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Top female rock climber wins gold, again and again

By Palden Nyima in Lhasa | China Daily | Updated: 2016-01-01 15:20

One of China's most accomplished athletes, a 26-year-old Tibetan woman with dozens of gold medals, is poised to elevate the nation's standing in a growing global sport: rock climbing.

Rinchen Lhamo, a leading member of the Tibet Mountaineering Team, won a double crown, in bouldering and overall difficulty, at this year's 23rd National Rock Climbing Championships.

A renowned destination for mountaineering, Tibet has only been developing a homegrown team capable of challenging the world's best rock climbers since 2006.

Born into a farming family in Tibet's eastern Nyingchi prefecture, Rinchen's selection as a member of Tibet's first rock climbing team changed her life.

"I have spent all my time and energy on climbing, and it has given me a strong body and a stable job," she said.

Rinchen was selected as a member of the China National Climbing Team in 2010, and two years later won second place at the 20th Asian Women's Rock Climbing Championship.

Top female rock climber wins gold, again and again

The following year, she won a double crown in women's bouldering and difficulty at the 21st Asian Rock Climbing Championship in Teheran, Iran, breaking records for Chinese women in speed and difficulty.

The number of gold medals she has won total almost 50, including 10 golds she tallied in 2014. This year alone, she won the championship in difficulty and second place in bouldering in the 2015 National Rock Climbing Club league, won the bouldering championship at the 2015 Adidas Rockstars and the championship at the Qinghai-Tibet High Plateau Rock Climbing World Cup.

Rinchen's hard-won skill belies her name, which translates as "precious fairy". Training is relentless and she has given up countless weekend and holidays to maintain her top form.

"I have called my family many times in the past and told them I wanted to quit climbing, because it is a hard work and there are no holidays, but I always stick it out," she said.

"Tibet has rich resources for climbing," she said. "I hope more people will participate in the outdoor sports, and let's make friends with nature together."

Rinchen's remarkable achievements and skill in rock climbing difficulty matches encourage Tibet's rock climbing elite, including Nyima Tsering, the deputy head of the Tibet Sports Bureau, a groundbreaking mountaineer and the founder of the Tibet Mountaineering School.

"Currently, China's speed climbing is always in the lead in the world, however in difficulty, there is still a huge gap between China and other countries," he said. "Despite all that, in physical advantages, such as endurance, Tibetan athletes have more inborn advantages."

Nyima, whose mountaineering school has trained several national level climbers, said it is possible that the Asian Games or the Olympic Games could add rock climbing, providing future opportunities for Tibet's rock climbing athletes.

For Rinchen, rock climbing already has provided rewards. Just a few years ago, her family's financial situation was difficult. But with a stable salary as a coach at the Tibet Sports Bureau, she is able to support her family, and conditions are improving.

"I have met so many difficulties and failures with climbing in my life, but I deserve great happiness at the same time, and I love it now," she said. "My family, friends, awards and applause have encouraged me to go on."

Sonam Gyatso, Rinchen's colleague, who is from the same hometown, also wishes he could spend more time with his family. As a competitor and coach for the Tibet Mountaineering Team, he has given all of his time and energy to the sport for more than 10 years. At 25, he said he regrets not spending enough time with his father, who died some years ago.

"It is painful whenever my dad appears in my mind, and I begin to think about whether what I have been doing is worthy," he said.

Despite those feelings, he said he has never given up, as he has a duty to train more climbers and to work for a stronger Tibet.

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