Enjoying it rather than seeking to win
Yoshioka : When I watch you climbing, I get an impression that you have a great sense of balance. I used to think that sport climbers need strong muscles and grip, but actually, you are more supple and agile.
Ito : Thank you, I’m glad to hear that. I think flexibility is my strong point and I try to climb making full use of it.
Yoshioka : You are indeed very flexible. Well, I do stretches on a regular basis but I wouldn’t dare to say I am flexible in front of you.[laughs] Probably, your body structure is different from others’ in the first place. Were you flexible since when you were a child?
Ito : Yes, I believe I was .[laughs]
Yoshioka : You see! You started sport climbing in your third year of elementary school, right?
Ito : My father took me to a climbing gym and I tried climbing for the first time when I was in my second year of elementary school. Then, I took it seriously and decided to do sport climbing as an athlete in my third year. When I first took part in a major national competition, I was so thrilled, really enjoyed it and started thinking I wanted to win the next. Then, I spent a lot of time training and before I knew it, I was totally into it.
Yoshioka : How many hours a day do you spare for training?
Ito : I would say three hours on weekdays and five to six hours on weekends. And I tend to do more before a competition.
Yoshioka : While you keep training every day, don’t you ever feel like having a day off, or something like that?
Ito : Well, of course when a competition is getting closer, the volume of workout increases and I find it very tough sometimes, but, I still enjoy training and I want to win a competition anyway, so I find it rather enjoyable.
Yoshioka : Which do you enjoy more, school or sport climbing?
Ito : Climbing, I’d say. [laughs]
Yoshioka : Well, that was a tough question, wasn’t it ? [laughs] I think that enjoying what you do is quite difficult. In my case, I try to enjoy acting, but at the same time, I sometimes get cold feet… But you seem to be all right, you don’t get pressured or stressed out, do you?
Ito : When I’m training, I try to image myself winning, but on the very day of the competition, I try to enjoy climbing rather than seek to win; I try to enjoy every single task as well as the whole atmosphere of the competition.
Yoshioka : That sounds brilliant! How did you develop your character, positive attitude and strong mindset?
Ito : I simply like sport climbing and want to improve, become stronger. I will be old enough to participate in the World Cup this year.
Yoshioka : Yes, that’s right.
Ito : Winning the World Cup is my biggest dream so I think the World Cup gives me the motivation, keeps me going.
Think and decide by myself
Yoshioka : How did you feel when you heard that sport climbing had become an official sport for the Tokyo Olympic games?
Ito : This is the first time that sport climbing has been named an official Olympic sport so I have absolutely no idea what it is going to be like. For me, the Olympics are something to watch, and not to participate in, so I don’t have a clue. But now that we’re getting closer to 2020, I’m actually feeling that I really want to take part in the games.
Yoshioka : I’d love to see you performing in the Tokyo Olympics, and want to cheer you on ! [laughs]
Ito : Thank you very much.[laughs]
Yoshioka : Do you recognize any progress or improvements after finishing a competition?
Ito : I can somehow sense that I’ve improved, but at the same time, I also find a lot of weak points and challenges towards the next goal. It is said that sport climbing is better suited for someone who has few weaknesses, so to become stronger, I have to overcome my weaknesses and become able to handle any kinds of tasks I face.
Yoshioka : You are so focused and upright! Each climber has their own favorite movements, don’t they? How about you, Futaba? What kinds of movements are you good at?
Ito : I think I have strong fingers. I have no problem holding a handhold 5mm thin.
Yoshioka : What? 5mm? That’s amazing!
Ito : We do a dynamic move called dyno, leaping to a farther target handhold and very briefly, have no points of contact. I think I’m also good at that.
Yoshioka : That technique is absolutely stunning, isn’t it?! It’s very exciting to watch and a bit scary too. Don’t you feel scared when you leap?
Ito : Not at all.
Yoshioka : Wow, you are a genius, surely. By the way, what did you enjoy doing as a child?
Ito : What did I do back then? Well, I have a brother so we often climbed trees together.
Yoshioka : Maybe, those days helped you become a sport climber. I’ve heard that you don’t work with any professional trainers. Is that true? You still don’t?
Ito : No, I don’t.
Yoshioka : I thought that’s quite unusual. I guess people tend to think that athletes can improve faster if they have a professional trainer who trains you face to face and hand in hand.
Ito : I guess sport climbing is slightly different, something unique. Of course, being taught and guided by someone is important but I believe that once you are in a competition, you have to think and read routes by yourself.
Yoshioka : I see. Each competition sets different routes; the types of handholds and route steepness are all different, right?
Ito : That’s right. So before actually setting out on a route, you have to calculate the movements that suit you best, with some alternatives, maybe three options or so, and then once you are on the wall, you have to decide on the optimal move. So I believe it’s important to think carefully and thoroughly while climbing. Sport climbers do use their brains, you know. [laughs]
Never give up, and complete the route
Yoshioka : I know you are always looking ahead and staying positive, but I just want to know when was the most regrettable moment in your climbing life?
Ito : Well, two years ago, I participated in a qualifying competition for Japan representatives for the youth bouldering championship and ranked first at the preliminary round. But then, I got really nervous, couldn’t perform as well as I wanted at the final, and ended up third. That was mortifying.
Yoshioka : How did you cope with that feeling?
Ito : Well, I managed to cope with it through training. I lost the competition, got mortified and I was driven by regret, wanting to train more and become stronger as soon as possible.
Yoshioka : There are many younger climbers coming on stage now, aren’t there?
Ito : Yes, and I quite naturally feel that I really don’t want to lose to younger athletes.
Yoshioka : I used to cry with frustration at work, failing to control my emotions, but at the end of the day, that doesn’t do any good, does it? It’s no use causing others trouble, so I try to control myself and not easily get frustrated. In that sense, I admire you as you have such a strong mind. There’s a lot I could learn from you, Futaba.
Ito : I believe that climbing is a sport that requires mental strength. If you give up even for a moment, you fail. So even when I think it’s impossible to win, I just focus on completing the route. And I think that kind of mentality gives me the power to win.
Yoshioka : When you join an international competition such as the world youth championship, meeting a lot of foreign athletes, what do you think about Japan and Japanese athletes?
Ito : Japanese climbers are excellent. Foreign athletes are powerful because they have strong muscles. On the other hand, we Japanese often win by outperforming our rivals technically, because we are less muscular and have to improve our techniques.
Yoshioka : There are many Japanese climbers delivering good results in the world.
Ito : Climbers in Europe and the US are, of course, strong, but there are also world-level Japanese climbers with outstanding results such as Akiyo Noguchi who won the overall World Cup. Many athletes are looking up to those top climbers and that encourages the younger athletes to improve further, I guess.
Yoshioka : It is great that you have someone to look up to, right?
Ito : I am one of those who admire Ms. Noguchi and when I saw her climbing, I really wanted to perform like her. So I’m aiming for an overall victory in the World Cup. And I want to win a medal in the Tokyo Olympics if I can take part.
Yoshioka : That’s wonderful! I’m always supporting you and looking forward to seeing you climbing at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020!