Alex Honnold and Adam Ondra, the two ways of understanding the climbing world

Climber Alex Honnold.

Adam Ondra and Alex Honnold are the two most famous climbers on the planet… for very different reasons. The first, Czech, has taken the level of difficulty of his discipline to unimaginable heights and lives to take the gold in the next Games in the premiere of climbing as an Olympic discipline. Honnold, an American, is the protagonist of the first climbing documentary (Free solo) to win an Oscar: he climbed in full solo (without any rope or protection) the almost 1,000 meters of El Capitan wall, in Yosemite Valley. At the urging of their sponsor, Black Diamond, the two have filmed a conversation in which they try to learn from each other, showing in passing the huge gap in change that escalation has seen in recent years.

Honnold is the standard bearer of tradition, respect for pioneers, a taste for adventure, open spaces and a love for large walls, while Ondra represents the search for technical and physical perfection, effort and work as a way. of life. One could pass for a hippie; the other for a man obsessed with effort. Much more hedonistic, although capable of doing things that no one else can, Honnold invests time and money in his foundation (honnoldfoundation.org) and has just presented with Black Diamond, a series of climbing products with his signature that defends sustainability and allocates a part of the profits from their sale to his own foundation, which tries to bring solar energy to the most disadvantaged places in the world. planet.

The first time Honnold and Ondra met in person was in Bratislava, in a climbing wall, and they were only supposed to come and greet the children there, but while Honnold signed autographs, Ondra trained like a madman, screaming and Falling down: he’s going to kill those kids any way he falls on them! Honnold thought. It was the day that the American understood why Ondra was capable of doing what he does: he enjoys giving 100% every time he takes off from the ground. “What gives me satisfaction is not climbing hard, but doing it efficiently,” corrects Ondra. Honnold, on the other hand, does not like “always climbing hard, in fact I almost always prefer to climb easy routes, but you seem to always give 100% while I stay at 75%. For me, giving 100% is always hard and painful. I wonder if climbing is what you do… ”.

All in all, Honnold was able to overcome a 9 a difficulty route last year, something reserved for a few and Ondra, the man who has taken the maximum difficulty up to 9 c, allows himself to conjecture with the possibility that it could improve. even much more. But Honnold is quick to dissuade him: “I am not strong by nature. I climbed a 9 to because I was in the middle of the Free solo promotion and had no expeditions or trips in sight, so I set a goal of climbing a 9 to route, but I don’t want my life to be that: I like to climb on the wall, riding a mountain bike, and the other seems to me very sacrificed. I also thought that by climbing 9a I was going to be much stronger, but it is not like that, I am not a better climber, at most in general terms I have improved half a degree… ”, he objects. Beside Ondra, Honnold looks like a bum. However, only the American knows how many hours of his life he has dedicated to learning to climb without a rope, to making this exercise a space in which only he seems to flow safely. The training of his mind, the learning that has led him to contain his fears, to overcome them and to embrace them is what makes him an iconic person in the world of climbing.

“How can you like to work so hard and stay motivated?” Asks Honnold. “Because –answers Ondra– the more I climb the more I learn. 9 b is more interesting than 9 a and 8 c more than 8 b. It’s not just about taking smaller grips, but about imagining new and complex movements, and that continues to fascinate me. Now for the Games I train my speed and coordination a lot, and this improves my chances in bulder (block climbing). I’ve only been focused on competing for the Games for two years. I love training, working hard, but in order not to go crazy, I do 3 or 4 weeks of training on the climbing wall and one or two on the rock ”, concedes the Czech.

Alex Honnold, the cover of National Geographic and the great American newspapers, interviewed by the big televisions of his country and world famous, continues to spend weeks staying in his van and this despite having recently married and residing in Las Vegas. He thanks the covid for a break in his life as a celebrity and, like Ondra, he only asks for respect to be able to continue with his routine. “Free only changed my life in terms of popularity. Going to the Oscars when you live in a van and seeing how everyone dressed was amazing, but more amazing was getting back to my van and seeing people waiting outside, or looking out the windows to see me at my house! ”Honnold explains .

Both in North America and in Europe, climbing in closed spaces, such as climbing walls, has become a fashionable activity, a substitute for the traditional gym in many cases: it is playful, fun, social … and has nothing to do with the essence of rock climbing, in the natural environment. Going from the climbing wall to sport climbing is more or less simple, but from there to climbing large walls there is an insurmountable pit for many, mainly because of the dangers it entails and the vast knowledge that must be applied in this type of adventure terrain. Thus, newcomers can see Ondra as a benchmark and Honnold as a Martian when the reality is that the pleasure of conquering great walls came decades before the pleasure of safely climbing the maximum difficulty that one is capable of developing.

“Gullich was my hero”, acknowledges Ondra, “and I think that young people who come to this world should know more about the history of our sport to be more respectful.” Honnold agrees: “I try not to lose certain values ​​of our climbing tradition.” In the United States, the feeling of being in a community has always been one of the strong points in the climbing world, something that inspired Honnold and that he intends to continue transmitting. Ondra believes that Honnold could expand his range of action to mountaineering (his brief forays into Patagonia have been impressive) but the North American clarifies: “I think I have fulfilled almost all my dreams as a climber and now I want to try things like mountain skiing. or mountain biking trips. Regarding mountaineering, I like to do it once or twice a year… to appreciate the climbing that I do master, like in Yosemite ”, the place where he grew up.

Do celebrities have an obligation to grant political opinions? Honnold wonders at the end of the conversation. Both consider that everyone can have opinions, but Honnold clarifies (perhaps in reference to the empire of falsehoods created by Trump) that when “you have a larger communication platform, like the one that a famous climber has, you have the obligation to say things that Don’t be false, tell the truth and talk about things that matter. I have my beliefs on issues such as climate change, and I can defend them with data, with facts, that is why I dare to defend certain causes ”. Maybe after the Games, Honnold will take Ondra back to his home turf to do what he loves the most: chain walls tied to a partner but climbing as fast as possible.

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