Climbing is becoming more popular in Brazil, every year. Since 2014, we’re seeing it grow significantly, but most of the people here like to climb outdoors on the rocks, as competitions require lots of dedication and exhaustive training regimes.
We caught up with two of Brazil’s best professional climbers, Patricia Antunes and Jean Ouriques. They both compete at the highest level of the sport, but Jean is also Patricia’s coach and husband!
Not only is this dynamic duo highly talented and superb at their sport of choice, but they are leading the pack when it comes to the growth of the sport in Brazil! We chatted about climbing as a sport in Brazil, where it’s heading come the Olympics, who are their favourite climbers and more.
Scroll on down and see what they have been up to in the sports climbing world!
ZH: Tell me a bit about your own journeys as climbers? What got you into the sport? And how long have you been doing it for?
Patricia: I started climbing in 2009 with a friend, who introduced me to the Rokaz Gym, where I have trained since then. I always enjoyed sports, but it was only after rock climbing that I got so involved in a sport. Today, almost twelve years later, I consider it as my lifestyle and I, therefore, I have become a professional athlete. I’m a two-time Brazilian champion (Boulder and Lead) and eight-time champion in my state, Minas Gerais.
Jean: So, I started a little bit earlier than Pati. Back in 1996, my 2 brothers, my sister, my parents and I started all together, I was10 years old. Since this day, I have tried every kind of climbing possible around my city – traditional, sport, boulder, multi-pitch and naturally, competitions.
Climbing is my way of life and it is impossible to think about my future or past without this amazing sport. On this road, I became the only guy in Brazil to win all disciplines – boulder, lead, speed and combined. I’m proud of this, but I look to spend more time climbing on the rocks than training in the gym! Patricia: I definitely like bouldering and lead. They’re fun and push me hard! I can challenge myself to climb the hardest projects and compete.
Jean, you, of course, coach Patricia, how is it working with your wife in the sport that you love?
It’s kind of the dream, isn’t it, except it is my real life. I won’t lie, it’s not an easy position for me or her, but we work together and after putting some limits on our work/life balance we both have seen success, me as a coach and she as an athlete. The only real difficulty for me is watching her climbing in competitions, as I always get very nervous, arguably, more than any other person, I really want her to succeed after all.
What’s your favourite discipline, Bouldering, Lead or Speed? And, why?
Patricia: I definitely like bouldering and lead. They’re fun and push me hard! I can challenge myself to climb the hardest projects and compete. But since I tried the speed for the first time during our trip to Europe last year, where we competed at 4 World Cups and the World Championship in Innsbruck, I had to start training and I found it to be very fun, although I do not want to become a specialist as I prefer dedicating my training to lead and bouldering.
Jean: Bouldering and lead [climbing], they’re kind of the same sport. I start very slow and always transition between both of them, I like the complexities of climbing movements, the mental game involved and the road to that “send” feeling! Speed [Climbing] is fun, no doubt, but I prefer trying out new routes and boulders every day!
How long have people been climbing, in the modern sense of the sport, in Brazil?
Jean: Sport climbing started growing in Brazil in the 90s, but it’s only in the last 10 years that I feel it has really been treated as a sport and not just an enjoyable thing to do on nature.
How do you think the disciplines differ? What is required of boulderers that say lead climbers and/or speed climbers don’t need and vice versa?
Patricia: I always compare lead [climbing] to a marathon and bouldering as a 100-meter sprint. Both require strength and power in some sense, but each one has a particular amount of power. As for speed, well, I won’t dare to talk about it, I’ll leave it to Jean, who is a coach [laughs].
Jean: In modern competitions, every climber needs a little bit of training in all disciplines, in bouldering we need a lot of muscle speed and quick thinking, speed climbing can also help you with that. Lead climbers need to be more and more dynamic and make fast decisions, and training in bouldering can help you with that. For speed climbing you need to be fast, very fast, so you would be expected to go and train at an Olympic gymnastics centre which can probably help you more than a climbing gym.
In your opinion, how popular is climbing there? Is it growing?
Patricia: Climbing is becoming more popular in Brazil, every year. Since 2014, we’re seeing it grow quite significantly, but most of the people here like to climb outdoors on the rocks, as championships require lots of dedication and exhaustive training regimes. I recognise that it’s not for everyone, but most people climb for fun and relaxation and this is the best part!
