Ned Middlehurst has created history as the first Australian to secure a quota place in Sport Climbing for the Youth Olympic Games (YOG).
BUENOS AIRES 2018: Ned Middlehurst has created history as the first Australian to secure a quota place in Sport Climbing for the Youth Olympic Games (YOG).
16-year-old Middlehurst secured the regional quota place at the 2017 Oceania Youth Championships in Noumea, New Caledonia, last month after he topped the men's youth Lead and Boulder, and placed seventh in the speed climbing, to take out the Combined event gold.
"I'm excited obviously, but also pretty nervous," Middlehurst said about his individual YOG qualification.
"It's a big thing! To be competing amongst 20 of the best Youth A climbers in the world at the Youth Olympics will be pretty daunting."
Securing the one male quota for the Oceania region did not come easy in New Caledonia, as the Victorian was up against a number of strong Aussie teammates and New Zealand rivals.
Ned finished on a combined total point score of 9, just three points less than fellow Aussie Sam Lavender on 12 points and Kiwi Marceau Garnier on 13.5.
"I was a bit surprised to win the qualifying event at Oceania's. It was a strong field and a close competition," he said.
"The Combined event is a new format that was introduced this year. It pretty much means climbing 3 competitions in one day: Speed, Bolder and Lead qualification rounds, then finals of all 3 disciplines. It is a lot of climbing for one day, so to come out in 1st place was amazing."
New Zealand's Sarah Tetzlaff secured the female quota place for Oceania after topping the Combined event on 10 points just in front of Australia's Annabelle Cleary (18 points) in second and Lilly Magditsch (24 points) in third.
Sport Climbing was announced as an addition to the 2018 YOG programme in December 2016, and prior to that, representing Australia at an Olympic Games had never even crossed Middlehurst's mind.
"As it's the first time that Sport Climbing has been included at the Games it wasn't really on my radar," Middlehurst said, who was a recipient of a 2017 Pierre de Coubertin award, recognising high school students who display the Olympic ideals of fair play and sportsmanship.
"I've only been climbing for about 4 years and competing for 3. It's been a pretty crazy ride! I made the Australian Youth Team in 2016 and again this year. So to be able to compete at, let alone win, the qualifying event for the Youth Olympics was awesome."
Chairman of Sport Climbing Australia, Romain Thevenot, said Middlehurst's performance in Noumea reflects this hard work and dedication to the sport.
"We are delighted for Ned to have qualified for the YOG and this is really encouraging for the future of the sport," Thevenot said.
"Ned demonstrated outstanding performances in each of the three disciplines and this is the result of a consistent training, high level of motivation and ongoing positive attitude.
"His achievement demonstrates that the Australian climbing scene is internationally competitive and that more Australian athletes will be seen on the world stage."
Thevenot said Buenos Aires 2018 will be an important milestone on the journey to wearing the green and gold at Tokyo two years later.
"Sport Climbing Australia is working hard on taking the necessary steps to be ready for 2020 and the YOG will be an important step in the process.
"The Australian Olympic Committee has been really supportive of our organisation via offering us a coaching grant and an equipment grant, but also supporting our applications with the Olympic Solidarity programs."
Middlehurst agrees the addition on the Olympic programme is a huge step for his relatively small sport.
"It's great that Sport Climbing has been recognised as a sport in Australia, and to be included as an Olympic sport can only be a good thing," the 2017 Youth World Championships representative said.
"It will create awareness of climbing as a sport, particularly here in Australia where it is still quite unknown compared to other parts of the world. It may also mean more funding and support which is needed in order for athletes to be able to reach their full potential.
"To be a part of that progress is exciting and I'm proud to be representing Australia in my sport. It's pretty surreal though."
Middlehurst has been balancing the Year 12 VCE with national and international competition and training camps this year.
The Australian Team for Buenos Aires will be announced in the first half of 2018; In the meantime, Middlehurst will maintain his five training sessions a week and look to qualify for the World Youth Championships in August next year.
The Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games will be held 6-18 October 2018.