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Czech Rope Climbers

Photographs by Vova Pomortzeff

Once upon a time competitive rope climbing was an absolutely separate sport and even was in the programs of the first Olympic Games. At the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, Czech athlete Bedřich Šupčík climbed up the 8-meter-rope faster than anyone else and won the first Olympic gold medal in the history of his country, then called Czechoslovakia. Because of this historical context the Czech Republic is the only place in the world where competitive rope climbing has preserved as an independent sport till nowadays and is still very popular among the local athletes. Photographer Vova Pomortzeff has spent more then ten years shooting this Czech national sport.
 

1. Annual rope climbing contest 'Modřanský Tarzan' ('Tarzan of Modřany District') in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

2. Czech athletes Ondřej Košťák and Martin Matěj just starts to climb up the rope during the rope climbing contest 'Modřanský Tarzan' in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

3. Czech athlete Natanael Měcháček prepares for the start at the rope climbing contest 'Modřanský Tarzan'.

 

4. Junior competition at the rope climbing contest 'Modřanský Tarzan'.

 

5. Supporters at the rope climbing contest 'Modřanský Tarzan'.

 

Climbing up the Staircase

Competitive rope climbing was in the programs of the Olympic Games four times. Athletes competed for medals in this sport at the first Olympic Games in Athens in 1896 and then at the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri. At the 1924 Olympics in Paris, the Czechoslovak Team won its historic first Olympic gold medal. The fourth and the last time rope climbers competed at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Nowadays separate competitions in rope climbing can be seen only in the Czech Republic. One of the oldest and also one of the most spectacular contests takes place annually for more than twenty years on the staircase in the Sokol Sports Club in Prague. The rope hung down directly into the stairwell, and the supporters crowded around on the footsteps.
 

6. Czech athlete Jan Šindelář climbs up the rope during the annual rope climbing contest 'Šplh schodištěm' ('Climbing up the Staircase') on the staircase in the Sokol Sports Club in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

7. Czech athlete Jan Král climbs up the rope during the rope climbing contest 'Šplh schodištěm' on the staircase in the Sokol Sports Club in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

8. The very first start in his life in rope climbing for 16-year-old Vratislav Vorel at the rope climbing contest 'Šplh schodištěm' on the staircase in the Sokol Sports Club in Prague.

 

9. Supporters at the rope climbing contest 'Šplh schodištěm' on the staircase in the Sokol Sports Club in Prague.

 

10. Annual rope climbing contest 'Šplh schodištěm' on the staircase in the Sokol Sports Club in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

Eight-meter-long rope

The length of the rope was different from games to games. At the first Olympics in Athens the 14-meter-long rope was used. Only two athletes were able to climb up so high, although it was allowed to use legs. At the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis the rope was cut to 25 feet (7.62 meters) but legs were banned. The same length was used at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. Even so, at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris athletes competed on the 8-meter-long rope. It was the length Bedřich Šupčík won his gold medal on which, and this is because 8-meter-long ropes are used by Czech rope climbers nowadays.
 

11. Czech athlete Ondřej Košťák starts to climb up the rope at the annual rope climbing contest 'Modřanský Tarzan' ('Tarzan of Modřany District') in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

12. Czech athletes Filip Šmejkal and Václav Kotlan climb up the rope during the rope climbing contest 'Modřanský Tarzan' in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

13. Czech athlete Tomáš Krupička prepares for the start at the rope climbing contest 'Modřanský Tarzan'.

 

14. Czech athlete Filip Šmejkal and Jiří Kotlan prepares for the start at the rope climbing contest 'Modřanský Tarzan'. Athletes start from the seated position with their feet should not touch the ground, only hands are allowed to use when climbing up.

 

15. The time counter runs from the moment when an athlete left his hand from the start button.

 

16. Supporters at the rope climbing contest 'Modřanský Tarzan'.

 

17. Junior competition at the rope climbing contest 'Modřanský Tarzan'. An athlete has to touch a sensor fixed on the upper end of the rope. Juniors and women compete on the 4.5-meter-long ropes.

 

Czech national sport

After the communist regime failed down in Czechoslovakia, the county began to revive undeservedly forgotten traditions of the Czechoslovak sport. The first Olympic gold medal was one of the milestones, so competitive rope climbing was rapidly developed as an independent sport. The very first rope climbing contest in the contemporary history was held in the Bohemian town of Příbram in 1993. Today, the Czech Republic holds annually at least ten major rope climbing competitions. At the same time there are a lot of local contests at schools and sports clubs. The smallest athletes compete in climbing by the pole.
 

18. Children's contest in climbing by the pole in the Palestra Sports Club in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

19. Training in rope climbing in the Palestra Sports Club in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

20. Women competition at the annual rope climbing contest 'Modřanský Tarzan' in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

21. Safety mat at the rope climbing contest 'Modřanský Tarzan' in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

22. The youngest competitor at the rope climbing contest 'Modřanský Tarzan' Ondřej Ligr climbs up the rope under the eye of his father.

 

23. Czech athlete Ondřej Košťák prepares for the start at the rope climbing contest 'Modřanský Tarzan'.

 

24. One of the best Czech rope climbers Tomáš Filip climbs up the rope at the rope climbing contest 'Modřanský Tarzan'.

 

25. Czech referee Jiří Poes attends the rope climbing contest 'Modřanský Tarzan'.

 

26. Injured hand of one of the rope climbers.

 

27. Junior competition at the rope climbing contest 'Modřanský Tarzan'.

 

Record of the Olympic Champion

At the 1924 Olympics, Bedřich Šupčík climbed up the 8-meter-rope for 7.20 seconds and won the Olympic gold medal. There are already at least 30 athletes among the contemporary Czech rope climbers who broke the almost one-hundred-year-old Olympic record. The world record on the 8-meter-rope is 4.87 seconds now. It was set by phenomenal Czech rope climber Aleš Novák in 2009. Since then no other athlete was able to climb up even with the similar time. The record holder himself wins the Czech national rope climbing championships every year.
 

28. Czech national rope climbing championship in the Harfa Shopping Mall in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

29. Czech athlete Karel Janda, the winner of the junior competition and the holder of the junior world record, prepares for the start at the Czech national rope climbing championship in the Harfa Shopping Mall in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

30. Czech athlete Aleš Novák climbs up the rope at the Czech national rope climbing championship in the Harfa Shopping Mall in Prague, Czech Republic. This year Aleš Novák climbed up the 8-meter-rope for 5.19 seconds, almost one second faster than his nearest competitor and two seconds faster than Bedřich Šupčík at the 1924 Olympic Games.

 

31. The first Czechoslovak Olympic gold medal won by Czech gymnast Bedřich Šupčík at the 1924 Summer Olympic Games in Paris in competitive rope climbing displayed at the exhibition 'Under the Wings of the Czech Sokol' in the Museum of the Czech Army in Prague, Czech Republic. The Olympic silver medal won by Bedřich Šupčík at the same Olympics in gymnastics all-around is seen in the right. The commemorative plaque displayed in the left was presented to Bedřich Shupchik by members of the Sokol Sports Club in Prague in honour of the first Olympic gold medal. All medals are now stored in the National Museum of the Czech Republic.

 

The photographs of this feature story were shot from March 2009 to May 2014 in Prague, Czech Republic.

Copyright © 2014 Vova Pomortzeff

 
   
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