Soaring High: Indonesian Speed Climbers Race for Rare Olympic Gold

Indonesian climbing athlete Nurul Iqamah takes part in a training session in Bekasi, West Java. BAY ISMOYO / AFP
Indonesian climbing athlete Nurul Iqamah takes part in a training session in Bekasi, West Java. BAY ISMOYO / AFP
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Soaring High: Indonesian Speed Climbers Race for Rare Olympic Gold

Indonesian climbing athlete Nurul Iqamah takes part in a training session in Bekasi, West Java. BAY ISMOYO / AFP
Indonesian climbing athlete Nurul Iqamah takes part in a training session in Bekasi, West Java. BAY ISMOYO / AFP

Indonesian speed climber Desak Made Rita Kusuma Dewi checks her harness, her brow dripping with sweat and her breaths labored, gripping the hold and swinging her body upwards to scale a wall in mere seconds.
The 23-year-old is training for next month's Paris Olympics, where she hopes to add to Indonesia's meager tally of gold medals -- the country has only ever won eight, all in badminton, AFP said.
But in recent years the Southeast Asian archipelago has gained recognition as an unlikely force in speed climbing, smashing records and nabbing multiple medals at top international events.
Climbing -- combining three forms of the sport -- was first included at the Olympics in Tokyo in 2021. Paris 2024 will see speed climbing become a separate event for the first time.
Competitors scramble up a standardized 15-meter (50-foot) vertical route and the one who reaches the top in the fastest time, typically just a few seconds, wins.
"As it gets closer, I don't want to think about anything else," Desak, one of two Indonesian speed climbers to have so far qualified for Paris, told AFP after a training session at the national team's facility outside the capital Jakarta.
"I just focus on the Olympics."
Indonesian climbers have excelled in the speed format because their typically slight stature gives them speed and agility. Pure dedication and teamwork is also behind the success.
"If we keep bemoaning about our lack of height, we will never be able to compete," national wall-climbing coach Hendra Basir told AFP.
"So we focus on our advantage as small people. We have been blessed with agility."
Long process
Desak has been climbing since childhood and now has a chance to make her Olympic dream come true after winning gold in the women's speed event at a world championship in Switzerland last year.
Joining Desak in going for gold in the French capital will be Rahmad Adi Mulyono, 23, after he won a qualifier against another Indonesian to advance.
"At first of course I felt a burden, but as time goes by I have a nothing-to-lose attitude," he told AFP.

Both decided to focus on speed climbing instead of lead and boulder, the two other climbing disciplines featured in Tokyo.
"I am optimistic. What I first need to do is upgrade myself, focus, and shorten the time (to the top) every time I train," said Rahmad.
Hendra said the athletes had spent years training to make sure Indonesia, which has not generally excelled in global sport, has a chance of achieving Olympic gold.
"We have gone through a very long process from 2019, starting from qualification for the Tokyo Olympics, and not to mention the (pandemic) break," said the coach.
'Sliver of hope'
While speed climbing remains firmly behind football and badminton in terms of sporting attention at home, its popularity is growing.
But the local sports industry remains underdeveloped for speed climbing and other climbing disciplines, leaving athletes with often greater walls to climb.
"God willing there's a sliver of hope that the Indonesian team can compete to win gold medals at the Olympics, but indeed, the process to reach this point was incredibly hard," said Hendra.
There is optimism though that the promise shown in speed will translate to the walls of Paris.
Former world record holder Veddriq Leonardo could still qualify for the Games if he finishes well at a tournament in Hungary later this month.
"Of course we are hoping that speed climbing, as a debut sport at the Olympics, can give a surprise achievement," Indonesia's National Olympic Committee chairman Raja Sapta Oktohari told AFP.
"We have a world champion in this sport. I hope in the 2024 Paris Olympics, Indonesian athletes can score an achievement and a new history," he added, referring to Desak.
But the competition will be tough. Veddriq's world record of 4.90 seconds was beaten twice in April by the American Samuel Watson and is now 4.798 seconds.
Regardless of the pressure and weight of expectation, Desak is primed to give her all.
"I hope my dream to hear Indonesia Raya (national anthem) reverberate at the Olympics will come true," she said.
"My dream is to win a gold medal."



