Blackheath's Tom O'Halloran, 28, is Australia's first man to represent the new Olympic sport of climbing at the Tokyo games in August, after earning the spot at the Oceania Championships.
"It's a pretty surreal experience to be called an Olympian. We're in a sport that wasn't an Olympic sport when I started doing it," O'Halloran said. "And it's a special feeling to be the first."
He won the men's combined finals at the International Federation of Sports Climbing [IFSC] Oceania Championships in Sydney in late December, earning his golden ticket to the Games of the XXXII Olympiad and "the best Christmas present".
It followed a tough two days of competition on December 19-20 - a four-way battle with teammates Ben Abel, James Kassay and Thomas Farrell. He ranked second in all three stages - speed, boulder and lead (his top event). Tom Farrell floundered in his best event of bouldering, giving O'Halloran the edge.
There are only two Australian Olympic quota places for Tokyo - the female entrant is Oceania Mackenzie, with16-year-old Blue Mountains climber Angie Scarth-Johnson the women's stand-by.
The qualification path to the Olympic Games for Tokyo 2020 wasn't easy after the competition was delayed due to COVID. In the same week last year that they cancelled the Australasian qualifiers, the wiry 68 kg rope access technician lost his job at Scenic World and was put on JobKeeper payments. He is still surviving on limited work, while he prepares for his shot on the climbing wall.
"It was a tough pill to swallow ... a pretty scary few days, worrying about the mortgage."
Australian team head coach, Duncan Brown, said O'Halloran will pave the way for future generations and garner even more interest in climbing. And no-one will ever be able to take away the honour he has as the first man selected to compete for Australia in the new Olympic event of sport climbing.
"He's done absolutely fantastically, he's dug deep to improve ... Tom's in with a shot. He will do us all proud."
O'Halloran said with the COVID-pandemic still raging, he is not sure whether he will be able to leave the country to compete in training camps in Japan or the World Cup events in Europe from May to help with pre-Olympic experience. He is hopeful, but also does not want to get sick or be forced into long periods of quarantine and vital time away from training.
His partner, sports dietitian Amanda Watts hopes she and their daughter Audrey, 6, will be able to travel alongside him, supporting him on the journey.
O'Halloran is already well known throughout Australia, after competing in two series of the popular reality TV show, Ninja Warrior, making the grand final. He has been living in the Mountains for more than a decade.
The Olympic sport of rock climbing combines three disciplines: speed climbing (as fast as you can go up a 15-metre wall), bouldering (solving problems in a set time) and lead (climbing as high as you can on a 15-metre wall, again with limited time).
O'Halloran said he fell off going for the last hold in his final event of lead climbing and thought he had destroyed his chances and would be haunted by that moment forever. Luckily by then no-one could catch him.
As a new Olympic sport not a lot of funding is available, to make a tax deductible donation to support his Olympic journey go to: https://asf.org.au/athletes/tom-ohalloran-tokyo-2021-olympics/.