Brooke Raboutou: An Eye on Olympic Gold

Climbing Magazine

Brooke Raboutou grabs a 23mm edge—just 9/10 of an inch—with her left hand and pulls her chin above the wooden hangboard at the Mesa Rim Climbing Center in San Diego, California. Raboutou locks off with one arm, and then lowers slowly back down. It’s early December 2019, the tail-end of the fall semester of her sophomore year as a marketing major at the University of San Diego where she has maintained a 3.8 GPA. As she rests between pull-ups, Raboutou quizzes herself on economics with flash cards. With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on the horizon—for which she became the first-ever American competitor to qualify in the inaugural climbing competition—Raboutou can’t afford any downtime.

Of course, in the months that followed, the world was thrown into coronavirus havoc. Climbing gyms, including Mesa Rim, would close. The Olympics would be postponed until summer 2021. (For more on the Games, visitclimbing.com/competition.) And Raboutou, age 19, and her fellow Olympians would be forced to wait another year for their shot at a medal (all climbers who qualified will maintain their berth in 2021). But all this upheaval would not change three key truths: Brooke Raboutou is the first American climber to become an Olympian. She is perpetually busy and trains with persistence, whether in San Diego, at the USA Climbing Training Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, or quarantined at home in Boulder, Colorado. And she’s still aiming for Olympic hardware.

Born in April 2001 to professional climbers Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou and Didier Raboutou, Brooke started climbing at two years old, scrambling up angled structures that her father built. Brooke’s brother, Shawn, three years her senior, was climbing too, well on his way to becoming one of Brooke’s biggest influences. The Raboutous spent every summer climbing in Southern France, near Didier’s hometown of Toulouse. In the fall and spring, the family would return to their home in Boulder.

At age 11, Brooke became one of the initial members of ABC Kids Climbing, a youth climbing program that began in the Aughts in an upstairs room at the Boulder Rock Club and now has its own 7,200-square-foot training center nearby in town. Robyn, who won multiple World Cup competitions in Europe throughout the 1990s and an overall World Cup championship for the 1995 lead season, coached the team. Meanwhile, Didier, a former French national competition climber and among the initial 1980s wave of French sport climbers to redpoint 5.14, retired from competing and became the chief designer of ABC Kids’ spatial training offerings—think obstacle courses, but for young climbers. Brooke climbed with an elite group, including Margo Hayes, Megan Mascarenas, Emily Harrington, Katie Brown, and Shawn. (An impressive climber himself, Shawn, now 22, made the first ascent of Off the Wagon Sit[V16] in Val Bavona, Switzerland, in 2018 and repeated Rocky Mountain National Park’s Creature from the Black Lagoon [V16] in 2018 and Rocklands, South Africa’s Finnish Line[V15] in 2019.)

As a child, Brooke climbed nearly every day. “What stood out the most with both Shawn and Brooke was their passion for the sport and their desire to try hard and take competitions seriously even at the early age of six,” Robyn recalls of her children’s focus at gym competitions around Colorado. The payoffs came quickly: Brooke became the youngest person to climb 5.14b when she sent Welcome to Tijuana in Rodellar, Spain, at 11 years old. Around the same time, she also sent Dead Serious (V10) in Hueco Tanks, Texas. Other accomplishments included Southern Smoke(5.14c) in the Red River Gorge and Fragile Steps (V13) in Rocklands.

Even though she climbs hard outside, Brooke has always loved competing. “Because [competing] was fun, it became a passion,” she says. In 2015, she earned silver in the Youth B age category for a Combined discipline (bouldering, lead, and speed) at the IFSC’s World Youth Championships. At the following year’s Youth Worlds, she won gold. This was the same year—2016—that climbing was confirmed as an Olympic sport. In the Combined discipline at the Youth Pan- American Championships the next year, she placed first. “I always wanted the combined title,” Raboutou says, crediting her early experience in all three disciplines with landing her the Olympic berth.

Brooke’s—and the rest of her family’s—accolades became prologue this past summer at the Combined portion of the IFSC’s World Championships in Hachiōji, Japan, where she qualified for Tokyo. There, Brooke placed sixth in speed climbing (clocking 9.129 seconds, only 2.134 seconds off the world record) in her second run against Poland’s speed specialist, Aleksandra Miroslaw; tenth in bouldering; and seventh in lead climbing for a total score that placed her in ninth overall. An abundance of Team Japan competitors in the top eight spots surpassed that country’s Olympic quota, which meant that while Brooke did not make the finals, she did punch her Olympic ticket. Other Americans would follow suit­­—Kyra Condie and Nathaniel Coleman qualified for the Games in Toulouse, France, in November 2019, and Colin Duffy qualified at the Pan-American Championships in Los Angeles in March 2020.