Buoyant Hamilton Seeking to Keep Momentum and More Records

Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton celebrates on the podium after winning the Formula One British Grand Prix at the Silverstone motor racing circuit in Silverstone, central England, on July 7, 2024. (Photo by BENJAMIN CREMEL / AFP)
Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton celebrates on the podium after winning the Formula One British Grand Prix at the Silverstone motor racing circuit in Silverstone, central England, on July 7, 2024. (Photo by BENJAMIN CREMEL / AFP)
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Buoyant Hamilton Seeking to Keep Momentum and More Records

Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton celebrates on the podium after winning the Formula One British Grand Prix at the Silverstone motor racing circuit in Silverstone, central England, on July 7, 2024. (Photo by BENJAMIN CREMEL / AFP)
Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton celebrates on the podium after winning the Formula One British Grand Prix at the Silverstone motor racing circuit in Silverstone, central England, on July 7, 2024. (Photo by BENJAMIN CREMEL / AFP)

A buoyant Lewis Hamilton heads into this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix on the crest of a wave, seeking a record-increasing ninth Hungaroring victory and Mercedes' third consecutive win of the season.
After two years of struggles, Hamilton ended his long winless run at the British Grand Prix with a record ninth home triumph at Silverstone and hopes to repeat that feat in forecast intense heat at the track where last year he secured his most recent pole position, AFP said.
Following his emotional success in front of an adoring crowd in the English rain, Hamilton said he felt excited at the prospect of returning to a track where he has scored several memorable victories in his career.
"I love Hungary," he said. "And so I am definitely looking forward to going there. The trajectory we're now on and the fact that the car is starting to really, really come alive and feel great. I can't wait."
The 39-year-old seven-time world champion won at the Hungaroring -- a tight, twisty and often dusty circuit 22 kilometers north of Budapest -- in his debut season for McLaren in 2007 and again in 2009 and 2012.
After switching to Mercedes, he continued to relish the unique challenge of a track often described as 'Monaco without the walls' and won again in 2013, 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020.
If he secures a podium finish this Sunday, it will be the 200th of his career, a pole position would be a record-extending 10th, landmark achievements that set him apart as he bids to add to team-mate George Russell's victory in Austria and his own in Britain.
He and Russell know, however, that they will not be favorites despite their recent successes as defending three-time champion Max Verstappen of Red Bull bids to complete a hat-trick of Hungarian wins after triumphs in 2022 and last year.
"Last year was brilliant," said Verstappen. "I have good memories of racing here and last year achieved our 12th win in a row. So, hopefully, we can have a great race again."
Midway point
The Dutchman leads the title race by 84 points ahead of nearest rival and friend Lando Norris of McLaren as the season crosses the midway point after 12 of the scheduled 24 races.
Team boss Christian Horner expects a close scrap.
"It's going to be interesting to see how we perform there," he said.
"It could be very hot and I think it will be the usual people who are quick at the moment and it will be very, very close again."
That suggests Horner considers Red Bull will be fighting with McLaren and Mercedes on recent evidence, but with Ferrari likely to return to form on a tighter circuit –- not unlike Monaco where Charles Leclerc gained an emotional home win in May.
With the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps following immediately, within a week, the double-header offers an opportunity for teams to make a telling impact before Formula One takes its annual 'summer shutdown' during August.
This will translate as more pressure for struggling Sergio Perez of Red Bull who is hoping to escape a nightmare run having scored only 15 points in his last six outings since agreeing a new contract.
Ferrari are also in need of a solid result from Leclerc but have struggled with a recent upgrade package that failed.
"When you're at the sharp end, it's all marginal gains," said Horner. "Mercedes were very quick at Silverstone, took pole and the front row and then executed a good race... at least Lewis did."
His Mercedes counterpart Toto Wolff admitted: "We have momentum and gained headline results in Austria and at Silverstone, but we don't yet have a car to challenge for victories every weekend.
"The Hungaroring is very different in character to the last two circuits. We will focus on doing the best we can and hope to maintain our trajectory."