Friday, 8 July 2011

Genetics or environment? Rock climbing mutants, how do they do it?

With sport, or with anything in life, to be extremely good at something, on the top of the game, ahead of the pack, leading the crowd, does it come down to genetics or is it hard work and living the optimum lifestyle. 

From a rock climbing perspective, names such as Adam Ondra are usually associated with the word mutant - and this is not a derogatory term, but one of acknowledgement that he is so far ahead of the game that others simply can't keep up. He's been lauded as a genetically gifted and highly motivated rock climber, who seemingly floats up the hardest routes in the world and has been climbing grades most of us will never reach since he was 12 years old. So, you have you ask yourself, how much hard work can a 12-year-old put into a sport? It must be due to his genes that he can climb as hard as he can. Or is it? Are you sure it doesn't come down to a lifestyle choice his parents made? Sending him up rock faces from the age of three is bound to have a psychological effect on the boy, numbing him to the general fear or uneasiness that the general populace feels when throwing for that low percentage move 20 metres off the ground.

I'm not saying we freeze and don't go for it. What I'm saying is that a moment's hesitation, even if only for a split second, an adverse thought can have the biggest effect on the effort we put in. And if Adam never had these feelings when he was eight, nine, ten years old, because he'd already been climbing so much since he was a toddler, this must have had a major impact on his ability to climb hard now he's 18.

All I'm trying to say here is that falling back on genetics to explain how the world's best climbers do what they do is lazy and an easy way to absolve ourselves from not achieving their high standards. Maybe genetics does have some part to play, and physiologists would probably be able to confirm this, with tests on muscle fibres, lactic build up, tendon strength, etc, but then again how much of this comes down to climbing at an age when your body is still adapting to the world, when you're growing at an exponential rate? 

It's an interesting discussion and something I'm going to have to look into. I'd be grateful for any and all opinions on the matter. I'm hoping to put together an article on the thoughts of others on this topic, so keep your eyes on the blog for an update in the near future.