In late December 2019, Brooke modeled for her sponsor Adidas Terrex, as well as Sports Illustrated and Southwest magazines, and then did voice-over work for a Petzl video series on her Olympic qualification (the L’héritage and L’ascension videos from Louder Than 11). In between, she also took final exams—including that economics juggernaut—visited Boulder to spend time with her family, and trained at the USA Climbing headquarters in Salt Lake City. “I go to class, then I climb, then usually I have class again, then I come back and do homework and hang out with my roommates, then go to bed … and repeat,” says Brooke. While she values education, she has also decided to take the spring 2020 semester off to train—and continues to do so even with the Games delayed. She plans to return to school this fall, and then take the spring 2021 semester off to train as well.

The Olympic postponement has brought unique opportunities: a popular takeover of USA Climbing’s Instagram page and a chance to show fans how she trains at home. Two of Brooke’s cheeky videos in March 2020—Tour de my house and Tour de my kitchen—helped spawn a social media craze of quarantined climbers sharing their own furniture-climbing footage. “I wanted to think of ways that I could cheer up my followers without using my home wall, since a lot of people don’t have a home wall,” Brooke says. “I was just thinking of ways that other people can stay active and in touch with climbing around their house without a home wall; the child in me came out.”

Eventually, all the quarantining and training will be preamble to the Olympics themselves, and Brooke will be ready to compete—just like she always has been.

Climber Colin Duffy, 17, on How School Going Virtual Has Helped Him Find Training Time for Olympics

People Magazine

Homework, prom and … gold medals.

Colin Duffy, 17, is opening up about how he’s managed to juggle being a high school student with his climbing career, especially in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

“It’s not super easy to balance everything,” Duffy, of Broomfield, Colorado, tells PEOPLE during the Team USA Tokyo Olympics Media Summit, “but I just have adjusted to a pretty busy schedule, I manage my time well through training and climbing and getting assignments done.”

The high school junior adds of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Olympics delay, “Through these hard times I’ve been able to climb lots and also succeed academically. So, I’m fortunate enough to just be able to manage everything.”

Duffy, who is the youngest member of the USA Climbing team, also notes that his school’s shift to virtual learning amid the pandemic has afforded him more training availability. He explains, “School being online for the majority of this year has also been super beneficial since I have a lot more free time than I typically would.”

The athlete started climbing when he was just five years old, learning at ABC Kids Climbing in Boulder where he still trains today with Brooke Raboutou, a fellow USA Climbing team member.

Duffy is now a 10-time Youth National Champion, and won gold at the 2020 IFSC Pan-American Championships.

This year marks the first time that climbing has been a sport at the Olympic Summer Games. Men’s and women’s climbers will separately compete in three disciplines — speed climbing, bouldering, and lead climbing — to be in contention for a medal.

Michal Smolen – Canoe Slalom

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

  • 2019 NHK Cup: 1st
  • 2019 Oceania Championships: 1st
  • 2017 Oceania Championships: 1st
  • 2016 World Cup No. 5: 9th
  • 2016 World Cup No. 4: 10th
  • 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Champion
  • 2015 World Championships: Bronze
  • 2015 Pan American Games: Gold
  • 2015 U.S. National Team Trials: 1st in K1 and 3rd in C2 
  • 2014 World Cup No. 3: Bronze 
  • 2014 U-23 World Champion
  • 2012 U.S. National Champion
  • 2012 U-23 World Championships: 5th 
  • 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials: 2nd
  • 2010 Junior World Championships: 4th 

Background

Michal Smolen’s Olympic dreams started early, as both of his parents were part of the Polish National Team, his father for kayaking and his mother for team handball, but fell just short of the Games. He was born and raised in Krakow, Poland where he lived until he was 10 years old before moving to the United States. 

While Michal was growing up, he desperately wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps in his love for kayaking, unfortunately Michal had a fear of the water. In an attempt to get over his fear, he took up swimming, as he felt he was more in control. As he became more comfortable, he started training as a competitive swimmer. Training and discipline became an everyday routine and he slowly fell out of love with swimming and decided to give kayaking another try. This time his fear had vanished and he became completely captivated by becoming the best kayaker he could be. This is when Michal was faced with his next challenge. 

