Colin1: Colin Duffy in the Bouldering qualifiers of the Pan-American Championships in Los Angeles, feeling sick but pushing through. He still managed to top 2 out of 4 boulders. Photo: Luke Webster
Colin2: Duffy during the Bouldering finals at Pan-Ams, where he became the Combined Champion — a title that opened the door to the Olympics. Photo: Daniel Gajda
Colin3: Colin Duffy and Brooke Raboutou at Team ABC in Boulder, where Duffy’s teammates and coaches threw him a surprise party after the Pan-Am Championships. “He loves his teammates. They love him,” said Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou, Duffy’s head coach and Team ABC founder. Photo: Luke Webster
Even as climbing federations across the globe are canceling major climbing contests due to the coronavirus outbreak, the 2020 Olympic Games — at least for now — remain full steam ahead.
To this end, 16 year-old Colin Duffy, of Broomfield, has become the fourth and final American climber to earn a ticket to Tokyo. He did this by winning the Pan-American Championships, held in Los Angeles, which concluded March 1.
But victory didn’t come easily.
Prior to the qualification round Duffy fell ill with flu-like symptoms. The following morning he suffered through the speed event, then eked out two out of four tops in bouldering.
“That day was a little rough,” Duffy told me, understated. Only the top right competitors would move on to finals, and for Duffy it came down to Lead.
“I knew I’d be able to pull a high position no matter how I was feeling,” he said.
Confident yet compromised, he somehow blazed past the other competitors’ high points to become the only climber to top the lead wall. By finals, two days later, Duffy felt like himself again.
After placing fifth in Speed and second in Bouldering, it came down to Lead once again. Back in isolation, where competitors wait their turn to climb, a score sheet was posted.
“You do the math in your head, you kind of stress yourself out a little,” he said. “I knew I had to win the discipline, and that if I did I would most likely win the comp.”
He also knew that winning Lead was his ticket to Tokyo. Duffy was the last climber, and he could tell by the cheering crowd that American Sean Bailey had just topped the wall. He would not only have to finish the route, he would have to climb faster than Bailey in order to win.
“I just went into my space and reminded myself that I’m a good lead climber.”
As champions do, he adapted his climbing style to match the challenge. “I was still really focused and calm, taking each move by itself, but definitely pacing myself faster than I normally would,” he said.
Duffy dug deep, finished the route and logged the fastest time.
“The gym erupted at the collective realization that Duffy had just punched his Olympic ticket,” wrote John Burgman on climbing.com.
I spoke with Duffy’s head coach, Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou of Team ABC in Boulder, who flew to L.A. with her daughter and a fellow coach. She said, “Was I surprised? No. We all went because we knew this could be a very, very big weekend.”
Erbesfield-Raboutou has been coaching Duffy for eight years — nearly his entire climbing career.
“To have an athlete that’s as gifted as Colin, has that kind of grit, and is willing to look at his coaches and say, ‘Yes ma’am’… it’s unusual,” she said. “He made it easy for us to be great coaches with him.”
Brooke Raboutou, Erbesfield-Raboutou’s daughter, was the first American climber to earn a spot at the Olympics, which means Team ABC has produced half of climbing’s first Olympians!
“It’s really my team of coaches that has helped make these kids great,” she said. “And we’re only helping. They are doing 99 percent of the work and we’re facilitating it.”
As for Brooke Raboutou, she’s taking time off college in San Diego to train in Boulder. Her brother, Shawn, is a seasoned competitor, elite outdoor climber and CU student. He’s been coaching his sister since February 1.
“My heart has doubled in size with that alone,” said Erbesfield-Raboutou. “The fact that they have built this relationship is amazing.”
Duffy will continue training primarily at Team ABC, with some time in Salt Lake City with the coaches at USA Climbing.
“I’m super, super, super psyched,” he said. “It’s pretty surreal. I’m just honored to be able to compete at that level, and to experience the whole Olympic thing.”
We can only hope that, come July, the coronavirus outbreak will be over and that Duffy and Raboutou, along with Kyra Condie and Nathaniel Coleman, will be climbing’s very first Olympians in Tokyo.
Contact Chris Weidner at email@example.com. Follow him on Instagram @christopherweidner and Twitter @cweidner8.