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SALT LAKE CITY — The world has a new ice climbing champion, and he comes in the form of a 12-year-old Utah boy, named Landers Gaydosh.
The International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation's Ice Climbing World Youth Championships was held Saturday in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, and it was Landers' second-ever ice climbing competition, believe it or not.
And, it was unbelievable. His dad, Jonathan Gaydosh, who is a special education teacher at Herriman High School, and was unable to attend the championships, said that when he got news that his son took first place, he was shocked.
"We were shocked that Landers won because going into the championship, his goal was not to get last place," Jonathan Gaydosh said.
Landers, who recently moved to Riverton from North Carolina, began training as an ice climber just four months before the championships, having been recruited to the sport as a rock climber. According to his dad, Landers began rock climbing when he was just a toddler while Jonathan Gaydosh worked at Momentum, a local indoor climbing gym. He said rock climbing was something his son just took to and excelled at — even at the national level.
"Back in September, Landers started training with coaches at the Scratch Pad, in Orem, after his coaches suggested he and another climber try ice climbing," the father said. "He only trained once a week, and after a few months, he went to Michigan where he qualified for the USA team, and then went to Switzerland for the world championships."
A social media post stated that wearing a jersey to represent his country while doing something he loves allowed Landers to "live out a dream of mine."
Jonathan Gaydosh said that his son has always had a competitive edge, but that the world championships were a bit intimidating, even for him. He said that his son wasn't expecting to place, let alone win, and that it took both a leap of faith and humility for Landers to compete in Switzerland.
"Landers has been used to being on top of the game as a rock climber, so going to Switzerland as an underdog took a lot of humility on his part," he said. "I remember talking to him the night before, and he was feeling a little out of his league, but my wife and I and his coaches made sure not to put any pressure on him. We wanted it to be a good learning experience for him."
Climbing to the top
Landers agreed that he felt out of his league, but said that when it was his turn to climb, he just did what he was used to doing: Getting to the top as fast as he could, and having fun doing it.
"I didn't really know what to expect," Landers said. "They put you in isolation, so you don't really get to see the other competitors, and when it is your turn, you just climb to the top as fast as you can. It was really fun!"
In the sport of ice climbing, the object is to see how high you can get before falling. If you tie with another climber, then the win goes to whoever got to that spot the fastest. Landers was able to climb all the way to the top of the 80-foot-tall ice wall without falling, and he did it 20 seconds faster than anyone else in his category.
Speaking of categories, Landers was in the U-16 bracket, which means that he was competing against seasoned climbers between the ages of 12 and 16. According to his coach, Dustin Lyons, Landers was the youngest competitor there, and what he did was remarkable.
"Not only was Landers new to ice climbing, but he was the youngest one there — competing against seasoned athletes who were several years older than him," Lyons said. "The kid who took second place was the world champion from last year. What Landers did was really unheard of."
Lyons, who co-owns the Scratch Pad along with his partner Susan Sims, said that seeing Landers and other USA athletes compete makes him excited for the future of ice climbing.
"Ice climbing will be an Olympic sport soon, and this is just the beginning," Lyons said. "I love seeing athletes like Landers taking on this sport. I have no doubt that Landers will be an Olympic climber someday."
Landers' dad said that he speaks often to his son about how important it is to be able to be a kid and do kid things. That being said, he said that Landers is all in, and wants to climb as high as he can.
"Landers is a big-picture kind of kid, who wants to see things from up above," Jonathan Gaydosh said. "This championship was just one more step toward his goal."
When asked what his goal is, Landers was quick to list them.
"I want to become a professional rock climber, ice climber and alpinist," he said.
And before you think that Landers has any sort of break after his recent world championship, think again. This week, he will travel to Colorado for the North American Championship for ice climbing, followed shortly by the USA Climbing Divisional Championship, in Oakland.
To follow his progress, he can be found on Instagram @landersgaydosh.