Toby Roberts’ six-year plan to make it to an Olympic Games started when he was 12 and he has carried it out almost to the letter.
The 18-year-old is set to become the first-ever British male climber to compete on the Olympic stage in Paris next summer after winning October’s European Qualifier in Laval.
It marks the culmination of an expertly executed journey for the youngster, who would be taken on six-hour drives to Malham in Yorkshire from their home in Elstead, Surrey, during his formative years by his dad and coach, Tristan.
The youngster’s path to punching his Paris ticket has not been straightforward but having cleared every hurdle, he can now start visualising life on the biggest stage.
“It starts as a dream but as you progress, it becomes a reality,” said Roberts, who is one of over 1,000 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing them to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering medical support – vital for the pathway to Paris 2024.
“It was announced that climbing would be included in the 2020 Olympics when I was around 12 years old. That’s when me and my family decided that I was going to give everything I could to try and qualify for Paris 2024.
“We created a six-year plan and there’s been milestones that I’ve had to hit to get to where I am now.
“I had to get on the GB team by a certain age so I could compete in the European and the World Championships so I could have a bit of experience to go to this qualifying event.
“There wasn’t a huge amount of breathing space – if I missed one of the milestones, someone else might have taken up the opportunity. For my dream to come true is incredible and feels so surreal.”
Roberts narrowly missed out on sealing an Olympic spot at the Climbing World Championships earlier in the year, placing fifth in Bern. But he learned his lessons in Laval and soared from fourth to top of the table with a flawless final climb in the lead stage.
“As I got into the later stages at the World Championships, I let the pressure get to me,” he said. “In the last climb, where I lost my opportunity to get an Olympic ticket, I was so nervous.
“In Laval, I told myself to relax and just enjoy the competition. I know my best results come when I’m completely relaxed and I’m not thinking about anything else but the climb in front of me. There was a huge emotional release after that final climb that made everything worth it.”
Paris 2024 will mark the first Olympics at which boulder and lead will star in a combined format, while speed climbing will sit as a separate discipline.
It is welcome news for Roberts as he follows in the footsteps of Shauna Coxsey, who made history in Tokyo as Britain’s first climber to compete at an Olympic Games – where all three disciplines were combined.
“Climbing on a lead route in front of a big crowd, slowly building up and then hearing huge cheers is something which I really thrive off,” he said. “Pulling out some wild moves for bouldering in front of the crowds, I just love it. I don’t really get that from speed climbing.
“Some of the bouldering moves are so complex, there are so many different aspects to it and your body is doing so many different things you’ve got to focus on.
“You can feel it on the wall when you’re not really thinking, you’re just doing it. That’s a mindset that you really need to lean into in boulder and lead.”
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