sport climbing and I decided to try it. I liked climbing and decided to pursue it in the long-run.

When I started climbing the Tyumen climbing school didn’t have a big climbing wall. At first, I climbed and competed in all disciplines.

I preferred speed climbing though. At that moment, it was called “classic speed” (when competitors climbed on different routes). I devoted more time to speed climbing.

We had a powerful team of speed athletes; it was interesting to train together. Also, l was lucky to have Sergeev Sergei as a coach. Now, because of him, the Tyumen speed climbing school is famous all over the world!

READ: Katya Kipriianova: Russia Climbing, motherhood and the future

How does training for speed climbing differ to that of say, other climbing disciplines? (Bursts of speed, precision training etc)

Except for climbing on the standard wall, speed climbers use different exercises from other types of climbing. Athletics (running, jumping, plyometrics), power and explosive training in the gym are key too.

Speed athletes give more attention to leg strength. Powerful and fast legs are very important for speed climbing.

In my opinion, it is the main difference between speed and other disciplines.

READ: Dmitrii Timofeev on speed climbing in Russia

What has it been like to win speed championships and World Cups for you, personally?

I love the competition. For me, it is a challenge. I think that my main rival is myself. Each competition is a duel with myself in order to understand myself and grow.

It’s not easy, but when it does work, it’s the best reward. It is fearful and thrilling. Sometimes I win, sometimes not, but I continue to work on myself and I become better as an athlete and as a person.

Kaplina climbing a wall
Luliia Kaplina practices climbing a wall. Source: supplied

You’ve also qualified for the Olympics. Tell me a little bit about that experience?

In 2019, I took part in IFSC World Cups in all three disciplines. According to the results of combined World Cup, I received an invitation to an Olympic Qualifier in Toulouse. I won the speed climbing qualification and got to the finals. In the finals, I also won in speed and came 6th in the combined format. That’s how a got ticket to the Olympic Games.

What was training like during the lockdown?

In our city, the climbing gym was closed for 3.5 months. In the meantime, I healed my old elbow injury from the 2019 season. During lockdown, we built a little gym in our flat and a climbing wall on the balcony.

I did all that I could to maintain my physical condition. And now I have more time to gain the form before the Olympic Games. For most of the training, I focus on speed. After speed, I look at climbing in lead or bouldering.

How do you split your climbing focus between the three disciplines?

In bouldering and lead, I try to pay more attention to climbing itself. Also, I keep training my fingers and hands for example on fingerboards. Then I work on mobility and stretching exercises to prepare my body to avoid injuries.

Lately, my training has increased, and now I spend all the time in the gym. I’m really lucky in that I live near a climbing wall.

It is fearful and thrilling. Sometimes I win, sometimes not, but I continue to work on myself and I become better as an athlete and as a person.

There has been a lot of controversy regarding Russia’s omission in the Olympics next year, but you are still able to compete ‘independently’. Has this affected/impacted you, in any way?

I have been competing since 2011 and throughout this competition I have been passing doping tests. Also from 2015, I have been under the observation of the ADAMS system (I note my location on a daily basis and at anytime I can get a visit by doping officers without warning).

It was unpleasant for me to see comments and discussions from climbers about the disqualification of my country and me as well.

Disqualification from main competitions will equate me to using doping. Competing ‘independently’ will not be easy either and it is definitely unfamiliar to me. Everyone knows that I am an athlete from Russia, and even speaking under a neutral athlete ‘role’ I remain an athlete from Russia. My country will support me.

READ: Anna Tsyganova on her career and climbing in Russia

What can we expect to see you doing in the near future?

Firstly, I will prepare for the Tokyo Olympics. and I have no plans to end my climbing career. I plan training and competing until Paris 2024 Olympics and maybe more. I know speed climbing in Paris will be presented as an independent discipline. And I really want to compete in speed!


You can check out Luliia’s Instagram here.
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