Adam Ondra is regarded as the world’s best professional climber. The 25-year-old Czech spoke to DW about what drives him, the world’s most difficult climb, and his aspirations for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.DW: Adam Ondra, you have been climbing since you were a small child. Could you imagine yourself ever getting tired of it?
Adam Ondra: I think this very moment would be one when I am tired but not of climbing. It's definitely necessary to recharge the batteries sometimes. But I think this has nothing to do with climbing. Climbing is great, and I don't think I'll ever tire of it, because there are so many different disciplines. Climbing a two-meter (6'6") boulder is completely different from a 1,000-meter wall. And by switching these disciplines, I can always keep my motivation very high.
What do you do to relax and get your mind off climbing?
Every December I take two or three weeks off. After an entire season of training and climbing, my body needs the break. And mentally, changing between the climbing gym and rock climbing, from competition to climbing outdoors all this helps me to be 100-percent motivated all of the time.
Does one have to be a little crazy to climb such amazing routes as you do?
What really motivates me to climb harder and harder is not necessarily that I want to push my limits or show who's best, but climbing harder and harder routes makes it more fun. The harder routes you climb, the more interesting the climbing gets and the more crazy moves you are forced to figure out. And once you know how it feels to climb a certain grade you don't really want to go back.
You have a climbed the world's first route in the French grade 9c (grade 12 according to the scale of the International Climbing and Mountaineering Association) in a cave near Flatander in Norway. A first you called it "Hard Project," put when you finished it, you renamed it "Silence." Why was that?
Normally when I reach the end of a super hard route I just scream for joy. But in that moment the emotions were so strong that I couldn't say anything, so it was one minute of silence.
What was the reason for that?
I don't know. Maybe I just didn't realize that it had finally happened. If you you've worked on a single project for 14 weeks and trained specifically for it for like two seasons; when it finally comes together, this is what happens.
What is the special challenge of that route?
It's the route that took me the most time ever. I've done most of the 9b+ routes in the world and I consider it to be a route that really fits my style. And that's why I had the courage to say: This is the world's first 9c. If I wasn't really sure about it, I would have stepped back and called it 9b+. But if it's ever been downgraded, it will be totally embarrassing for me. (laughs).
You also take part in climbing competitions. You took second place in the Combined Olympic Format at the World Championships in Innsbruck last September. Are the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020 a goal for you?
Yes, definitely. The next big goal is the Olympics. Next year I am going to do both World Cups in Boulder and Lead and take it as a preparation for the 2020 season when the Olympics will be the biggest goal.
I remember that you were one of the critics of the Olympic format – the combination of speed climbing, lead and bouldering – when it was decided that sport climbing would become an Olympic discipline for the first time in Tokyo. Have you changed your mind?
That I'm still against the format, doesn't change anything. I always wanted to go for the Olympics, no matter how critical I am about the format. And I remain critical. But I have to accept it if I want to compete in the Olympics. That's the format, the only other option is not to take part.
You're still only 25, but a day will come when you begin to lose your physical strength. Have you thought about what you will do after your climbing days are done?
I'm sure that I will continue to be involved in sport climbing for as long as I can. I am sure that I can push my sport climbing level until I am 35. But after that it probably won't be possible. At the same time I am very interested in trying to bring everything I've learned to the bigger walls, not necessarily climbing eight-thousanders but six-thousanders where the main difficulty is really rock climbing with bare hands and climbing shoes. That's something that appeals to me for the more distant future.
So you're not afraid of the cold you'd have to withstand on six- or seven-thousanders?
For sure. But that's part of the game, a little bit of adventure to make the climbing more interesting.
Adam Ondra is regarded as the world's best climber. At the age of 13, the native of Brno in the Czech Republic climbed a route with a degree of difficulty of 9a on the French scale, which in the rating of the International Climbing and Mountaineering Association (UIAA), corresponds to a route of the 11th degree. In 2017, Ondra mastered an extremely overhanging route in a cave in Norway – the world's first 9c. In competition climbing, the 25-year-old has won three World Championship titles and three overall World Cup victories in lead climbing and bouldering.
The interview was conducted by Stefan Nestler.