Ice Climbing At The Olympics. Insider’s Perspective From ‘World Stage’ In Sochi

When the world came to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, ice climbing was right there, front and center. While the sport was not a competition, the exhibition wall introduced spectators from around the world to a sport often practiced in remote and rugged wilderness.

Gordon McArthur, a climber from British Columbia, was in the mix. The Wigwam-sponsored athlete stopped in Russia to take part in the exhibition as he toured for the World Cup competition with Team Canada.

“There wasn’t any official competition. Just a group of amazing athletes from all over the world showcasing the sport in front of the world,” McArthur said. Below, he shares the experience of climbing at the Olympics in Sochi. —Sean McCoy

By Gordon McArthur

It’s hard to even begin this post about the Sochi Olympics because the entire experience has been such a whirlwind. How do you even explain a surreal period of time?

For so many months — the preparation, the planning leading up to the 2014 Olympics — nothing can describe what it felt like to walk through the entry gates into the Olympic Park and climb in front of the sporting world.

No, there were no medals, and no, we were not official “Olympic athletes,” but ice climbing was given a special chance, an opportunity to showcase how awesome the sport really is, and we were there, I was there, in the thick of it.

Every day thousands of people watched, cheered for, and even tried ice climbing. Tried? Yeah, we had three 60ft walls of real ice climbing for the public to get on and swing ice tools.

There was a lot of doubt and a lot of questions, but the “crew” pulled it off…even when there were consecutive days of +25 degrees Celsius.

The wall was truly an amazing work of art. And if that wasn’t enough, a stage was set; a lead climbing structure for the athletes to demonstrate what it is that we actually do, how we compete, and to exhibit the gymnastic movement that it entails.

Several years ago talk of pushing ice climbing into the Olympics began. Rumors were soon leaked, and before you knew it all the World Cup athletes were buzzing about the possibilities. But for a long time, that’s all it was — talk.

Last year talk became productive. Everyone wanted to know what was going on; the how’s, the who’s. But still, no definitive answers.

Up to the point that I walked through the Olympics gates in Sochi, Russia, there was still a level of uncertainty. Many took this idea — the Olympics and Ice climbing — as something of a joke, that it wasn’t worth the effort. Some even shrugged it off as a waste of time. To be honest, up until the point of seeing our actual “venue” questions still hovered over me, circling with hesitation.

My friend Marc Beverly, on many occasions kept telling me “dude, it’s the Russians…you just gotta keep faith. They’re not going to let us down.”

We had a job to do: Wow the Olympic Park. We had to leave an impression, so that any spectator, media source, IOC representative — any one who came to our venue — needed to leave with a smile on their face, knowing that this was a sport to support.

They came by the hundreds.

A sea of people lined up daily for hours upon hours to try their hand at ice climbing. Some didn’t even understand what ice climbing actually was, but they knew when they saw it that they just had to do it.

Suddenly I heard my name over the mic. I quickly jolted my head up, instantly shocked by what it was that I was about to do. There was a huge crowd in front of me, ready, cheering, clapping. I was about to tie in and climb in the Olympic park, to demonstrate the sport I love, in front of, well, “the world.”

Sean McCoy

Sean McCoy is the Editorial Director of GearJunkie, and 5+ other All Gear websites.

He has been writing about hunting, fishing, trail running, camping, skiing, and more for 15+ years.

Prior to GearJunkie, he was the chief photographer for the Virgin Islands Daily News and former Editor In Chief for GearJunkie. Based in Denver, Colorado, McCoy is an avid trail runner, camper, hunter, angler, mountain biker, skier, and beer tester.