Seo Chae-hyun opens new path for Korea in sport climbing

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Seo Chae-hyun competes in the women’s sport climbing bouldering qualifying event during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Aomi Urban Sports Park in Tokyo on Wednesday. [AFP/YONHAP]

Korea’s Seo Chae-hyun finished second in the women’s sport climbing qualifications on Wednesday night, advancing to the final and making Korea a strong contender for medals in the new Olympic sport.

Sport climbing made its Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games, making Seo Korea the first-ever sport climbing Olympian, alongside teammate Chon Jong-won. But while Chon failed to make it past the men’s qualifying, Seo has already established himself as one of the best climbers of the Games.

Sport climbing is made up of three distinct disciplines – speed, bouldering and lead – but at the Olympics it is contested as a single event with one medal available for each gender. Speed, in particular, has become a controversial inclusion. In the event, athletes compete against each other to climb an identical 15-meter (50-foot) wall at a 95-degree angle faster than their opponents. As the other two events are based on difficulty, the skill set is markedly different, and climbers who are strong in one often lag behind in the others. Aleksandra Miroslaw of Poland dominated the speed scoreboard but finished last in bouldering and second in the lead.

This was also the case for Seo, who finished 17th in speed, but fifth overall and first in the lead to take second place overall.

In the lead, the athletes must climb as high as possible with a score calculated on the number of catches they reach. The event, which is more akin to a marathon than a speed sprint, favors endurance and concentration. Seo hit 40 catches, surpassing the second of seven catches for a dominant first place.

Seo’s lead was so impressive that she reached 37th place with a good two minutes on the clock. As she climbed higher, coaches and climbers around the world began to cheer her on. Seo finally hit the 41st hold, 15 meters above the ground.

Prior to the start of the Olympics, it was expected that sport climbing would be dominated by athletes from places with a strong background in extreme sports and rock climbing, such as the United States and some European countries. Seo very quickly proved that Korea can be a major contender, and they probably aren’t an outlier – Kim Ja-in, who commented on Seo’s rise for KBS on Wednesday, has been world No. 1 on several occasions at the during his career.

Seo qualified for the final as one of the top eight climbers and a clear favorite for a podium place. Seo, 17, will climb for his first-ever medal at 5:30 p.m. Friday.

BY YUN SO-HYANG [[email protected]]


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