SINGAPORE - When 2011 SEA Games bronze medallists Janice Ng and Zhang Bin Bin first picked up sport climbing back when they were in Secondary 1, there were only a handful of participants in local competitions.
Much has changed since. The National Schools Sport Climbing Championship, held at The Cliff@Snow City over the past two weekends, saw a record 312 participants from 26 schools.
This was on top of the National Primary Schools Sport Climbing Championship held from April 1-3, which attracted 364 contestants from 26 schools.
"Nowadays, competition has increased, especially in the bouldering (category) which is more popular," said 19-year-old Bin Bin, who came in second in the speed competition, and fourth in the lead one, in the varsity division.
Janice, 20, was champion in both categories.
The growing level of participation is happy news for Singapore Mountaineering Federation secretary Rasip Isnin, who hopes to get the sport recognised by the Singapore School Sports Council.
He noted that once sport climbing is recognised, schools will likely be more inclined to take it up as a co-curricular activity.
The federation first attempted to get the sport recognised by the council in 2009, when there were 380 participants from around 30 schools, but was told it did not meet the requirements.
Now, with 676 climbers from 52 schools, plans are under way to discuss the issue with the council again.
Steps have been taken to make the activity more appealing to the schools. For example, it is recognised by Sports Singapore under its Sports Education Programme, which allows schools to claim subsidies for climbing programmes.
There are also Singapore National Climbing Standards to provide safety guidelines while potential coaches are assessed by three instructors before they can obtain their licences.
Some schools are doing more to take the sport to loftier heights.
Outram Secondary School, for example, has organised the Climax@Outram competition for the past 13 years.
"We do work to promote sport climbing and we also conduct clinics for primary and special-needs schools," said Outram teacher-in-charge Ong Kok Heng.
With sports climbing gaining popularity, Rasip expects bigger achievements in the future.
"We have good talent and potential as seen in the 2011 SEA Games where we won one silver and six bronzes. In the future, we aim to have one or two climbers within the top 10 climbers in the World Cup Climbing Circuit," he said.
This article was published on April 20 in The Straits Times.
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