The field of contenders for the coveted spots on the Australian Olympic climbing team is thickening, we have a quick chat with Tom O’Halloran who has recently declared his hand.
We saw that you recently announced that you were planning to try and get an Olympic spot, why have you decided to make this a goal?
I first saw the Olympics when I was eight years old and I watched the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics. I was blown away. Then excitement would build in the lead up to some of the big events. Cathy Freeman’s run, the 100m sprint, the swimming or the beach volley ball. I didn’t really understand what it all meant at the time but I knew it was somehow special. I loved sport and being active but had never known sport could be like that! All the athletes looked so proud to represent their country and to give everything they had.
Since then I have dreamed of representing Australia at the Olympics. Through my years climbing I had been a little bummed that I was at a level where I potentially could represent at the Olympics but climbing wasn’t in. Now it is and it’s pretty rad to try and realise the dream.
We’ve always primarily thought of you as an outdoor climber, although you’ve obviously had some great results indoors, does this mean that you’re going to have to change your training or approach to climbing significantly?
Since moving from Brisbane to the Blue Mountains in 2011 I have very much been an outdoor climber. It’s the Blue Mountains! I love everything about the outdoors, and it’s very much where I feel at home. I did, however, spend a lot of time in gyms and competing when I was younger and I very much loved that time.
The training will definitely be different. With my outdoor training I take a holistic approach to becoming better. I want everything to improve, however, there is usually a lean towards what will get me up my next project. Sustained crimping in steep territory has been the focus recently for my current project, Hump of Trouble. For the comps, though, it’s a much wider skill set required. You need everything to be tip top all at once because you never know what you’re going to get. One comp may be sustained crimps and the next may be jumping on huge volumes and slopers. You need to be prepared for anything. Then you throw in the three different disciplines (Lead, Speed and Boulder) and the whole thing gets even harder. It’s a super exciting challenge though. It really is a test of who is the best all-around climber. How cool is that!!
Given it’s three disciplines – Bouldering, Lead and Speed climbing – where do you think your strengths and weaknesses lie?
Strength I definitely feel are in the lead and boulder. I won the 2017 Boulder Nationals (and was sick for 2018) and that felt awesome. There is some big room to improve by getting more familiar with the types of holds and movement that is specific to those comp boulders. Lead I definitely feel the most comfortable on. Leading outdoors is what I do every week at the cliff and getting my plastic eye in isn’t too hard. But I can always be fitter and having to clip every draw is tricky when I am so used to skipping them outside, haha!
Speed is my biggest area to improve for sure. Being that the route is the same every single time is a plus, but also makes for a very unique challenge. However, considering my first attempt on the speed route I did in 20 seconds, then after my first proper session on the route I shaved 5 seconds off that and did a 15 second lap. You don’t need to be a genius to work out I’ll only need another two sessions to be on that 5.48 second world record pace, haha! No, it’s actually quite hard to climb that route well. You need to know it so intimately and run on autopilot. There is no time to think. I didn’t think I was going to like training speed, but I am really enjoying it and always looking forward to my next session.
What is the selection process for Australian athletes to make it onto the Olympic team?
Combined Nationals (Lead, Speed and Boulder) will be at the end of the year. The top eight from this combined event will then go to the qualification event in March next year. The winner in the Male and Female category at this event will have the spot!
Are you guaranteed a place on the 2019 World Cup circuit?
Yes, I have a place in the lead team and am currently working out how we can afford to get to as many of the World Cups as possible. As well as the World Championships in Japan in August. It’s expensive and a big commitment coming from Down Under. I missed out on the bouldering team as I was sick for the 2019 qualification events.
What do you enjoy most about competing?
The challenge to make it all happen right there and then is very cool. Outdoors the route is there for you next shot, next day or next season. You can choose the day that you want to do it. You don’t get that at a comp. You need to show up, block out the noise and make it happen. That’s an exciting mountain to climb.
Do you have any superstitions when you are competing?
Not that I know of. I like eating some good food, perhaps listen to music to find a headspace away from the noise of the comp. Nothing set in stone though. I like to keep things pretty chilled out and easy.
What would it mean to you to be an Olympian?
If there was ever a childhood dream to realise, this is it. I think if I were to qualify I’d cry for a week straight. They’ll need to pump me full of IV fluid to keep my fluids up!
You’re raising money for your dream via a GoFundMe page, how does it work?
GoFundMe is a platform for people to donate a little money towards a cause. I set one up to try and help fund me getting to some of the World Cups and World Championships this year. The experience you get in these events is massive and something that you can’t fake.
I took a long time in deciding whether I would actually try for the Olympic spot as I wasn’t sure how we (Amanda and I) would afford it and how we can balance family life with it all. We are just normal people going to work, paying our mortgage and raising a daughter. Throwing in climbing and training at the level we both want to climb at is a huge impact on life already, let alone making a couple of international trips for World Cups happen. I just didn’t think we could afford to do it. It has been very humbling seeing people’s generosity and psych in helping out. I feel really, really grateful.
How are you going to use the money that you raise?
The money is going directly for paying for comp entry, flights and accommodation. At this stage I am trying to get to Europe in July for two World Cups, the World Championships event in Japan in August and the final two World Cups of the season in China and Japan in October. The expenses add up pretty quickly. I’m still working big weeks at work to pay the bills and keep everything afloat at home.
What’s the web address where people can donate?
Absolutely anything makes a big difference to us. And I am massively gratefully to everyone that has shown their support. I’ll be documenting my journey with it all on Instagram and my new YouTube page so people can stay up to date there if they are psyched to see how it all comes along.