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Minister's climb — and $1M contribution — impresses Olympic hopefuls

Sports Minister Lana Popham was at Boulders Climbing Gym to announce the contribution, and took the opportunity to try to scale the 15-metre climbing wall
Lana Popham, minister of tourism, arts, culture and sports, scales the climbing wall at Boulders Climbing Gym. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Climbers Ethan Pitcher and Michael Finn-Henry are striving for a date with destiny on a wall at the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics.

Even they, however, were impressed Wednesday when Lana Popham climbed three quarters of the way up the 15-metre Boulders Gym climbing wall in Central Saanich.

The B.C. minister of tourism, arts, culture and sports, a former ski racer, was there to announce a $1-million B.C. government grant to upgrade the facility, which is home to everyone from recreational climbers to Canadian national team members.

“That was impressive,” Canadian speed-climbing record-holder Finn-Henry said of Popham’s climb.

What was more impressive was the $1 million contribution, which Finn-Henry — who is also a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering at Harvard — says will help athletes like him in the future.

The provincial money will allow Boulders to update the older part of the climbing gym, which opened in 1993 and was last upgraded in 2005. Modern facilities have more dynamic angles and terrain.

Finn-Henry said he moved to the capital region a year ago in hopes of making the Paris Olympics, and Boulders Gym has been a significant part of his journey. “These improvements will help the athletes who train here compete against the very best in the world.”

Kimanda Jarzebiak, chair of Boulders Climbing Gym, and the former manager of the Canadian team, said climbing has grown significantly since it became an Olympic sport.

“But our facility does not meet the test of the modern sport and is not able to host international events like in the past,” said Jarzebiak, who provided the colour commentary for CBC when climbing made its Olympic debut at Tokyo.

Popham said the gym upgrade will put the area on the map for international competitions, and attract international athletes and events, which draws visitors.

As part of the announcement, Pitcher put on a demonstration for the media and was up the wall in 5.43 seconds — better than the 5.59-second national speed-climbing record held by Canadian teammate Finn-Henry.

It didn’t officially count, however, because it was recorded out of competition.

“I break the record every day in practice but this is a high-stress sport and it’s hard to do that in competition,” said Pitcher.

He said he will be happy to have the coming improvements. “This facility is a necessity and I couldn’t live without it,” Pitcher said. “It’s a staple of my life. We have a real chance for Paris and are excited about that. But it’s a lot of work every day.”

Also appreciative of the grant were Stelly’s Secondary climbing team athletes Tatiana Salem, Ryan Clayton and Carter Waterhouse.

“We are crazy humans who love to climb walls,” said Salem. “There is a real sense of belonging and support and acceptance of all talent levels in this sport.”

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