GB climbers take coronavirus risk for Tokyo Olympics bid

Thompson-Smith had a long injury lay-off after reconstructive surgery in 2017
Venue: Irina Viner-Usmanova Gymnastics Centre, Moscow Dates: 21-29 November
Coverage: Live on BBC Sport website & BBC iPlayer 25 November: 16:00-18:10 GMT; 28 November: 12:40-20:20 GMT

British climbers Molly Thompson-Smith and Will Bosi admit they are prepared to risk exposure to Covid-19 to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

The European Championships, in Moscow until 29 November, offer their last chance to qualify for the Games.

A number of athletes have pulled out of the event, concerned over health risks.

“It’s a risk and there are due to be spectators at the event, which makes me a bit uncomfortable,” Thompson-Smith told BBC Sport.

“It’s definitely going to be a strange one, but I’m motivated. It’s my job as an athlete to compete and I’m confident with the precautions GB Climbing have taken.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin stated the rising coronavirus mortality rate in the country was “alarming” after 456 deaths were recorded on Wednesday.

Although eligible to compete, no climbers who have already qualified for the Tokyo Games will be there, with world champion and gold medal favourite Janja Garnbret among those saying it would be “wrong” to attend given the current situation.

There have been widespread calls for the event to be cancelled, which would mean the final Olympic places would be decided by results prior to the pandemic.

That would deny Thompson-Smith and Bosi the chance to join Britain’s Shauna Coxsey in the sport’s Olympic debut next summer.

While looking to take advantage of the chance in Moscow, the pair are uncomfortable with the situation.

“With it being an Olympic qualifier, I want it to be fair, I want it to have equal opportunity and currently it’s not fair as there are many nations missing,” said England’s Thompson-Smith.

Bosi, who has spoken to some of his international rivals about the situation, said that “usually everyone is 100% psyched whereas with this competition they’re worried about things”.

The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC), the sport’s international governing body, says there will be significant “safety, prevention and risk management practices” in operation throughout the competition.

In addition to observing social distancing measures and regularly using hand sanitiser, GB climbers are taking most of their own food out to Russia and avoiding public transport.

Scottish climber Bosi said he was in “peak” condition for the original qualifier in March before coronavirus forced its postponement, adding that the gruelling schedule at the European Championships will be a “challenge”.

The event consists of four different competitions with individual events for each of the climbing disciplines – speed, bouldering and lead – as well as a separate combined event, which carries the sole Olympic place for women and men.

In order to qualify for the combined event, athletes must rank in the top 12 after scores from each of the individual events are totalled together for overall standings.

“I haven’t competed all year and now I’m uncertain to where I am physically, so I feel like I’m almost rolling a dice and anything could happen, but I’m so happy to have the opportunity,” Bosi told BBC Sport.

For Thompson-Smith, the delay to the Olympic qualification event, as well as the Tokyo Games, is a “huge positive” as she continues her return from a long-term injury.

“At the end of 2017 I needed reconstructive surgery on my hand,” she said.

“Qualifying would feel like a real ‘against all odds’ kind of victory as I’ve grown up watching the Olympics and it would be a dream to get there as a climber.”

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