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Away from the Wall: Adam Ondra

Away From the Wall: Athletes in isolation during the coronavirus crisis. A new limited-run column from R&I columnist Owen Clarke. Follow along as he checks in with top climbers to see what they are up to in their quarantine.

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COVID-19 is keeping us off the rock, pros and average joes alike. We’re all having to find ways to cope. For this week’s “Away from the Wall,” I talked with rock fiend Adam Ondra, thought of by many to be the world’s strongest climber.

The 27-year-old Czech, one of the top contenders for gold in the 2020—now 2021— Olympics, has been home in Brno, Czech Republic, for the last month, isolating amidst the coronavirus pandemic like the rest of us. His Olympic dreams are delayed and he can’t venture out onto the rock, but he’s passing the time training, reading and making strong, strong broths.

Read the first installment of “Away From the Wall,” With Ashima Shiraishi

Q&A with Adam Ondra

What have you been up to since COVID-19 started? Have you been in Czechia the whole time? What’s the situation like there?

I’ve been home in Czechia for the whole time. It’s pretty locked down, even though the situation, fortunately, is not that serious [the Czech Republic had 3,500 cases when I spoke with Ondra April 3, a fraction compared to many European nations of similar size, and mask-wearing is mandatory by law]. But the measures are relatively strict. Some people still go to work, but the shops are closed and life has pretty much stopped.

What’s your day to day schedule like? Are you still able to train much at home?

I have a climbing gym at home, but I also own a small climbing club [Kotelna Boulder Club] nearby, so I can train there alone. I train either alone there or with Rishat [Khabibullin]. He’s a climber from Kazakhstan who also qualified for the Olympics, so we train together there by ourselves.

Adam Ondra in Hangar climbing gym in Brno.
Adam Ondra in Hangar, his climbing gym in Brno. Photo: Lukas Biba.

Any advice for climbers stuck at home with minimal equipment, maybe only a fingerboard, on how to keep in shape?

First, if you’re used to climbing five days a week, a couple hours a day… if you try to do that much fingerboarding you’re probably going to get injured (laughs). Rule number one is survive the quarantine and don’t get injured, so when it’s safe again you are able to climb. Do a bit of fingerboarding, but do functional training as well, have variety. Pushups, core, these things are important and usually climbers don’t have time to do this, because climbing is much more fun.

Mental training is good, too. I visualize climbing a lot. It sounds stupid, but it helps quite a bit. But, it’s hard to say if watching climbing videos and thinking about climbing will help you survive the isolation better, or make you more depressed about not climbing.

With training in mind, how has COVID-19 and the Tokyo 2020 postponement impacted your Olympic training and prospects? How are you planning to adjust?

Ondra at the 2018 IFSC World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria. Photo: Lukáš Bíba.

If I had known what the situation would be one month ago, it would’ve been very depressing, because I’m now forced to keep training speed for another year, which sucks. But at the same time, it gives me one more year to train. Really, if I could turn back the clock I would have started training speed earlier anyway. I started last spring, but maybe I should’ve started a year earlier.

In speed climbing I found that I reached a certain plateau this winter, because unless I really learn how to be explosive with my feet and actually start running the route, not just climbing it fast, I will not really improve anymore. This winter I started training speed climbing over again, like from the very beginning, and I found that it’s much more complicated than I thought. I thought I had the route really dialed, but I had it dialed for climbing it fast… not running it. That’s a big difference.

Overall, I think [the delay] will improve my chances. The margin of errors in speed climbing, and maybe even some factors in bouldering, I believe will be smaller, and I do believe I’ll maintain all my strength.

How are you handling the mental aspect of not being able to climb outside and the isolation?

I’m at home with my girlfriend, and I really haven’t been stressed. I’m fortunate to be able to train almost normally. If I was stuck in Spain in an apartment with only a fingerboard, like some other climbers, it would suck. But for me it hasn’t been stressful at all, really. It would be nice to go and hangout with friends, but it will come.

How else are you passing the time?

I’ve been reading more recently. Literature about alpinism helps me quite a lot. I read The Tower, about Cerro Torre climbing, by Kelly Cordes, and another by David Lama about the first free ascent of the Compressor Route. When you’re reading about snowstorms and shit like that, it’s not exactly, Oh man I want to be there!, but at least it gives you a sense of adventure.

I also have more time for cooking. I got really addicted to making strong broths. Vegetable broths, bean broths, meat broths. I feel really energetic after eating a strong broth. I usually like broth with miso. Maybe it’s part of my preparation for the Tokyo Olympics, eating Japanese food.

Adam Ondra climbing Yosemite
Ondra climbing in Yosemite in 2018. Photo: Bernardo Gimenez.

These are tough times. What positives or silver linings do you see in the situation?

It’s a reason to slow down and take it easy. For sure it’s individual, but if you aren’t in a situation where you are in fear of losing your job, financial problems or health problems, it’s no big deal. You just have to wait until it’s over and you can go back to climbing. I think many of us are just living too fast, it’s a time now to slow down.

Has this experience changed the way you’ll think about your career moving forward?

It could have an influence on the importance of appreciating home and the surroundings of my city more. Inevitably I’ll end up staying here around my home much more during this time. For super nice adventures and super nice climbing, you don’t have to necessarily travel halfway around the globe.

What do you miss most about normal life? What are you going to do first when you can go out again?

Number one is rock climbing. I just want to take a van and go on a climbing trip for a few weeks across Europe. I also miss the social part of climbing. My gym where I am training now alone, normally it’s a meeting point. In the evening you’d meet friends, family. That social connection, that’s what I miss.

Owen Clarke is a columnist for Rock and Ice magazine.Owen Clarke, 22, is a writer and climber from Alabama. He is waiting out the COVID-19 pandemic in his parents’ house, subsisting off of Hormel Chili with Beans and triple sec, trying to learn Arabic from a 20-year-old textbook he bought online, watching anime and doing pull-ups. Follow him on Instagram at @opops13.

Also Read The Best Dam Climb in America 

The COVID-19 pandemic sent the world into upheaval this spring, and climbing was thrown for a loop along with everything else. Our sport’s popularity was on the rise, the Olympics were on the horizon and now it’s all come to a halt (although things aren’t all bad). In some ways, COVID-19 has served as an equalizer. No matter who you are, how hard you climb, how much you have in the bank or where you live, most likely you’re stuck at home, away from the rock just like the rest of us. This is true for gumbies, trad dads, weekend warriors, and pro climbers alike. We’re all in this together. In Away from the Wall, I’m talking with pro climbers to get the lowdown on their experience isolating: how they’re spending their time, how it has affected them, and any advice they can offer other climbers, whether tips on training, diet or simply staying sane in a life without climbing.

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