Sixteen and crushing: Molly Thompson-Smith adds another medal to the haul

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 19/06/2014
Sixteen and crushing: Molly Thompson-Smith. Photo: Tanya Falling.

Molly Thompson-Smith is undoubtedly one to watch. Hot on Shauna Coxsey's heels, she's crushing her way from youth to senior competition climbing. She won gold in the European Youth Cup at Imst, came second at another European Youth Championship event in Edinburgh last weekend, and is now ranked number one in the world. Sarah Stirling catches up with this inspirational sixteen-year old.

What’s it like being a 16-year old climber ranked number one in the world?

It’s crazy! I don’t really think of myself as ranked number one. When people say it, I just laugh. It’s good to finally be at the top after working my way up the Junior scene.

Congratulations on coming second in the European Youth Championships last weekend. You won gold at Imst two weeks ago - were you feeling pressured to match your performance?

Thanks! Yes I was feeling nervous, and my first qualifier was on Ratho’s old competition wall, which is quite slabby. Not my favourite style. Lots of people timed out near the top after spending too long resting on the good holds before the roof and, unfortunately, I was one of them. Called down two holds from the top, I was left in 16th place on the route.

So you needed a good second climb to make the finals!

Yes - luckily the second route was more my style - a powerful and pumpy route on the big overhanging Hangar wall. I had put a lot of pressure on myself before this route, as I needed to climb well to make the finals. Fortunately I finished in third on the route, leaving me in seventh place overall and gaining me a place in the finals.

So how did the final go?

The atmosphere in the arena was tense but friendly. Everyone was focused on doing their best, but with laughter and smiles. The final was again on the Hangar wall. I moved quickly and easily though a flowy section on fresh, pink holds. Then I reached the less positive blue holds, and felt the pump slowly building. I managed to stick a hard, long move to a shockingly bad hold on a volume but fell at the next move - a big rollover into an undercut volume in the roof. I was disappointed, feeling that if I’d stuck the move I would have been able to top.

Was it close between you and the winner, Alina Ring from Switzerland?

To my surprise, I watched every other climber fall beneath the point I had got to. I couldn’t believe I was still in first when the last climber came out to climb. I thought maybe I’d scraped another gold but Alina fought an impressive fight, falling at the same place as me, meaning she’d win on countback.

Britain’s female climbers are really crushing at the moment!

It’s really inspiring to see strong British women like Shauna Coxsey and Fran Brown getting such fantastic results - it shows GB is raising its game. It’s great to see all the support our female climbers get, and the girls crushing as hard as the boys!

What comes first when you're 16 and a climber ranked number one in the world, school work or training?

Sometimes I have to miss days of school to travel to competitions but I always make sure I catch up on work so I’m not behind. My parents make sure my education comes first but I’ve learnt to be pretty organised so I can handle training, homework and revision. My teachers and friends are really supportive of my climbing and always ask me how I’m doing and follow my comps.

Do you find time to just hang around with friends and be a 'normal' teenager, how much time do you spend training?

I don’t have much free time as on weeknights I’m training and studying, and on the weekends I’m mostly training or at a competition. It’s difficult for me to go out often but that’s a sacrifice I have chosen to make. I’m still able to hang out with my friends from time to time!

You seem to be on an impressive run of form at the moment - do you put that down to training, mental attitude, becoming more seasoned at competitions?

Being in the older half of my category (Youth A) has boosted my performance a little, but I also think I can deal with pressure from other people and myself well. I enjoy climbing in competitions and I have done so many now that I’m accustomed to how things work, so maybe that has had an impact on my performances this year.

A lot of young people fall out of competitive sport at your age. It can be a tricky step to move from Youth to Senior. However, you’re currently both the Junior and Senior British Lead Climbing Champion. It's the first time that has been done! Do you have any tips for girls your age wanting to get into competition climbing?

Go along to any small, local competitions to get a feel for the rules and how things work. Then go along to your regional BMC Youth Competiton Series rounds, which are great little comps to give you a real introduction to competition climbing. Then you can build up to national competitions.

Will you stick at competitions for the foreseeable future?

I see myself continuing competition climbing for as long as I am able to ... it’s what I love to do! Even though the transition from Junior to Senior level is very difficult and some do not make it, I enjoy the process of coming up from the bottom and improving and improving until you are eventually at the top.

You’re known for being a bit reluctant to climb outside but I hear you plan to get into it a bit more - how’s that going?

I haven’t really experienced much outdoor climbing but I’m currently in the Lakes with my coaches for a week. I’m really enjoying the movements but I find it difficult to find where I’m going as I’m used to obvious, bright holds and sequences! I plan to get outdoors even more now and hopefully get abroad in the near future.

What is it that you particularly enjoy about climbing inside?

You can be more creative with setting interesting routes or blocs – you can set any type of move with any type of hold you want. I’m trying to expand my climbing by getting outdoors more and I am open to trying new and more adventurous sports. However I think my priority will, for as long as it can be, competition climbing.

What does the future hold - will you go on to study at university, travel, be a climbing coach?

I’d like to take a year out to go travelling after school and maybe even move to Austria. I’d like to study Maths and Sports Science at university. Career-wise I don’t know where I’ll end up. I want to do something to do with maths or sport, but coaching would always be a possibility. I would definitely love to stay involved with the Junior GB Lead team.

You’re one of the BMC’s first ever ‘climbing ambassadors’, what’s that like?

It’s a real privilege to be a BMC ambassador. I enjoy helping out by running workshops and promoting all the good things the BMC do to help climbers.

What’s next on the competition scene for you? Do you hope to add another medal to your haul at the World Champs in September?

I’d love to make my fourth consecutive World Champs final this year and getting a medal would be the icing on the cake! I think if I train hard this summer I could hopefully be in with a chance, but anything can happen on the day.

Rob Adie, BMC Competitions Officer commented:

"Molly is on a great run of form at the moment and now she is in Youth A and a seasoned competitor that experience is shining through. She is a great ambassador for the BMC and the GB team and hopefully she will go on to add another medal to the haul at the World Championships in September confirming her status as one of the best young climbers in the world."

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All sports need role models and climbing and hill walking are no exception, so we’re excited that seven of Britain’s top climbers, one of Britain's most well respected hill walkers, and Britain's well-loved TV archaeologist turned adventurer, have all agreed to be part of our inspiring team of BMC ambassadors.
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