In the first of a series of interviews with women who could take their sports by storm this year, climber Molly Thompson-Smith tells Molly McElwee how she lost the fear and got over her ‘Frankenstein’ finger
For most 19-year-olds the prospect of nine months travelling around the world on their gap year is the stuff of dreams. For Molly Thompson-Smith, it was a torturous hiatus from her real dream.
The British champion sport climber had travelled to Asia and Australasia in early 2017, but could only think of the time she was missing out on training so decided to cut it short by six months. “I was the worst traveller ever,” she says. “I went to India, Thailand, Vietnam, Bali, Japan and Australia, and it was nice but the bits I really enjoyed were where I went climbing or else I’d be desperate.
“We had a two week gap in Vietnam where I didn’t climb. I was like, never again! I’m going home.”
The anecdote is an indication of Thompson-Smith’s obsession with scaling walls. Hooked to the sport since she hosted her seventh birthday party at the local indoor climbing centre, Thompson-Smith is now 21, a full-time athlete thanks to gaining a Sky Scholarship and with her sights fixed on Tokyo 2020, the first time climbing will feature at the Olympics.
Just six months after returning from her travels, Thompson-Smith became the first British woman to win a World Cup medal in lead climbing in November 2017. The result helped her earn full-time funding and a world No7 ranking, but her plans were derailed by serious injury when she ruptured three pulleys in her finger during training a month later.
However, the same hunger that dragged the Londoner back from half-way across the globe had her returning to climbing just days after an awake surgery which left her finger with what she dubbed a “Frankenstein” zig-zag scar.
“It was a shocking, awful injury to have, magnified a lot with its timing,” she explains. “It came straight after a dream season and it would be my first winter training as a full-time professional athlete. I was more motivated than ever.