Star climber targeting national honours next

HORSELL climber Rhys Conlon hopes to be a national champion in two disciplines before the end of the year.

The 14-year-old returned from Russia recently after making his Great Britain debut in the International Federation of Sport Climbing World Youth Championships in Voronezh.

ON THE RISE – Climbing star Rhys Conlon tackles a series of challenging walls at the International Federation of Sport Climbing World Youth Championships in Voronezh. Pictures by David Xiberras

And now the focus is on taking what he learnt towards a push for domestic honours.

Conlon told the News & Mail: “For a first international competition it was super cool. It made me feel proud to pull on the GB kit. It was a great experience and I really enjoyed it.

“It was definitely improved by doing well [Conlon finished fourth in the combined rankings].

“There were some pretty strong competitors.

“I was aiming for the semi-finals, but I didn’t know where my level was compared to the others.

“I learnt a lot about tactics and experience, and I would say I’ve come back having done better than I thought I would’ve done.

“The next competitions are the [BMC] British Lead Climbing Championships in November, and then the [La Sportiva BMC] Junior British Bouldering Championships in December [in Sheffield].

“The aim is to win those, and I’m pretty confident of doing quite well.”

Sport climbing made its debut at last summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games, and Conlon was glued to the action while on holiday in a motorhome in Wales.

Seeing it as part of sport’s most famous event has given the teenager added motivation for the longer-term and whilst the Paris 2024 Olympics will likely come too soon, he is targeting an appearance at the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028.

Conveniently, the next World Youth Championships next year are also in Los Angeles, where Rhys will compete in the under-18 category.

Initially he expects to secure a top-15 finish before eyeing winning the competition in 2023.

It’s clear the youngster has a strong passion for the sport, and all the possibilities it offers him in the future.

He said: “There are loads of different aspects I enjoy. I enjoy competitions generally. It’s good fun to improve and when you do well it’s really rewarding. Each climb is unique. It’s not like doing the same thing over and over.

“There’s something new and different to do every time – that stimulates you. You can’t get bored because it’s never the same.

“It’s also a pretty supportive atmosphere, especially when you go outdoor climbing. Everybody will end up chatting with somebody else. The most famous climbs are outdoor because naturally they don’t change very much.

“There are loads of climbs I want to do – I want to climb everywhere. In particular I’d quite like to climb El Capitan [in Yosemite National Park in the United States].”

Conlon has come a long way from starting climbing at Craggy Island Mini Kids in Guildford, under the supportive eye of his Dad, Greg, who has seen people take increasing notice of his son’s achievements.

Greg said: “I think people knew Rhys was a climber, but the fact he was on live TV [the IFSC streamed the World Championships on YouTube] seemed to change their perception.

“As well as it [climbing] being in the Olympics, because they actually knew what it was.”

The younger Conlon is clearly thoughtful about what he wants to achieve, and how he needs to improve to get there.

He said: “I’d say I need to improve physically and mentally.

“As a competition climber I’m pretty solid mentally, in terms of being able to manage stress and anxiety.

“I’m definitely aiming to come back stronger and better next year.”

And of his upcoming GCSEs?

“I haven’t got loads of homework yet but it’s coming soon,” he said.

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