For someone who spends her time defying gravity by scaling cliff sides with her bare hands, pro climber Brooke Raboutou is incredibly down to earth. In addition to training nearly every day, she attends school as a marketing major at the University of San Diego, competes against world-class climbers in nationwide tournaments, and oh yeah, she's on track to become one of the first climbers ever to compete in the Olympics in Summer 2021. "It feels pretty crazy, honestly," Raboutou tells Elite Daily. "I'm just really excited to represent my sport." At just 20 years old, Brooke Raboutou hasn't even reached her peak yet — she's still climbing to the top of her game.
Appropriately enough, Raboutou hails from Boulder, Colorado, a hub for rock climbing enthusiasts. She picked up the sport almost as soon as she learned how to walk, and began training consistently at age 4. Her parents, world-champion climbers Didier Raboutou and Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou, served as her early mentors. "Back in their day, they were the best of the best," Brooke says of her parents. Like most kids, however, Raboutou admits she sometimes brushed off their guidance on training and competitions (we've all been there). "When I was younger, it was harder for me to accept their advice. [It] was very, very great advice, but I couldn't see it at the time," she says. Now that she's older, Raboutou has learned to appreciate her parents' perspective. "They're using their wisdom to help me," she explains. "I've learned a lot as well, learning from them as coaches, mentors, and climbers."
At that competition, everyone knew the Olympics were on the line.
Listening to her parents paid off in a big way: At age 9, Raboutou began racking up serious achievements, breaking climbing records as the youngest person in the world to complete some of the most strenuous and technically demanding routes on the climbing difficulty scale. At age 18, Raboutou competed against hundreds of talented climbers at the IFSC Combined World Championships in Hachioji, Japan, vying for just one of just seven available spots for the Summer Olympics in 2021. Raboutou nabbed a spot by placing ninth in the combined event, making her the first American ever to qualify for Olympic climbing.
"At that competition, everyone knew the Olympics were on the line," Raboutou says. Even though the pressure was on, she pulled through with laser focus. "I was more thinking about the competition as a whole, wanting to perform well, wanting to do my best, and hoping I could make it through each round and do better," she explains. "Looking back now, it seems like there was so much pressure, but really, I was just climbing for myself," she says. "And that is always when I climb my best."
Although Raboutou has been scaling cliff tops for years, training for the Olympic Games is totally new terrain. "I think a lot of [added pressure] is just the unknown," she says. "It's the Olympics, so it's the first time we're training for this kind of thing." Because climbing is making its official debut in the 2021 games, there's never been an official training plan for climbers to win Olympic gold. "[We're] pioneering the way, figuring it out along the way, making mistakes, and learning from them."
Olympic climbers are expected to compete in what's called a "combined format," a fusion of three individual disciplines: bouldering, lead climbing, and speed climbing. Bouldering is a type of free climbing performed on small rock formations and doesn't require the use of a rope or harness. Lead climbing uses a rope and harness and is performed over taller courses. Speed climbing is exactly what it sounds like: Two climbers compete side-by-side to race one another to the top. "The combined format is new for us," she explains. "[There are] a lot of new things we have to pave our way toward."
I think it already is inspiring more young athletes to try out these sports.
Since qualifying for the Olympics, Raboutou has intensified her training routine to hone in on specific skills, like speed and stamina. "A lot of us have had to change our training," she says. "There [are] so many different things to focus on." When it comes to climbing, being a well-rounded athlete is key. Raboutou explains how "there's a million different things you could work on within each [discipline]," including grip strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance, to name a few.
Because the combined format is so intense, Raboutou's preparing her body (and mind) by training longer days and climbing longer rounds. When the 2020 Olympics were delayed until 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Raboutou took it as a blessing in disguise: "I think we've learned a lot [about] how to better train for the Olympics within this past year, and [how] to train smarter and more tailored toward what I need as an athlete."
However, even world-class athletes need a break, and after a few especially difficult training sessions, Raboutou admits to feeling burned out sometimes. “I think it happens to every athlete," she states. "They'd be lying if they said it didn't." Instead of being hard on herself, Raboutou emphasizes the importance of taking a balanced approach. Whenever she feels like she's pushed herself to the limit, she remembers to "take a step back and really enjoy it." If that means skipping an indoor training session and going climbing outdoors with friends for fun, so be it. "It [reminds] me why I love climbing," she says.
When it comes to the future of climbing, Raboutou is looking forward to seeing the community grow as it reaches a larger audience through the Olympics. "I think it already is inspiring more young athletes to try out these sports," she says. She eventually hopes to start her own climb team or open a climbing gym like her mother, who founded ABC Kids Climbing in Boulder, Colorado. "It's all about the youth and giving them a space to train, climb, be a team, have fun, and learn about life through sport," Raboutou explains. "I just hope more people will experience it like that."
As for advice to young climbers with dreams of ascending to the Olympics, Raboutou likes to keep it simple: "Have fun," she states. If you want to be successful, Raboutou explains, "sometimes you have to bear down and do the hard work." But in the end "you should be doing it because you love it, and that's how you'll become great," she says. "By trusting that passion and [letting] it fuel your hard work."
To learn more about all the Olympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. The Tokyo Olympics begin July 23rd on NBC.