One morning Michal woke up in the hospital and was told he had endured a seizure in his sleep the evening before. Soon after this incident he was diagnosed with epilepsy. Over the next few years, Michal faced many new challenges with his health conditions, but was thankfully able to continue competing. Three years later, at the age of 16, Michal was racing in his first Junior World Championships in Foix, France. He came up just short of the podium, but this motivated him to work even harder and showed him that he was in contention with the best of the best. 

Michal was becoming competitive with the best kayakers in the country and won the 2011 U.S. National Championships. However, Michal’s US Citizenship had not yet been passed, therefore he was unable to race in 2011 and in turn unable to go out for the 2012 Olympic Team. Again, this did not discourage Michal’s Olympic dream, as he officially became an American citizen in 2013 and began competing with the U.S. National team. 

He represented Team USA in the 2016 Olympic Games in the single kayak, and has only continued to grow as an athlete since, competing in international competitions in preparation for Tokyo 2021. 

Facebook: Michal Smolen            Instagram: @instapaddler        Twitter: @michalsmolen

AJ Edelman – Olympic Bobsled and Skeleton

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

  • Created “BobTeam Israel”, targeting to create Israel’s first Winter Olympic Medal
  • 4x Israeli National Skeleton Champion
  • 2018 Olympian, first Orthodox Jew to compete in Winter Olympics
  • 2x international IBSF medalist
  • Currently pursuing Yale School of Management M.B.A (2023)
  • 2014 MIT, B.S. Mechanical Engineering

BIO

AJ Edelman (March 14, 1991) is an American-Israeli four-time national skeleton champion and 2018 Olympian, currently fielding a 4-man bobsled team that he intends to pilot in Beijing 2022.

Edelman was born in Boston, MA and raised in a Jewish, Modern Orthodox home. Edelman started his sporting career at age 3 as a hockey player, eventually playing for his hometown team through high school. His hockey career continued through his time at MIT, and ended after he turned down an offer to join the Israeli national team.

In 2013, Edelman decided that he wanted to pursue a goal to empower Jewish and Israeli youth to break the self-fulfilling vicious cycle of abandoning elite sport dreams by starting a foundation to provide resources/coaching to youth in need from those communities. He believed the best way to attain a platform to speak on these issues was to make an impact at the elite level of sport, qualifying Israel for the Olympics in a sliding sport. On March 14, 2014, Edelman was given a scouting report at the Lake Placid skeleton school that he would “never be competitive…not what we’d call athletic” and would “get down the track but that’ll be the most of it.” Edelman’s complete inability to sprint at an elite level, scoliosis (preventing effective stabilization on his sled,) was considered effective death-sentences to his chances. Upon hearing the report Edelman decided to pursue Olympic qualification in skeleton, resolving that it would be his life’s mission for at least the next 2,884 days (the time in which remained until Beijing ’22) to qualify Israel for the Olympics in skeleton.

Edelman was self-funded and could not afford a coach. He self-coached by watching 10-12 hours of YouTube World Cup footage daily and took on average 2-3 times the daily training-run volume of a typical skeleton athlete. Throughout his journey, Edelman established a number of traditions including that of having an Israeli athlete light Hannukah candles at the Koenigssee bobsled track each season. Edelman qualified for PyeongChang 2018 by securing back-to-back medals in his final two qualification races. He is the first Orthodox Jew to compete in a Winter Games, the first Orthodox Jewish male to do so in any modern Olympic iteration. Edelman competed in two World Championships representing Israel, and retired from skeleton as Israel’s most decorated slider, winning four Israeli national titles and two medals in IBSF-sanctioned international competition, the most of any Israeli sliding sport athletes.

In April, 2020 Edelman took a leave of absence from the MBA program at Yale School of Management to found, manage, and compete as part of “Operation Medal ’26,” an effort to build Israel’s bobsled program to medal contention at the 2026 Winter Olympic Games. OM26 seeks to field both men’s and women’s teams, a first in Israeli Bobsled history, under the collective team name “BobTeam Israel”. BobTeam Israel has representation of Israeli Arabs, Jews, and LGBTQ+ individuals.

Additionally, Edelman has said he is a supporter of anti-bullying and mental health initiatives, and that his motivation for continuing in sport is largely a desire “to use my Olympic journey as a platform to promote further Jewish and Israeli involvement in sport. As member of the LGBT community, Edelman also takes the opportunity to talk to students and young adults who approach him with questions of how he has dealt with his personal identity as both a private and public individual.

Twitter: @theajedelman       Facebook: @israelbobsled        Instagram: @AJEdelman