TOKYO – Weightlifters are among the most vocal athletes at the Olympics, letting out screams as they lock out at the top of a lift: “ahhhhhh!”
Tennis players have long been known to be grunters, usually with some form of “ha-uh!” or “ha-ooah!”
The loudest vocalizations of the Tokyo Games may come from the grounds in one of the Olympic program’s newest sports.
Adam Ondra is widely considered the best climber in the world and a gold medal favorite in sport climbing’s Olympic debut.
He’s also a bit of a yeller.
“It might sound bad, but it helps me,” Ondra said.
Some scientific studies say he may be right.
Whatever it is, it’s hard to argue with the results.
Ondra has become the rock star of rock climbing, a long-limbed, long-necked Czech who moves up sheer faces like a spider across a web.
The 28-year-old has tackled more of the world’s most difficult climbs than anyone, scaling routes with names like Silence, Change and Pure Imagination — ascensions that leave even above-average climbers standing on the ground shaking their heads no.
Ondra also is arguably the world’s best indoor climber, winning four world championships and finishing in the top three seven other times.
He may be the loudest, too.
There are other climbers known for their wall-echoing wails, like American Chris Sharma and German Olympian Alex Megos.
Ondra takes it to another octave, just as he does on the rock face.
His ascension of Silence 2017 is considered the hardest climb in the world, a 45-meter pitch curving up a wall in a Norwegian cave rated at 9c. Ondra originally dubbed the climb Project Hard before changing it to Silence.
He should have called it Loud.
A film crew was on hand to document the climb, following Ondra along as he pulled himself along by the fingertips, wedged into difficult positions, even hanging by one foot upside down. It also documented Ondra’s cries echoing off the cave walls, a series of screams, growls and grunts punctuated by a shrieking “uuuh-aaah!” after clipping into the final bolt.
As Ondra’s celebrity has risen with his climbs up rock walls, his audible exaltations have become part of popular culture, turned into ringtones, GIFs and mashups with songs. A compilation of his screams has been mixed with metal music and another person inserted his shrieks into Taylor Swift’s “ I Knew You Were Trouble.”
“If I’m focused on a certain move and I scream, I know I’m 100% breathing out,” he said.
Ondra is onto something in that aspect.
Tennis players have been grunting for years to add power and rhythm to their strokes. Screaming, shrieking and grunting has infiltrated other sports as athletes try to find any extra edge.
There’s some science behind it.
A 2014 study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science had 30 people squeeze a device three times and measured their grip strength as they vocalized, exhaled forcefully or breathed passively. It found compression power increased by 25% when they vocalized compared to 11% while just exhaling.
A second study in 2015 had 30 people jump forward as far as possible while exhaling forcefully and again while yelling. Those who yelled jumped about 5% farther.
Both studies, conducted at Drexel University, attributed the yell-induced power boosts to an increased response by the sympathetic nervous system, which governs the body’s fight or flight response.
“The shrieking comes when I’m at my absolute limit,” Ondra said.
Ondra was relatively quiet on the lead, speed and bouldering walls during qualifying Tuesday in Tokyo, his loudest vocalization coming after he tackled the first bouldering “problem” after multiple attempts.
Aomi Urban Sports Park, where sports climbing is being held, also isn’t conducive to spectators getting a chance to hear Ondra scream, thanks to nonstop music and chatter between two public address hype/announcers alternating in different languages.
That could change if things heat up during Thursday’s finals.
A gold medal on the line, Ondra could find himself in a tight spot on the wall, needing to muster up all his strength to contort his body while hanging from his fingertips.
Then it will come: “bah-bah-uhhhhhh-aaaaahhhhh!”
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