Rishat Khaibullin on his road to climbing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Kazakh star athlete, Rishat Khaibullin talks about his love for rock climbing and his experience in the World Championships and 2020 Olympics.


Rishat Khaibullin mid action rock climbing shot
Rishat Khaibullin Rock Climbing action shot

Liam Parker: Tell me a little bit about yourself (background, life outside of the sport, etc).

Rishat Khaibullin: I’m studying electronics and communication at the Czech Technical University in Brno. I have a fairly large family, I have 6 brothers and sisters. My family is quite active. We love to go to the mountains and hike, ski and snowboard, and we also love to travel across of Kazakhstan. In my spare time, I like to walk and watch various films.

How did you get into the sport in your early years? People may not expect Kazakhstan to produce elite climbers. Your father and coach is an accomplished mountaineer, what influence did he have?

At the age of 6/7 years old, my sisters and I were sent to a climbing program in our city, but I got acquainted with rock climbing even earlier, when I went with my my parents outdoors. There I tried to climb real rocks. My father is quite famous in mountaineering. He helped and supported me from a young age in my passion for sports. 

When I was still in the youth team and I could participate in youth competitions, we did not have the funds to travel to competitions.  However, my father sponsored all my trips abroad, where I could compete professionally and gain experience.

I think that this helped me a lot for the future. After I gained a place for the Tokyo Olympics, my father helped me not only as a coach, but he was also as my manager. He helped me get more funding for my preparation for the Olympics.

How important was moving to Czech Republic for schooling in your youth to your development in the sport?

Initially, I went to the Czech Republic to get a secure higher education, which I would not have been able to get in Kazakhstan. I was very surprised with the level of rock climbing in the Czech Republic. I visited different rock climbing gyms and admired how much more advanced rock climbing is in contrast to Kazakhstan. I’m sure that this was one of the main reasons for my improvement, because of the variety of rock climbing tracks and different routes, and also a lot of the competition was important to me, which improved my climbing skills.

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You’re known for being a speed climbing specialist but consider yourself an all round climber. Where did your talent for speed climbing come from? You’re reported to have said you only train on the speed climbing wall once per week, is that still the case?

When rock climbing was included in the program for the Tokyo Olympics as a combination of three types, I immediately realized that this was my chance, since I always considered myself a skilled in all forms of rock climbing. I had dynamics, strength and endurance. From a young age I competed in all disciplines at Kazakhstani competitions and won them. In this way, I developed the right qualities for all disciplines. As for speed qualities, then I think that I was lucky with genetics. Before I took 3rd place at the World Championships in Japan in 2019, I really trained for speed only once a week, because at that moment I was living in Prague and I could only come to Brno on weekends. For me it was a very difficult workout, which I spent the whole day on, given the long journey in both directions. But I still think I developed my skills in speed climbing even before leaving for the Czech Republic, so my weekly speed training before going to the World Championships was enough for me.

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Have you suffered any serious injuries during your career? And if so what was it like on the mental health side of things? How did you overcome that additional barrier alongside the physical injuries?

In 2011, I had a seriously fractured my left hip, when training and fell on concrete. Doctors, and many others simply thought that I would no longer be able to or want to rock climb, but this was my favorite pastime, so I would never give up this sport. Understandably, I had fears before starting  to climb again, but only because I was afraid to damage my hip again. At first I came to training and just did pull ups, then I began to train climbing on one leg, and then I gently began to climb normally. Full rehabilitation took about 2 years. Then I had standard injuries to my wrist and fingers, which healed over time. Psychologically, at the same time, I was slightly depressed, but I always knew that after the rest everything would be fine and I would feel strong again.
Rishat Khaibullin at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics
Rishat Khaibullin at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic

Is there some sort of mental coaching that you partake in? If so why/why not and how important is it to do so? 

I have always considered myself a psychologically stable athlete. I think because of that I was able to stay calm in the important moments before starting and performed well. Of course, this does not always happen all the time, but I was not sad when I used to lose, I always motivated myself so I could avoid this issue in the future. A standard psychological training before the start looks like this: I close my eyes, breathe in and out, tell myself that I can show my best result and tell myself that there is nothing to be afraid of. Opening my eyes I feel confident and calm. Personally, I believe that the psychological side of our sport is one of the most important components.

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What has been the highlight of your pro career and why?

The brightest moment in my career was when I took 3rd place at the 2019 World Championships.

Most importantly, my dream came true  - to get to the Olympic Games. This was one of the happiest moments of my life!

What was your experience of the Tokyo Olympics?

 It was a great honor to compete at the Olympic Games. I was proud to represent my country and our sport, which was in the Olympics for the first time. The atmosphere in the Olympic village as well in the competition was unforgettable. The organizers did their best to host everyone at the highest level and I really liked it. These emotions will stay with me for the rest my life.

Rishat Khaibullin competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for Climbing
Rishat Khaibullin competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for Climbing

Who are some other athletes you look up to and why?

 I wouldn’t say I want to be like anyone in particular, but I want to be like my parents, who support me always and in everything. Thanks to them I am who I am now. I want to be a worthy person and truthful person for myself.

Are you talented at any other sports, and did you ever think of pursuing a sport other than climbing?

In fact, I like a lot of different types of sports, in general I really love sports. I ski quite well, but I never thought about doing anything professionally other than rock climbing. Perhaps after retiring from my climbing career, I would like to try mountaineering, like my father once did, but for now it is hard for me to say. But I know one thing for sure - I will do sports all my life.
Rishat Khaibullin Speed Climbing
Rishat Khaibullin Speed Climbing

Any other thoughts/comments?

I would like to add that the rock climbing community is great to me. They are always welcoming, accepting and helpful. Moreover, for me in this sport, there is no greater rival than myself. That is why I always like to prove to myself what I am capable of. Often I get upset not because I lose, but because I didn’t do my best.

You can follow Rishat Khaibullin and his Olympian rock climbing career on Instagram and Facebook.
For more Rock Climbing content visit Sportageous.

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