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Joshua Bruyns with his Olympic ticket at the continental champs at Loftus, Pretoria in December 2023. Picture: GOODBETA.CO.ZA
Joshua Bruyns with his Olympic ticket  at the continental champs at Loftus, Pretoria in December 2023. Picture: GOODBETA.CO.ZA

Most sporting pundits would guess at sprinter Akani Simbine’s 100m sprint being Team SA’s quickest event at the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris.

Not so! While Simbine can be expected to complete his track event in about 9 sec, there’s an SA athlete whose event will be done and chalk-dusted in about 5 sec!

That’s Joshua Bruyns, the young England-based speed climber targeting a podium place in Paris for SA.

Bruyns turns 21 on August 1, five days before the qualifying stage of the speed climbing, so what better way than to celebrate such a milestone birthday with a belated podium place.

Bruyns was born in Twickenham, but his family roots are in Africa, in KwaZulu-Natal’s Pietermaritzburg area, including a community aptly called Bruyns Hill.

“Most of my family are still back there, and I still spend a lot of time in SA,” says Bruyns who sports a combined English/SA accent. His girlfriend Madison is South African, and attends the same university as him.

An “adventurous” child by nature, he got into climbing at the age of 10 at the Craggy Island Centre in Guildford, London.

“I used to play cricket, rugby and soccer but by the time I was 13 it was only climbing for me,” says Bruyns.

Now he’s the SA champion, record-holder and most importantly, the African continental champion, a title he claimed in Pretoria late in 2023 and which secured his place in Paris.

“That was my proudest moment,” he says. “And ever since it was announced in 2015 that climbing would be part of the Olympics it’s been my dream, even though I thought it was impossible at the time.”

Now studying for an economics and foreign languages degree at Warwick University in England, Bruyns does most of his practising on the university’s wall and then competes around the world.

So what exactly will he be up to in Paris?

“There’ll be 14 male speed climbers in Paris. We have to scale [actually, we call it running] a 15m high wall in as quick a time as possible. Fastest to the top is the winner.

Joshua Bruyns struts his stuff at a World Cup event in Salt Lake City, US. Picture: @xsloba
Joshua Bruyns struts his stuff at a World Cup event in Salt Lake City, US. Picture: @xsloba

“The actual wall is a standard feature, it’s the same anywhere in the world, so it’s very muscle-memory orientated.”

Bruyns trains five days a week, four hours a day, including warming up. “I have to prioritise rest and recovery as it takes an awful toll on your body and skin [yes, skin, but more on that later].”

Let’s put it into perspective and shed some light [and skin] on the sheer scale of his efforts.

“I look to run the wall 20 times each training session,” says Bruyns. “One day I sat down and worked it out and the number of metres I’ll gain after six weeks of training is the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest.”

When it comes to speed, Bruyns’ fastest wall ascent is 5.38 sec. “I want to try and get it down to 5.2 or 5.1 sec by Paris. Some guys in the line-up will run it in just under 5 sec.”

The 14 men who climbed their way to Paris were decided as follows: the top two from 2023’s world championships, all five continental champions, which leaves seven spots still being fought out over two stages in Shanghai, China and Budapest Hungary.

“At the games we all get two practice runs. Then there are two qualification runs on August 6. Those times decide a seeding list, and it’s head-to-head with seven winners emerging and one lucky loser [fastest time]. Then you have the eight finalists on August 8 where it’s pure knock-out.”

Man to beat right now is Team Samuel Watson of the US. “He’s the world record-holder with a best of 4.79 sec currently ... he’s in a league of his own right now and pretty untouchable. But a lot of other countries have some superb climbers, from the East [Indonesia, China and Japan] and then in Europe [Italy, France, Austria and Germany]”.

Bruyns is a powerhouse package, standing 1.77m tall and weighing in at 70kg. “That sounds pretty slight but actually I’m on the bigger side when it comes to speed climbing. Most of the top guys from the East are shorter and leaner although we’ve had guys in excess of 1.82m doing well.”

His plans for Paris? “I’m going there to try and medal — for sure. It’s super challenging but in speed climbing it’s anyone’s game. The margin for error is so, so tiny.

“The trick is consistency and the mental strength too. So I plan to be at my most consistent and mentally strong at 100% of the time and hopefully everything will come together.”

Back to the toll that training takes on his body and it soon becomes clear that this man would be a manicurist’s dream — or nightmare!

“There’s no doubt that climbing is totally a full-body workout. Your shoulders get worked, the lats [the Latissimus dorsi in the shoulder] and usually the back takes the most strain.”

But it’s the body’s largest organ that takes the biggest strain. “The skin is your biggest limiting factor and I simply wouldn’t be able to train more than five days a week.

“The impact and shock of the holds takes a huge toll on the skin of the fingertips. So I have a very strict skincare regime, with lots of lotion and rest to help regrow skin and sort out cuts, blisters and splits.”

A self-confessed sports nut, he’s also something of an Olympics history fundi and knows off pat the year and host city of every Olympics.

Come August 8 and hopefully Bruyns will most definitely have skin in the games history... quite literally!

There’ll be more than one Bruyns in the SA team. Bruyns senior, Dean, is the climbing team’s manager.

“I’ve got no climbing background of my own. I just got immersed through Josh’s climbing,” says Bruyns, a designer of regulatory software for banking systems worldwide.

“Ahead of the games my responsibilities were mainly helping with the logistics for the coach and athletes — we’re having a training camp in France the week before the games so I help sort out the travel and accommodation.

“It’s a lot of logistics and co-ordinating with SASCOC [SA’s Olympic governing body], making sure the athletes are available for drug-testing, medical assessments, safeguarding courses, legal agreements, etc.”

How does he juggle being Josh’s dad and overall climbing squad manager.

“It’s very easy to wear two hats as I’ve been to so many events with Josh. So there’s the natural parenting hat and then I switch to manager mode at competition time. When you’re managing both your son and other athletes, it’s just a case of being fully transparent with each and everyone.”

On his son, he says: “Not many people know that Josh is pretty new to speed climbing, he only switched to speed about two years ago which is not long at all. He brings in that underlying strength and skills from lead-and-boulder. So he already had the dynamism and strength and he’s got really fast in a very quick period of time.”

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