Indonesia’s Speed Sport Climbing Duo Hit New Heights

Sport climbers Veddriq Leonardo and Kiromal Katibin sent jaws dropping after they smashed the speed climbing world record twice at the Speed World Cup in Salt Lake City, Utah last month.

The four-year standing record (5.48) was first toppled by World Cup debutant Katibin during qualifiers (5.258). Then, in the all-Indonesian final, it was the 20-year-old’s competitor and teammate Leonardo who stole the show.

In a thrilling race for the title, Leonardo glided up the wall in a time of 5.208 which, not only guaranteed him first place, but also a spot in the history books. As the 24-year-old celebrated his blistering climb, his compatriot, swinging from the safety rope next to him clapped along in appreciation.

Indonesia is well known for having a strong crop of speed climbers. Their ranks boast of the women’s speed climbing world record holder, Aries Susanti Rahayu, otherwise known as “Spider-Woman” courtesy of her spell-binding agility.

It’s only a matter of time before Katibin and Leonardo find similar levels of notoriety. In preparation for their rise to the top, here’s everything you need to know about the two speedsters.

Leonardo: grappling against adversity
When Leonardo first discovered the sport, he knew he had found something special.

It was, for him, the perfect mix of challenge and risk and it coincided nicely with his love of the outdoors. His mother, Rosita, was less convinced. She struggled to support her son’s new venture and did her best to dissuade him from participating.

Rosita also wasn’t the only constraint that the aspiring climber faced in pursuit of his newly found passion. Leonardo and fellow, local climbers from Pontianak, were restricted by the lack of poor training facilities. When training conditions began to physically deteriorate, the climbers were forced to make their own holding points on the walls.

Speaking to Kompas, Leonardo reflected on the early days that made him become the athlete he is:

“Those were the most difficult times for me as an athlete. I had to set aside pocket money and do small, odd jobs so I could get rock climbing equipment.”

Things hit rock bottom when the Indonesian was unable to gather the necessary funds needed to make the Junior National Rock Climbing Championships in Yogyakarta in 2015. It meant that for six months he stopped climbing altogether.

The beauty of fate
It wasn’t until 2017 that Leonardo was able to compete in climbing again.

What Leonardo didn’t know as he speedily scaled the wall to clock in a bronze-medal winning performance at the National Rock Climbing Championships, was that his deft movements were being closely studied by Hendra Basyir, coach of the Indonesian national rock climbing team. Basyir happened to be in attendance scouting future talent ahead of the 2018 Asian Games.

Their meeting was an historic moment in the life of Leonardo and ever since his climbing career has gone from strength-to-strength. In addition to his win in Utah, Leonardo also has a bronze from the IFSC 2018 Climbing World Cup in Moscow and another gold from the Asian Championships in 2019.

Katibin: the future is bright
Four years Leonardo’s junior, Katibin, is a climber showing immense promise.

In the lead up to the World Cup in Utah Katibin had begun to already catch the attention of rival athletes, media, and officials after he appeared to consistently beat the previous world record multiple in practice runs ahead of the event.

There was only person who was not surprised when Katibin delivered a scintillating qualifying performance.

For national coach Basyir, the climb put down by the young athlete from Kauman village, was a long-time coming. In an interview ahead of the finals, Basyir shared that his climbing prodigy had been showing record breaking form for months:

“He [Katibin] was already climbing faster than the world record. Under 5.48. Everyday, sometimes he makes 5.30 to 5.35. 5.40 some days. So this way, I knew he’d break the record.”

Work hard, break records
Part of what makes the gold and silver world cup medalists such exciting prospects is down to the energy they invest in their sport.

One look at their training regimen reveals the heights of their ambitions.

Katibin and Leonardo train every day, twice a day. The morning meeting is shorter and begins at 6am; the afternoon session starts at 2pm and can endure up to seven hours. The focus in each practice, is never about winning competitions. Their target is always about beating the world record. For the dynamic, climbing duo practice really does mean perfect.

Olympic vision
Sport climbing, debuting at Tokyo 2020, will combine three disciplines: lead climbing, speed climbing and bouldering. Medals are then determined based on who performs best across all the events.

Not the ideal scenario for speed specialists like Katibin and Leonardo. Paris 2024, where the disciplines will be separated out into individual categories, is the long-term vision for the young climbers.