Sochi cool sport: we interview Andy Turner about ice climbing's exciting future

Posted by Katy Dartford on 17/02/2014
Andy Turner at the Sochi Winter Olympics. Photo: UIAA
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These are exciting times for ice climbing which is currently being showcased as part of the cultural programme at the Winter Olympics. Katy Dartford catches up with GB coach Andy Turner to talk about his world cup season so far, how the sport is developing in the UK and what he's up to in Sochi.

Andy Turner is very much at the forefront of developing winter climbing in the UK, coaching up and coming climbers and the GB Senior and Junior Ice Climbing Team.  With many first ascents to his name and pushing the standard of mixed rock/ice climbing, he is using his expertise to progress the training techniques and standards of dry-tooling in the UK.

Last winter was his first year of competition climbing, and he competed in four of the six rounds of the UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup circuit. This year the circuit takes in South Korea, Russia, Romania, France, Italy and Switzerland, plus a test event in the USA. Andy is virtually self-funded as there are few corporate sponsors for ice climbing.

Andy is currently at the Winter Olympics in Sochi to showcase the sport to a wider public. He hopes that ice climbing could become a demonstration sport in 2018 and then even a proper Olympic event in 2022.

Katy Dartford spoke to Andy Turner at the fourth round of the World Cup in La Plagne.
Over 100 athletes from 25 countries descended on Champagny-en-Vanoise to compete in the lead or speed disciplines. Representing team GB in the lead events were Steve Johnstone, Matthew Pritchard, Malcolm Kent, Katy Forrester (who made it to the semis) and GB coach Andy Turner.

How's your season going so far?
The season for me has been pretty dreadful.  I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well after last year, was training hard all summer and it’s just fallen apart.  I’ve been injured, but I rested up a bit this week as I had a sore shoulder and came out today and did the best climber ever really so I’m pretty chuffed by that. If I get through to semi- finals it’s hard to know, but fingers crossed.

How did you injure yourself?
I fell off in a comp in Romania a few weekends ago – came off awkwardly and wrenched my shoulder but I carried on training when I should have had time out really, but it’s hard in the middle of the competition season.

How do feel about the rest of the World Cup?
I’m out here for another week climbing with a mate, then we’re in Rabenstein Italy in the Dolomites for the next World Cup event. I’m looking forward to going there as I almost qualified there last year - so at the moment my psyche is high.

How do you train for these events?
The ice world cup sounds like it should be covered in ice, but nowadays it’s just dry tooling as it’s too easy on ice alone. So during the summer we go to damp caves in England and Scotland to train or slate quarries and stuff like that. A few of us have indoor training facilities in climbing walls like bouldering caves so it’s a mix of the two really

How’s the GB team looking?
Everybody is amazingly psyched.  For 99 per cent of us it’s our first time out in comps and we were worried how we’d do. It’s a massive step up. Quite a lot of us did the Scottish tooling series in November and that’s really chilled out and great, so nothing prepares you for being in isolation here with some of the best athletes in the world for two/three hours really. It’s a big game and everyone is really psyched and we’re learning for next year really. This year we’re just coming out, getting experience, finding things to work on and coming back next year.

You’re off to Sochi – what do you hope to achieve from this?
I’m in Sochi for ten days. It’s a cultural event so they put up an ice climbing wall in the Olympic village. It’s not a competition at all, it just gives the wider public an idea of what it’s all about.  So hopefully it’ll get a bit of coverage. They choose two people from each country who normally compete anyway to go out and participate, do some coaching with other athletes or spectators, and it came out a few weeks ago that it might potentially might be a demonstration sport at the next Winter Olympics in Korea.

We know very little about the event of speed ice climbing- how do you get involved in this?
I don’t know really. It’s dominated by Russians.  Every now and then a European will come through like Dutch climber Dennis Van Hoek who made history after winning the speed finals in the Saas Fee round. It’s a hard sport for Europeans to break into, but Europeans and Canadians are more interested in the technical side anyway – even though here it’s still the Russians dominating. I guess mainly because they’ve got the competition structures there so that’s what they train on. They don’t go outside in caves etc.

I’m from a Scottish mountaineering background so I spent 15 years walking 6 hours a day rolling around in the rain trying to find something icy to climb, so coming over to this is something completely different. If we had a structure in the UK we could all train on it could be different. For us, the first time we kick into wood, which we have to do in these events, was at the first world cup event. The Russians and Koreans have been doing it for 6 months of the year.

You’re heavily involved in the development of sport in the UK. What are the next steps?
At the moment it’s trying to make it available to the wider public. All these events have live feeds and we’ve been tweeting and doing social media so it’s just getting the word out there, getting some interest, getting young climbers involved... we’ve got two youths climbers here competing next weekend as well… so getting the walls in the UK to keep running competitions and having training facilities. It’s an amazing sport!

Find out more

Read the UIAA blog about the ice climbing cultural event at the WInter Olympics.

Andy Turner's trip to Sochi is featured in the Manchester Evening News.

The GB Ice Climbing Team has it's own Facebook page.

The final round of the UIAA World Cup takes place in Russia (28 February - 2 March). World Cup results so far.

The World Youth Championships took place on 8-9 February in Champagny en Vanois, La Plagne.  GB team member Emma Powell came 3rd in the female 13-15 age group and Timothy Miller came 4th in the male 16-18 age group. The performances in La Plagne bode well for the future of the sport and Team GB. 

 For more information about La Plagne and its ice-climbing wall, call La Plagne on +33 (0)4 79 09 79 79 or visit www.la-plagne.com.

Watch ice climbing in action in this UIAA World Cup Tour film clip on BMC TV:



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