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Aleksei Rubtsov Proves That You Don’t Have To Start Young To Be The Best

This qualified Olympian won the 2009 Bouldering World Championships—just four years after taking up the sport at 17. Last year, despite an injury in 2019, he proved he still one of the best.

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From Moscow, Russia, Aleksei Rubtsov qualified for the Tokyo Olympics at the 2020 European Championships last November. Rubtsov, 32, started climbing at 17. 

“It is too late to start playing sports, and I still cannot understand how I managed to become a professional athlete,” he wrote Gym Climber

Photo by Dimitris Tosidis/IFSC.

Rubtsov’s career was meteoric, to say the least. Three years after taking up the sport, he entered into his first International competition. The next year, in 2009, he won the Bouldering World Championships in Qinghai, China. He went on to win a Bouldering World Cup in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

“I immediately fell in love with rock climbing and could not see further my life without it. Now I have been training for almost 16 years and have no plans to quit,” he wrote.

Following the announcement of climbing’s Olympic debut, Rubtsov set his sights on qualifying. But in late May 2019, at Triglav The Rock, a bouldering competition in Slovenia, Rubtsov tore his biceps tendon. Surgery quickly followed. He wrote: 

“It was a very difficult moment, since the previous two years I was preparing for one event – the qualifying tournament for the Olympic Games. Because of the operation, I had to miss the main start – the World Championship in Japan. In Toulouse, I was still in the rehabilitation phase, and at the start of the competition, not a full six months had passed after the operation, and I just started to get back in shape. As a result, I did not manage to perform well.

“But I do not like to leave things incomplete, and I spent too much time on the selection for the Olympic Games to give up this idea. I decided to continue to prepare, and by the European Championships I was already able to reach a good enough level to be able to compete for my ticket to the Games.” 

Rubtsov won the European Championships, beating out several other former World cup winners, to secure his ticket. He celebrated by going on a surfing vacation. “I always do this at the end of the season after difficult starts,” he wrote. 

Despite starting at a comparatively late age, and then undergoing surgery, Rubtsov continues to be one of the world’s top climbers. “I think it’s not to rush and work mainly for the long-term,” he wrote of what he’s learned through his years of competing. “Develop a lot of skills rather than putting all the emphasis on strength. Life is long, the main thing is to maintain health and self-confidence, then everything will work out.”

Dimitris Tosidis/IFSC