Janja Garnbret, Olympic gold medalist, warns: athletic anorexia is one of the dangers of climbing | The Mountaineer | Sports

In his book, The Chinese Maharaja (Unevenness, 2015), the immense mountaineer Voytek Kurtyka confessed a frequent dichotomy in the world of climbing: would he climb better, harder, more difficult if he managed to lose as much weight as possible or would it be better to keep his weight habitual but gain strength until you reach the desired goal? Kurtyka did not compete in climbing and would never have imagined that this discipline would become Olympic. Now, many of the adolescents who compete in climbing, whether in the rope or boulder mode, ask themselves, of course, the same question that the Polish mountaineer did. And they don’t always get the answer right.

Eating disorders in the vertical world seem out of control according to the latest events that have become known within the International Federation of Climbing (IFSC), facts that the very Slovenian Janja Garnbret, the first female Olympic gold medalist in history, has pointed out without mediocrities. “Do we want to breed a new generation of skeletons? Let’s not look the other way ”, she asked a few days ago in an appeal through her social networks. Slender but extremely strong, Garnbret is an almost unrivaled legend in elite climbing; It is exhausting to list her world titles, European titles or her victories in the World Cup of difficulty. The line between thinness commensurate with sporting excellence and chronic fatigue is not always easy to draw.

Janja Garnbret during an event at the World Climbing Championships held in Bern on Saturday.
Janja Garnbret during an event at the World Climbing Championships held in Bern on Saturday.ANTHONY ANEX (EFE)

Garnbret’s proclamation comes just at the start of the World Cups that are held between August 1 and 12 in the Swiss town of Bern, almost four weeks after the unexpected resignation of the president of the IFSC medical commission. , the Austrian Eugen Burstcher, and another member of it, the German Volker Schoeffl. Both pointed out the inaction of the international federation in the face of cases of extreme thinness of the competitors, a reality that has occupied the medical establishments for years. What was previously known as athletic anorexia has been renamed RED-S syndrome, a pathology translated as “relative energy deficiency syndrome in sport”. That is to say: eating less than what is spent, an imbalance that generates a serious physiological and also mental condition. According to the medical specialists who deal with this problem, RED-S causes numerous alterations that affect metabolism, dental, bone and cardiovascular health, menstrual function… and, finally, psychiatric disorders.

Many competitive climbers visit a psychologist from a very young age to resolve frustration and eating problems. In his resignation letter, Burstcher, a member of the IFSC’s medical commission since its founding in 2009, denounced the current policy as “unacceptable with regard to RED-S.” And he added: “We have been working on the subject for ten years and consequently we have the most in-depth data on it. We have pointed out the problem as well as possible solutions to the sports director and the board on an ongoing and repeated basis. In return we have only deserved defamation and discouragement. The IFSC may not be willing to take further action regarding this important health issue for its athletes and is deliberately delaying any decision that may lead to necessary action.”

Janja Garnbret has not beaten around the bush either: “Brittle hair, dull expressions, faces that try to show that they are fine, but are they really?”, read the introduction of her appeal on social networks. And she continues: “Eating less is not something to be proud of or something representative of success. Being light does not mean being strong. I can’t even count the times I’ve heard someone say they hated her body or wanted to be skinnier. It breaks my heart to hear girls say that if they lost a few pounds they could be as strong as the girl next door. It hurts to see so many examples in the climbing community (…) I encourage coaches to hire dieticians or other professionals to talk about nutrition to their athletes and even educate coaches about eating disorders. The RED-S evaluations should be mandatory for all participants in the World Cup and the European Cup ”, she sentences. But with the Paris Games just around the corner, the second event of its kind in the history of climbing, something seems to stop the drastic intervention of the IFSC.

The Slovenian champion calls for sanctions for those competitors who do not reach the thresholds established by doctors, and suggests that external bodies judge these shortcomings since “national federations can err on the side of being too close to see the truth or too dependent on success of an athlete to make the necessary decisions”. Garnbret also asks that malnutrition in her sport be treated urgently, that no one look the other way.

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