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Jacopo Stefani: Italian world-champion speed climber in a Russian world

Jacopo Stefani is a 15-year-old boy from Modena, a small city in Italy near Bologna. He goes to school just like other teenagers of the same age. The difference with Jacopo is that he just won gold in speed climbing at the IFSC Youth World Climbing Championships in Innsbruck and his time for the Youth B category (under 17s), 8.06 seconds. Jacopo talked to Arran Turner, one of the volunteers at the YWCH, about his experience at Innsbruck and what it is like to be a young professional speed climber.

When asked about the experience at Innsbruck, Jacopo said that the new climbing facilities in the Kletterzentrum were big and fantastic. We joked that it made us both want to be Austrian, to take advantage of training in what is arguably the best climbing centre in the world! The pioneering €12m climbing centre was completed in 2017 and boasts 500 routes and 200 bouldering routes, as well as competition walls, which means that the centre is perfect for both professional athletes and beginners.

8.06 seconds is an extremely short amount of time to scale a 15-metre wall, by anyone’s standards. It is intriguing to try and understand how athletes motivate themselves for such a short amount of time, just like how journalists are fascinated by top sprinters’ confessions that they eat chicken nuggets before beating world records. Jacopo said that he had absolutely nothing going through his head. In fact, he stated,  ‘there is not time and no space for anything else.’ The only time he feels that he thinks is if he slips, after which he wills himself to restart and keep going. Otherwise, it’s just intense concentration. 


As a matter of fact, that’s what Jacopo thinks it takes to be a good speed climber (apart from being extremely fast, of course); the ability to focus for a short but intense amount of time. He also told Austria Climbing that it was important for a speed climber to enjoy the training aspect. Whereas lead and bouldering climbers spend most of their time on the climbing wall, there is a lot of athletic training going on behind the scenes for this discipline, such as weight lifting, which Jacopo said that he enjoys thoroughly. He enjoys speed climbing and the training so much, actually, that he said that he doesn’t want to train in lead or bouldering because of his passion for speed climbing.


Then, we discussed the fact that Russian climbers often dominate this particular discipline, a notion that was confirmed during the Youth World Climbing Championships in Austria this September. Out of 18 podium spots in the male and female Youth A, Youth B and Junior categories this year, 11 went to Russian athletes, and a few went on to compete in speed climbing in the combined Olympic format. This might be explained by the fact that speed climbing has always been a respected discipline in Russia, which is not the case in many other nations in the world. Videos of the Russian’s pre-YWCH training show several IFSC competition walls and intense training sessions set to thumping music. Jacopo was the only Italian, and one of the only athletes from the European Union, to make podium, let alone take gold in speed climbing. He said that this was a ‘great honour’ for him and that he felt very proud.


For now, life returns to normal for Jacopo (well, as normal as it can be for a young world-champion). He is starting back at school before long and will be hitting the local climbing wall in Bologna before long. He told Austria Climbing that the news has really sunk in, now that he has returned home to his family and that everyone there has been congratulating him. He was even invited to the mayor’s office for formal congratulations and to talk about his achievements. The next big event on the horizon, almost as if by fate, is the European Youth Championships, which take place in Russia at the end of September. There, he will take on the kings of the discipline on their home turf.


It cannot be ignored that many climbing enthusiasts undervalue speed climbing, as it is not considered to be as technically or strategically challenging as the lead and bouldering disciplines. However, like it or lump it, because of the Olympic format and the official inclusion of climbing to the Olympic Games additional event programme in 2020, speed climbing is here to stay. Therefore, it would be wise to keep an eye on young and talented speed climbers and it will also be interesting to see if interest surges in this climbing discipline that is currently somewhat underappreciated in the European Union and the West in light of these changes.

Arran Turner

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