Jean: It’s growing every year, and after the Olympics, traditional media will give more space to us to explain the sport to people. Jean: [I like] the focus and dedication of [Adam] Ondra, the flexibility, strength and style of [Alex] Megos and the speed and confidence of Tomoa [Narasaki ]. We have a lot of good climbers in the competitions, but these three are amazing.
What is the most popular climbing discipline in Brazil?
Patricia: I think is bouldering, I’m guessing. Climbing boulders is easier because you don’t have to bring lots of equipment and you can climb a lot, you don’t have to deal with the fear of heights and there’s the social part, as well, which is a big thing.
Jean: For sure it is lead or top-roping and one day it will be multi-pitch. Places like Rio De Janeiro have a lot of rock climbers and they easily go and climb a 6 pitch route in the middle of a normal day.
What are the facilities for climbers like in Brazil?
Patricia: We don’t have lots of gyms, but this is growing every year, definitely on a smaller scale than other countries though. As for the natural spots, we have planted routes for both disciplines. Near our city, Belo Horizonte, you can climb boulders or outdoor routes 1 or 2 hours away, at the maximum and also choose the kind of rocks you want to climb!
Jean: Climbing gyms in Brazil are like going back in time by 10 years and visiting a gym in Europe or the USA, but in the last 3 years, some gyms have started investing in modern holds and new gyms with modern walls are opening up too. However, holds are a major issue for our gyms, as they are expensive and don’t have any official distribution.
Are either of you aiming for qualification at the Olympics?
Patricia: Yes. Jean already has his place to compete for the Olympics spot in the Pan-American competition which will take place in Los Angeles, in February 2020. I’m still waiting for the Brazilian Association’s call regarding the same event, which will be on the 31st of October. Fingers crossed!
Who is your favourite pro-climber nowadays, and why?
Patricia: Janja Garnbret. She’s the strongest girl I’ve seen in my life. She’s very flexible and has amazing betas that work for her really well. She’s also so focused and has incredible willpower. I had the opportunity to watch her climbing live last year and I was even more impressed with her performance.
Jean: For me, it’s the focus and dedication of [Adam] Ondra, the flexibility, strength and style of [Alex] Megos and the speed and confidence of Tomoa [Narasaki]. We have a lot of good climbers in the competitions, but these 3 are amazing.
Patricia, You are doing some work regarding breast cancer, could you tell us a bit about that?
Yes. I personally have not had breast cancer, but since my mom’s family has had lots of cases, I’m very cautious about my own health and clinical exams. This year I found that my breast implant, which I have had for twelve years, had burst and started to spill out of the capsule, natural protection built by the organism, and I had to have an urgent surgery to change the implant.
It was a shock to me because last year it was completely normal and I didn’t expect. It didn’t hurt or anything, it was silent. I went to two doctors to check everything and they both didn’t find this because of the impact on the chest caused by the muscle strains of rock climbing.
However, all breast implants have a guarantee that they should be replaced before such situations.
I decided to bring this issue to the public to promote regular breast examinations for women to check their implants and be aware of the risks around breast cancer, which was also the reason I had the examination in the first place. I want to show women that self-care can help them against diseases and save their lives.
What would you both like to tell the young, aspiring climbers who want to compete professionally in the future? Particularly young girls, Patricia?
Patrícia: I know a few girls who are younger than me and want to compete. Every time I watch them climbing I feel really happy and kind of relieved that girls and women are starting to see the competitions as a good thing and not being afraid of giving their best or making mistakes and use their strength and power.
I would like to tell them that is an amazing career and like any job, if you dedicate yourself to it by giving your all, and train to be better and better, you may represent our country in the Olympics one day. After all, climbing is growing in Brazil and with that youngsters will improve and eventually it can reach the standard and level of other sports with the same sort of excellence and professionalism.
Jean: Firstly, you need to like climbing, enjoying every climbing discipline and style can help you a lot to overcome those days and times when you don’t have much motivation. Be patient, keep training, and if you don’t win or send today it’s okay because you will on another day. And remember, always have fun, because the best climber is the person that has the most fun!
Zushan Hashmi is a sports enthusiast who works in the policy space in Australia. He is an avid fan of climbing, football, cricket and all things sport. You can follow him on Twitter.
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