by Karen Rosen | Aug. 05, 2019,
Team USA , (United States Olympic Committee)
Ashima Shiraishi has the world at her fingertips. And at her feet.
She’s been one of the top American climbers for years, is considered the best teenaged climber on the planet and is still only 18.
As Shiraishi was steadily rising in the sport, the stakes suddenly got higher with the addition of climbing to the program of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Factor in that her parents are from Japan and Shiraishi, who has dual citizenship, has been living in Tokyo for a year, and the scenario becomes even better.
“It’s perfect,” said Shiraishi, who was born in New York City.
When she found out sport climbing had been accepted into the Olympic Games, Shiraishi said, “I was really just shocked about it. There was so much speculation for so long. It was such a big question mark that we weren’t sure it was going to actually be in it, and when it finally was, it was a big deal.”
Shiraishi has been a big deal in climbing since she began “sending,” or completing difficult outdoor ascents as a youngster. How many athletes are the subject of a lengthy profile in The New Yorker when they are only 14 years old? The headline called her a “Rock-Climbing Prodigy.”
Shiraishi is one of the only climbers with lucrative sponsorships outside the sport and her ascents are documented in numerous short films.
Shiraishi is currently No. 15 in the International Federation of Sport Climbing combined world cup rankings and is the top Team USA female climber. Kyra Condie is ranked No. 17 while Margo Hayes is No. 27. Up to two women per country can make the U.S. Olympic team.
A climb is called a problem, and Shiraishi is superb at solving them. In Japan, they call her “The Spider Girl.”
“You try not to think very much,” Shiraishi said. ‘You try to just focus on the upcoming move. The movement is always different, so that’s something that’s really cool. It’s not just about memorizing things and repetition; it’s about thinking up new strategies and always having something new.”
It doesn’t always work out.
“I fall all the time,” said Shiraishi.
Of course, she knows how to avoid injuring herself.
“It’s important to bend your knees,” Shiraishi said, “so there’s less impact on them.”
At 5-foot-1, Shiraishi is smaller than many of her competitors, who have an advantage when it comes to reach. “If you’re shorter, it’s also good, because you can get your feet into good positions,” she said.
Although an observer noted that she had “fingers of steel,” in The New Yorker article, Shiraishi downplays it. “My hands are pretty strong, but not like that strong,” she said.
Meg Coyne, a Team USA coach, said Shiraishi has “incredible movement skills and body awareness and body control. She’s also got incredible endurance and ability to rest on the wall. So, it’s not so much that she’s so powerful or even so strong, but she’s quite smart with the way she climbs.”
For casual observers, outdoor rock climbing can be a confusing mix of numbers and letters.
Shiraishi said her greatest achievement so far has been climbing V15, the second-hardest grade level, on Horizon at Mount Hiei, Japan. At 14, she was the first female climber and youngest person to make the grade. Rock and Ice magazine called her “the new face of climbing.”
A little over a year later, Shiraishi conquered another V15, Sleepy Rave in Australia, just as the news about climbing’s Olympic inclusion was trickling out in August 2016.
The competition will be held on artificial walls at the Aomi Urban Sports Park, next to the Olympic Village with views across Tokyo Bay.
Climbers typically specialize in one or two disciplines and compete on the world cup circuit in the discipline(s) of their choice. In Tokyo, the scores from three disciplines will be combined to determine the medalists:
Meet Ashima Shiraishi, the teenaged climbing prodigy making headlines ahead of her sport’s olympic debut
by Karen Rosen | Aug. 05, 2019,