Meet Jen Wood: the student shouldering climbing's Olympic bid

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 18/08/2014
Jen climbing in Font last year
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Teenager Jen Wood is the sole candidate representing British climbing at the Youth Olympic Games taking place in Nanjing, China this week (17-27 August). Here, comp climbing hopes to prove its worth as a main Olympic sport. No pressure then, Jen.

Climbing is a 'showcased sport' at the Youth Olympic Games this year. The International Olympic Committee said the YOG could be a testing ground for sports seeking to join the Olympics, so hopes are high, and all resting on the shoulders of Jen Wood, a student at Sheffield university.

Sarah Stirling catches up with the inspiring teenager who says she wasn't even good at climbing to start with, and cried as a ten-year-old at her first comps. Now no stranger to hard work, she gets up at 6am to start studying biochemistry and prefers training to partying in the evenings.

I've been chatting with the athletes from the other countries and we all just can't wait for the Youth Olympics in Nanjing! I love that I can help climbing with its main Olympic bid. It feels like we’re in this together, to show off climbing rather than compete against each other, but I could be wrong...

I love climbing competitions because everyone is so friendly and we all cheer each other on. I used to run for my school but I got bored of running the same courses. I tried climbing for the first time at my 10th birthday party - I wasn't even good at it but I wanted to go back. I found climbing exciting because it was different every time. There are always challenges even if it's not a competition.

I'd only been climbing for about a year when I entered the BMC Youth Climbing Series in 2007. I came 4th, which was a massive surprise. I’d really expected to be last. The next year I was in the oldest category so I had to lead-climb. I took my first leader fall and found it terrifying! I got into the final though, and realised I had potential. That's when I started training.

In 2009 I started entering the Junior Team GB trials. I came last for a while and cried at most of them but I was obsessed with making the team. In 2010 I came 2nd in the BMC Youth Climbing Series final, 5th in the British Bouldering Championships and 5th in the British Lead Climbing Championships. I started coming agonisingly close to making Team GB, and eventually made it in 2012.

The Europeans were a big step up but I'd gained confidence from making Team GB. My results steadily improved from 18th in my first event to 9th in my last in 2013. To finish off my Junior career I competed in my first bouldering European and absolutely loved it. I just felt much more comfortable in a bouldering comp. I came 8th - a better result than I’d ever achieved in lead climbing.

Then I made the Senior British Bouldering final and got onto the Senior GB bouldering team. I actually prefer being on a Senior team. I feel less pressure and gain so much from every training session. This year I competed in two Senior Bouldering World Cups and massively enjoyed the whole experience.

I'd like to think I'm a normal student but I hardly ever go to clubs or on nights out, mostly because I’d rather train instead. I wake up early, at about 6am, and normally manage two hours studying before uni. I train after uni and study some more before bed, but I always manage to have dinner with my flatmates.

When I found out it would be just me representing Britain in Nanjing, I was shocked. I wasn't sure on the numbers that would be picked, or whether I’d even be selected. I’ve always wanted to be in the Olympics. I remember waking up at 3am so I could watch all the events in the Beijing Olympics. I know this isn’t the actual Olympics but it’s pretty close.

I think the Youth Olympics will be fun as we’re just trying to show how good our sport is. I'm not even sure it's actually a competition. It sounds like we’ll be competing in lead-climbing and bouldering and demonstrating speed climbing. We haven't been told a lot about the event. I'm just going to try to help climbing look as good as it can. 

I'd love climbing to become an Olympic sport. I think more people would take up climbing, more  walls would open and training facilities and regimes would get better. It would also get more money into the sport so more people and more countries would make it to comps.

I've seen a picture of the Nanjing wall and it looks amazing! It should look great for spectators, which is the main thing for an event like this. It's not really the crowd at a big event that bothers me, it's my head. I always want to win so in World Cups I struggle because at the moment this isn't really possible so I have to aim for semis.

Anyone thinking about competing: just to do it!  I got rubbish results for ages but I wanted to do well so knew it was only a matter of time. You'll make loads of friends and gain lots of experience. Go to the Youth Climbing Series and the National Comps with the aim of just getting a feel for what goes on.

I look up to top women climbers. I feel if they can do it, so can I. I find it particularly impressive when athletes can come top in both lead and bouldering competitions like Jain Kim and Mina Markovic. I think it's pretty inspiring watching the people that do well but you know they are having a great time too, like Julia Wurm.

After Nanjing I'm going to focus on routes for a bit and train for the BLCCs and maybe Kranj World Cup. Then, in winter, the plan is to get super-strong ready for the bouldering selection for World Cups.

Last year I went to Font with a group of friends and climbed outdoors for the first time. I did quite a few 7as and 7a+s. Since then I’ve bouldered 7b+ in Britain and lead 7a+ but still haven't climbed a lot outdoors, mainly as I haven't learnt to drive yet! Indoors I guess I have bouldered about V9 and lead 8a. I think comp climbing will always be my main focus because I'm so competitive, but I'd love to get on hard stuff outdoors this year. 

Jen Wood is sponsored by Sport Sheffield, Probalm, Banana Fingers and Beyond Hope.

Find out more:

Climbing Heads to Youth Olympic Games in August

Meet the Youth Olympic Games Sport Climbing Delegation: Part 1

Visit the IFSC website find out how to connect with the Youth Olympic Games on social media

Meet the GB Junior climbing team

Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games

 



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