Shauna Coxsey insists her unexpected decision to retire after Tokyo 2020 will not stunt the rise of climbing’s profile as it makes its historic Olympic debut, writes Will Jennings.
Coxsey, 28, will blaze a trail in Japan as she becomes the first climber to represent Great Britain at an Olympic Games.
But she stunned her 423,000 Instagram followers last month by announcing this summer’s showpiece will be her last event as a competitive athlete.
Coxsey – who specialises in the bouldering discipline – has racked up a bulging haul of World Championship and World Cup medals but wants to focus on professional outdoor rock climbing away from the demands of competition.
She admits her hunger for glory is dwindling but believes her work away from the wall can continue to catapult the sport in the right direction.
Coxsey, who is joining forces with Team GB to get the nation active through a new grassroots initiative called ‘I Am Team GB’, said: “When it was announced that climbing was going to be part of the Games, it was at a time when I’d achieved everything I wanted to in the competitive world.
“I have no regrets at all about my decision to push towards the Games, but rock climbing has always been something that I’m passionate about.
“It feels like the right time – I’m not going to get a bigger event in my sport than a first Games to retire on.
“I’ll always be in climbing for the rest of my life. It’s definitely a lifetime sport and the fact that I can stay as a professional climber and be part of the sport’s progression is great.
“I definitely still see myself as part of the competitive world – I sit on our international federation’s executive board as an athlete representative and I plan to continue doing that. I’m very much absorbed in it.
“Retirement will give me a lot more time to be part of that positive progression and ensure athletes’ voices are heard.”
Climbing will incorporate the speed, lead and bouldering formats in Tokyo as Coxsey branches out from being a one-discipline athlete – bouldering – to navigating her way round three.
The sport is one of five making its Olympic debut and will see the athlete with the lowest combined score across the three formats capture glory in Japan.
Coxsey, whose new husband Ned Feehally is also a climber, has soared to a pair of gold, silver and bronze medals in World Cup events since 2012 and has been there and won it all.
She’s now hellbent on inspiring the next generation of talent and knows there’s no better way to do that than her sport being beamed into TV screens this summer.
Coxsey, who is backing Team GB and presenting partner Toyota’s I Am Team GB ‘Festival of Sport’ to inspire the nation off the back of the Games, added: “It’s still insane to be talking about climbing being at the Games because I never expected it to be there.
“It still feels totally surreal – it’s so monumental for our sport and such a privilege to be a small part of it.
“I started climbing after seeing it on the TV at the age of four – if one kid is inspired to get on the wall, I feel like my entire career has been worth it.
“To know that young people can look at this and be inspired to be a climber is incredibly magical.”
The I Am Team GB bonanza will take place on August 14 and 15 and harness the incredible stories of Team GB athletes in Tokyo to inspire Olympic-hooked Brits around the country.
The much-loved, mass participation event will feature free hero events in London, Sunderland and Hull and proud Coxsey, a Toyota ambassador, added: “Campaigns like this encourage people to get up and be active – which is so important to do around events like the Olympics.
“It’s amazing what Team GB and Toyota are doing.”
Visit IAmTeamGB.com today to get involved.