Published on: 09/29/2022
Brooke Raboutou from Boulder, Colorado, is probably best known as a competition climber. Her place as the first American invited to the historic 2020 Tokyo Olympic games (where climbing debuted) has earned her a place in sport climbing history. And she’s also an athlete that also seems to genuinely love climbing in its purest form.
Raboutou was the youngest female to send a 5.14b (at age 11) and one of few women to boulder a V14 outdoors. Her string of firsts and extraordinary contest performances make sense when Raboutou’s family, hometown, and background are considered. It’s safe to say that climbing is in Brooke Raboutou’s blood.
Early Life and Family
By the time Brooke was born, her French father, Didier Raboutou, and American mother, Robyn Erbesfield Raboutou, had settled in Boulder, Colorado. Both were famous competition climbers. Robyn had won four world championships, and Didier Raboutou was the winner of the Arco Rock Master and had taken home three world championships – some serious pedigree.
An Early Start
Raboutou’s earliest memories include climbing in diapers on a basement climbing wall in Boulder. Her parents introduced her to the basics of climbing around the same time she learned to walk. Both Brooke and her brother, Shawn, quickly developed into strong climbers. This older brother is now a well-known boulderer, regularly climbing up to V16.
Robyn Erbesfield Raboutou founded and coached ABC kids in Boulder. This program was focused exclusively on training younger climbers. This headstart meant Brooke and her older brother climbed at a high level early in life.
Sport Climbing Firsts
Raboutou’s early climbing exposure resulted from a series of dramatic firsts. At nine years of age, she was sending V10 boulder problems and became the youngest female to climb a 5.13d. Aged ten, she became the youngest female to send a 5.13d and 5.14a. The following year, at age eleven, she Climbed Welcome to Tijuana, becoming the youngest female to climb 5.14b. Alongside Joe Kinder, Raboutout climbed Southern Smoke (5.14c) in the Red River Gorge at age fourteen.
Attending a charter school that condensed several years of education into one year allowed Brooke to attend university at seventeen. In 2018, she enrolled at the University of San Diego, where she studied marketing and psychology. But her climbing training schedule requires her to take a semester off studying. Events like the Olympic Games or the climbing world championships require her to train several times daily. After qualifying for the 2020 games, she took a semester off from the University of San Diego to focus on her training.
“I have a really good group of friends and leaving them to take time off to train was really hard for me. I feared missing out. Seeing everybody together and not being there was really hard.”
Unlike many prodigies who burn out, Brooke Raboutou sees a need for life outside of climbing. Though her competitive drive can make it hard:
“Taking a break is really part of that cycle and important for the longevity of my career, but it is hard to mentally do that even if you know that it is the right thing.”
Competition Climbing and The Tokyo Olympics
Raboutou saw lots of competition success throughout her teens. She won various medals at the IFSC Youth World Championships from 2016 to 2019, becoming 2016’s Youth B World Champion and 2017’s Youth A Combined Pan American Champion. Brooke also took the gold in the 2018 Youth A Lead category during the IFSC Youth World Championships.
Raboutou came in at ninth overall at the Hachioji World Championships, where she placed sixth in Speed, seventh in Lead and tenth in Bouldering. This meant she qualified for the 202o Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan – the first Olympics to include rock climbing.
At the Olympics, Raboutou finished the combined competition in fifth place. In front of her were Janja Garbret, Miho Nonaka, Akiyo Noguchi, and Aleksandra Miroslaw. Brooke’s best individual event was bouldering, where she came in second behind Ganbret. Raboutou scored zones on all three problems but narrowly missed out on topping problems 1 and 2 by slipping at the last moment.
The speed event didn’t go as well. Brooke slipped on her first route, lost to Ganbret on her second, and beat Korea’s Seo Chae-Hyun with the slowest time of the final. She placed seventh overall in speed. Her performance in the lead event was going well until the halfway point when she slipped while reaching for a pocket. She finished sixth in this final discipline.
Like many pros, Brooke concedes there’s no correct way to train for a combined sport climbing challenge like the Olympics:
“With the Combined format there is so much to train. Even if you just choose one discipline, there is so much to train. It always felt like I could be doing more, even though I couldn’t. Bodily and mentally, you can’t do it all.”
Paris 2024 and the Future
With only two years to go until the next summer Olympic Games, Paris appears to be in Raboutou’s trajectory. The decision to separate speed into its own event and combine lead and bouldering suits this climber:
“Something that is a lot easier about Paris is that I don’t have speed, so I don’t have to change what I am doing.”
Brooke Raboutou has described experiencing a heaviness after the summer Olympics. Though she didn’t ascribe it to her result or performance, she felt it was hard to let go of a dream that had occupied her for so long. She struggled to find motivation for a time afterward and had to work on her career-life balance, learn to rest properly, and have fun:
“I think that whether it went perfectly or poorly I would have felt the same way. Just that heaviness of an event being over and wondering what do to do now. Being able to relax was hard after the Olympics because I was so focused on training. I needed to be the best climber I could be.”
The Wall: Climb for Gold
This documentary follows climbing competitors, Raboutou, Janja Ganbret, Shauna Coxsey, and Miho Nonaka as they attempt to qualify for the Olympic games. This was on our watch list for the Best Climbing Movies on Netflix article. It’s a look inside the grueling world of elite rock climbing. The covid pandemic also hit during the events depicted, further throwing a spanner in the works. As each athlete is pushing to qualify for the finals, they must compete with each other and their inner demons. It’s worth a watch and is on Netflix in many regions.
In April of 2022, Raboutout traveled to Switzerland, where she conquered some tough bouldering problems. These include Kings of Sonlerto 8A+, Lur 8B, and Heritage 8B. In May this year, Brooke took the silver medal at the World Cup in Salt Lake City, losing to fellow Team USA climber Natalia Grossman.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
She studies marketing and psychology at the University of San Diego.
When not studying (or training for climbing competitions), she still lives at home in Boulder – so we assume somewhere there. But during the semester, she probably climbs at one of San Diego’s many gyms.
She lives in Boulder, Colorado. When not living in Boulder, Brooke stays in San Diego to study.
She’s 158 cm or about 5’2″.
She was born on the 9th of April 2001.
Looking for more? Check out our article on the most famous rock climbers!