Fort Worth 15-year-old Annie Sanders is one of the rising stars in rock climbing.
In her first year in adult rock-climbing competitions, she is already accumulating accolades. After becoming the youngest person to place first in events at the 2023 USA Climbing National Trials at the Mesa Rim Climbing Center in Austin in March, she ranked among the best bouldering and lead competitors in the world and has earned a spot on the U.S. National teams for both events.
“Annie is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to climbing,” Matt Dendy, who has helped coach Sanders for the past seven years, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “She started at a very young age. I think it shows the level of commitment and determination. … She has the talent, and she also has the work ethic. It’s pretty incredible what she has done. It’s unheard of.”
Sanders has been immersed in rock climbing from a young age, accompanying her climbing-enthusiast parents to the gym since she was as young as 10 months. Now, after becoming an accomplished climber herself, Sanders has her eyes on the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
“It’s hard to say because it’s very unpredictable when it comes to route setting,” Dendy told the Star-Telegram. “This isn’t a sport where everything is fixed. … If she can climb the way she is capable of climbing, she has the potential to make it for sure.”
Rock-climbing, or sport-climbing as the International Olympic Committee calls it, allows four representatives per country (two men and two women) to compete in a 20-person field during the Olympic Games.
The sport debuted in the Olympics at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games and featured one event per gender that encompassed speed, bouldering, and lead. This time, however, the event has been altered and will feature a speed competition and a bouldering competition per gender.
Those wishing to qualify must have been born on or before January 1, 2008. There are three ways to do so.
Three spots for each gender and per competition were determined by finishes at the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) World Championship in Bern, Switzerland, in August. Colin Duffy claimed a spot with a second-place finish in bouldering and lead, while Emma Hunt did the same in the speed competition — meaning two spots on Team USA have been secured.
Sanders finished eighth in bouldering and lead and will have to qualify by one of the other two other methods.
The first would be by winning the women’s side of one of five IFSC Continental Qualifiers taking place across the world this year.
If she failed to qualify through those events, she would have to qualify through an invite-only qualifier series early next year.
It sounds simple, but as always, there are complications. Training for the Olympics and going to these qualifying events is expensive, and many of these athletes do not have sponsors willing to pay for the trips.
Because of that, the Sanders family has set up a GoFundMe page to help get Annie to the 2024 Olympics. The page has a goal of $45,000 and has raised just over $12,000 as of October 29.
Whether she qualifies in the coming months, Sanders has already made her mark on the climbing world at a young age and has a bright future in the sport.