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Superstar climber just a regular girl

Kim Ja-in cites little greed, resolved spirit as secrets to becoming champion


When most people think of the perfect body type for rock climbing, it is probably someone tall and lanky, or maybe someone with huge arms and chest.

But Kim Ja-in, breaking the stereotype at 152 centimeters and just over 40 kilograms, can breeze up any rock face she’s confronted with.

Kim is ranked the world’s No.1 female lead climber by the International Federation of Sport Climbing.

With a bright smile that never seems to leave her face, the 22-year-old swept the competition in 2010, blowing away her opponents to the point where she has no real rivals left, although she might be too modest to say so herself.

Lead climbing involves the climber taking the rope as they go and periodically clipping into safety points along the way.

And although her superhuman-like feats might baffle most, Kim says there is no real X-factor that sends her to top of the podium every time.

“I definitely do not think that I am gifted in climbing,” Kim told The Korea Herald. Instead, Kim says her secret is “a bit of greed, and a resolved spirit.”

And it definitely shows through her daily routine, although leisure time might be a more accurate description, based on the fact that she enjoys her training.

On an average off-season day, Kim spends around six hours simply climbing, in addition to her morning runs and time at the gym lifting weights.

And even when Kim is attending classes at Korea University, she makes sure her classes end early in the afternoon, so that she may spend another four to five hours hitting the wall at her climbing gym.

One thing apparent about Kim during the interview, besides her cheerful demeanor, is that she is definitely not shy about her love of food ― seemingly the only real fault in her training regime.

“I have to be careful about what I eat, so I can’t really eat everything I want, but normally I really love to eat,” said Kim with a giggle.

“Having to refrain from eating what I want is difficult,” said Kim, who admitted that her guilty pleasure is “tteokbbokki,” a popular street food of sliced rice cake broiled with hot seasonings.

During the interview, Kim said her favorite climbing spot is Seonun mountain in North Jeolla Province, not because it has the greatest concentration of difficult climbs, but because of the local delicacy ― eels.

According to Kim, what reeled her into climbing was the completely immersive effect it can have on individuals.
Kim Ja-in, an athlete for the North Face Climbing Team, poses for a photo during practice. (The North Face)
Kim Ja-in, an athlete for the North Face Climbing Team, poses for a photo during practice. (The North Face)

“When I am climbing, all my thoughts disappear, and I simply focus on the climb itself, and naturally I just become happier,” said Kim.

Despite her claim of lacking natural talent, Kim’s total domination over the wall seems to be in her DNA. Hearing her story, pieces of her climbing obsession puzzle neatly fall into place. Her parents met at a climbers’ society that they were both a part of. Her older brothers Kim Ja-ha and Kim Ja-bee are competitive climbers as well. And the Kim clan are all named after climbing hardware. Kim Ja-in is named after the German word for rope, Seil, and the famous peak on Bukhansan, Insubong.

Kim grew up idolizing her brothers, saying that they were the reason she started competing, although not because of the climbing.

“My brothers were already competitive athletes in the climbing community, and watching them fly around to different competitions made me want to become a competitive athlete as well,” said Kim.

“I think my young heart was envious of riding in an airplane like my brothers,” said Kim shyly.

But Kim was destined to take the throne of the sport, and being from a climbing family, motivation comes easy.

“When I first got started, my brothers were much better than me, but lately we’re all about the same. I feel competing against my brothers drives me to train.”

Despite being a superstar athlete, especially in countries where climbing has more of a hold, Kim seems like your average bubbly university student. According to Kim, despite scaling heights, she intends to stay grounded.

“Last year I was ranked first in the world, but even now it still feels so surreal that I am number one,” said Kim.

“Even in the future when I climb, I don’t want to be drunk with the thought that I am No.1, but I want to be able to enjoy climbing as much as possible.”

Kim asked that more people simply give climbing a shot, and finds sport climbing’s lack of popularity in Korea upsetting.

“The competition that left the biggest impression on me was at the Rock Master competition in Arco, Italy. The crowd came in like a massive cloud, which in turn got me really into it. Even in China, where the competition was in the countryside, crowds just poured in,” said Kim.

“People think sport climbing is difficult, hard and dangerous, but once they try it themselves they will realize that it is not true. Climbing is really fun.”

By Robert Lee (rjmlee@heraldcorp.com)
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