Walk into Rocktopia in Mount Maunganui on any given night and you'll be amazed by people clambering up walls, swinging from ropes and sometimes dropping exhausted onto the safety mats below.

Among them is an 18-year-old trailblazer who'll be the first ever New Zealand climber at the Youth Olympics.

Sarah Tetzlaff left Wellington earlier this year and came to the Mount to train with Climbing New Zealand head coach Rob Moore at Rocktopia. The climbing facility, smack in the heart of the very unglamorous industrial area, is the national training centre for this newest of Olympic sports.

Tetzlaff has been climbing most of her teenage years.


"I quit gymnastics at 13 and needed a new sport. I found climbing was really good fun.

"After a couple of years, I did a national championships and came third. That was a big shock. So I figured I may as well keep training harder and place better at nationals."

A bit of climbing education now.

There are three parts to an event. The first is called Speed. You clamber up a 15 metre wall as fast as possible. The route is the same all over the world. Tetzlaff does it in 13.14 seconds - on a good day.

Next is Bouldering. You climb a 5m wall without ropes trying to get to the top of a "problem". You have either 4 or 5 minutes to solve the problem.

The final part is Lead. On a 15m high wall, with a rope which you can clip into the wall, the aim is to get as high up the wall as possible.

On competition day, your placings from the three disciplines are added together and the lowest score wins.

Tetzlaff went to the Oceania Championships in New Caledonia last year. She was first in Speed, fifth in Bouldering and second in Lead. That won her a start in the 20-strong field for the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires from October 6.

She's very realistic about how she might go there.

"I think a top 16 would be awesome. I don't think I'll make top 10 because many of the others are already making top 10 in open finals, so it's a very strong field."

Her major disadvantage is the lack of a wall high enough in New Zealand.

Rocktopia is a popular and well used indoor facility but it's only as high as a two-storey building.

Moore is trying to raise funds to put up a 15m wall in the carpark outside. Then New Zealand climbing athletes will be able to do full Speed and Lead training here instead of having to go to New Caledonia which has full-sized facilities.

So why would a small place like Noumea have world class climbing walls?

"It's French. The French are crazy about climbing," he says.

Of course. Alain Robert, the French Spiderman who's been climbing the world's tallest skyscrapers for 25 years, is a national hero there.

Back in the Mount, Tetzlaff is nevertheless working diligently towards her goals.

She's realistic about being too young and not good enough to go to the Tokyo Olympics two years from now, but is certainly targeting Paris in 2024 as somewhere she wants to be.

An Olympic climber in the homeland of the French Spiderman. That's an ambition worth working hard for.