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At just 17 years old, Chaehyun Seo is the youngest female to have qualified for the Olympics. Despite her lack of experience, her eventual Tokyo qualification was as predictable (and, as it would turn out, as drawn out) as the line outside of an airport Starbucks. Unlike that of other athletes, her pathway to qualification was non-linear.
Leading up the Hachioji World Championships, in Seo’s first season on the Lead World Cup circuit, she won two out of three Lead World Cups and placed second at the third (she’d go on to win the overall season as well).
She then placed 13th in Hachioji; a few spots out of the invitee window. She wasn’t, however, invited to the Toulouse Olympic Qualifier because she didn’t participate in Bouldering World Cups that season: her last chance to qualify would be the Asian Continental Championships. Then there was the pandemic. At some point, it was announced that she was awarded the Olympic ticket because the Asian qualifiers were canceled and her ranking in Hachioji put her in first among the eligible participants. Then the games were postponed, the Asian Championships were back on, and her invitation revoked. After the Asian Championships were again canceled, Seo officially had her invitation.
If you’ve followed Seo outdoors, her competition lead performance shouldn’t come at a surprise; at 14, she sent Bad Girls Club, a 5.14d, in the Wicked Cave, Rifle, Colorado. It took her approximately 20 attempts over a mere 2-week period.
Seo started young: both of her parents climb and her father owns a gym in southern Seoul. She trains at his gym after school. During the summer, they traveled the world, going not only to Rifle, but destinations like Kalymnos and the Red. She hopes to get back to traveling after Tokyo.
“For now, I just want to climb natural rocks all around the world,” she told olympics.com. “There are specific rocks with certain difficulties which I have aimed to climb. But yes, [I want to travel] around the world to climb rocks.”
Although Seo’s bouldering and speed skills remain to be seen, given her immediate success in lead, she will certainly be an athlete to watch in Tokyo.
“I want to win gold at the Olympics and become an all-round climber in all three disciplines,” she said.