Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Sterkenburg Set For Olympic Debut In Sport Climbing

Posted on 3 August 2021 by Sam Jacot

Since a young age, South African Erin Sterkenburg has always had an interest in adventure, and specifically, climbing. On Wednesday, the 18-year-old will make her Olympic debut in Tokyo in three sport climbing events – speed, bouldering, and lead – just four years after she started the sport.

Excitingly for the sport, this year is the first time that sport climbing will be an Olympic event. After securing qualification by winning the 2020 IFSC African Championships, the talented youngster will be achieving a long-term dream.

“When I was really young, I did gymnastics, and while it is not the same thing, it is similar,” Sterkenburg said. “I used to climb trees and when I went to high school, I saw there was a climbing wall, so I went to the school and I started climbing in grade eight and I really liked it.”

Having begun climbing at Westville Girls’ high school in Durban at the age of 13, she quickly made a rapid rise, achieving success at the 2019 U17 National Championships in South Africa. Sterkenburg believes the support she has received has been crucial to this.

She said: “It is hard work and the people who have been around me. All my coaches just wanted me to do my best and taught me so much. In my second year, I started climbing with a guy called Mikey, who had so much knowledge of the sport. He taught me lots which really helped me.

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“The U17 Championships I was not really expecting to win. That was an ‘oh wow’ moment. From there I got really motivated, and I knew I was going to the Youth World’s that year, so I decided to really take it seriously. Before, I did the competitions because they were there, but from this moment I started to work towards the competitions. I started training with my current coach James Barnes, which has been great.”

Having triumphed at the 2019 U17 National Championships, Sterkenburg had booked her spot at the 2020 African Continental Championships in Cape Town. Despite going into the competition with low expectations, the 18-year-old took top spot in the Lead, Speed, and Bouldering categories, getting a perfect combined 1.0 score.

On this experience, Sterkenburg said: “At the Africa Cup, there were lots of other strong women, so I just tried my best. But when it did work out, I was kind of in shock. I just ran to my parents. It was such a cool feeling, and it has given me lots of confidence that I can do.”

Olympic Aims

With victory, Olympic qualification in Tokyo was secured. Having watched the Games from a young age, the South African is ecstatic to be involved but is keeping expectations low.

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“It is just really cool that It gets to be in the Olympics,” Sterkenburg smiled. “My family would always watch the Olympics, it is just on the TV the whole time. I am excited because I always enjoyed watching the ‘less common’ sports and that is where climbing fits in, so that is really exciting.

I am nervous to compete but super excited. To be with the other competitors who are the best in the world is crazy! I don’t have very high goals, I just want to do my best. Because I am competing against such amazing competitors, I am not expecting anything amazing. I just want to do myself proud and perform to the best of my ability.”

Ahead of making her Olympic bow, Sterkenburg hopes this will be the first of many appearances at the Games given her young age. More than anything though, the 18-year-old hopes that it will give the sport the platform to grow in the future.

“Hopefully after this summer, it will limit the uncertainty around the sport. Hopefully kids will watch it on TV in South Africa and ask their parents to start climbing and it will grow the sport. That is what I hope for in the longer term,” Sterkenburg said.

You can follow Sterkenburg’s progress from 9:00 A.M. BST on Wednesday 4th August.