Adam Ondra, 20, is part of a new generation of climbing—a group of young people who were introduced to the rock at a very early age. His parents met through the sport, so it seemed perfectly natural to take their son along on climbing trips. When Ondra was just three years old, his parents roped him up for his first climb. By the time he was nine, Ondra could manage lines with 8a ratings—a challenge too hard for most adult climbers.
Ondra's quest for increasingly difficult outdoor routes has led to some epic family road trips across Europe. Because he doesn't yet have a driver's license, the young Czech's parents often drive between crags overnight, while their son sleeps in the back seat. Although an early introduction to the sport was likely part of Ondra's success, there's no doubt the athlete is also a climbing prodigy. Ondra has won world championships in both bouldering and lead climbing, and has established the two hardest routes in the world: La Dura Dura in Spain and The Change in Norway—both rated 5.15c.
For more on Adam Ondra, click here.
In 2005, it looked like Aaron Gwin's short, bright career in motocross was over. He was only 17, but nagging injuries from motocross and, before that, BMX riding, forced him to give up his sport. Three years later, though, a friend and professional downhill racer loaned him a bike and encouraged him to enter a race. In his very first competition, he took third place. Pretty soon, he signed on with Yeti Cycles and started rising through the ranks of downhill racers, aided by the skills he'd gained from his early BMX days. That year, he took the Mountain States Cup Championship Series by storm, garnering four first-place finishes, as well as taking eighth place in the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup.
In the past two seasons, the man is nearly bulletproof, dominating at the World Cup level and setting a new record for most victories in a single season (five). Two months ago, he left Trek World Racing to ride with Specialized, and the mountain bike world will be watching this spring as he tears down the mountainsides of the world, try furiously to ride his way into the record books.
For more on Aaron Gwin, click here.
Surfing prodigy-turned-force-to-be-reckoned-with John John Florence likes to object to his diminutive nickname in interviews, but both sides have a point. Having gone pro at age six (no, really), and surfed Hawaii's infamous Pipeline before he was ten, Surfer Magazine called him "the original prepubescent superstar, the most famous surfer in the world under 4 feet tall." And yet Florence doesn't surf like the kind of wide-eyed tyke you'd expect to be called "John John."
The oldest of three boys, all pro surfers, Florence has been crushing waves with the big boys since he was 13, when he became the youngest ever to compete in the North Shore's presitigious Vans Triple Crown—and he did pretty well, too, beating out none other than surfing great Shane Dorian in one event. Oh yeah, the Triple Crown? He won that in 2011.
Now on the ASP World Championship Tour for his second season, Florence is battling it out with men twice his age. In 2012, his rookie season on the tour, Florence placed a solid 4th, scoring a victory at the Billabong Rio Pro.
For more on John John Florence, click here.
Ashima Shiraishi began her climbing career in the most unlikely of places: New York City’s Central Park. When she was only six years old, Ashima and her parents were wandering through the park, when they came across Rat Rock—a boulder 15 feet high and 40 feet across. Ashima joined the amateur climbers and scrambled easily to the top. Seeing his daughter’s talent, Ashima’s father Hisatoshi (also known as Poppo) took her to Rat Rock almost every day. With his help, and an abundance of natural talent, little Ashima's reputation quickly grew huge in the climbing community.
Today, at the age of 11, Ashima is one of the best climbers on the planet, a veritable rockstar. With encouragement from her now-coach, climbing legend Obe Carrion, she has become stronger and more graceful on the rock, sending a long list of impressive routes and winning numerous competitions. Last year alone, she set records in both bouldering and free climbing, becoming the youngest person to send a V13 boulder problem (Crown of Aragorn in Hueco Tanks, Texas) and the youngest person to free climb 5.14c (Southern Smoke and Lucifer, both in Red River Gorge, Kentucky). To nobody's surprise, she won the 2012 American Bouldering Series Youth National Championships. From here, it's a given that Ashima's talent and reputation will only climb higher.
For more on Ashima Shiraishi, click here.
It's no wonder that Kilian Jornet Burgada is a mountain man. Like many Catalonian kids, he grew up with a picture of a mountain on his wall (the perfect spire of the Matterhorn, in his case). He poured over the books of Reinhold Messner, and his parents strapped skis on his feet before he'd taken his first steps. Shortly thereafter, they brought him hiking and climbing in the Pyrenees, and his formal education was begun. Today, he's an accomplished mountaineer and "sky runner" (someone who runs steep-pitched endurance races in the mountains above 6,600' altitude) who moves through the mountains with a primal grace that appears almost animal in nature.
Jornet Burgada's list of accomplishments is long: he's a five-time world champion and three-time European champion ski mountaineer, won the Skyrunner World Series in four out of five years from 2007 to 2012 and took the world-famous Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in 2008, 2009 and 2011. But his biggest challenge to date is still in front of him. Last year, he embarked upon Summits of My Life, a four-year-long project in which he hopes to shatter the speed ascent and descent records on some of the world's most lofty, spectacular peaks, including Elbrus, Aconcagua, Denali, Everest and, yes, the Matterhorn. He already has the records on Kilimanjaro (5h22min up/7h14min down), and last September he shattered the record for a speed traverse of Mt. Blanc via the Inomminata Ridge (a 26-mile route with nearly 12,500 feet of elevation gain and semi-technical climbing) in just eight hours and 42 minutes.
For more on Kilian Jornet Burgada, click here.
Marianne Vos is, simply put, an unstoppable force on skinny tires. Whether blazing down a road, tearing through a muddy cyclocross course or zipping around a track, chances are she's at the front of the pack. It helps more than a little that she got an early start in bike-crazy Holland. At the age of six, while she was still too young to race, Vos took up training with her older brother's team. By the time she was eight, she started her racing career. At 15, she won her first two national championships in mountain biking and junior road racing. She finished second in the national junior time trial.
That was just the beginning of a career that's included Olympic gold medals in track and road cycling, two world road racing championships (not to mention five second-place finishes) and six world championships in the Dutch-dominated discipline of cyclocross. For the uninitiated, cyclocross is a on-road/off-road cycling discipline in which riders navigate mud, grass, gravel, pavement, sand and mulch on a one- to two-mile circuit course, shouldering their cycles where terrain is too steep and wooden barriers block their path. It's grueling, and a far cry from the relatively controlled environment of road racing. Plenty of x-factors—snow, muddy hills, obstacles—can spoil one's race, which makes Vos's run all the more impressive. And she's done it all by the age of 25. Her career still has another decade or more left in it, and we can't wait to see what she does with it. Our bet? Win a whole lot more.
For more on Marianne Vos, click here
David Lama isn't the first climber to fall in love with Cerro Torre. The 10,262-foot Patagonian spire is considered, among climbers, one of the world's most beautiful mountains. For years they've attempted the difficult ascent of the Southeast Ridge without the aid of controversial fixed bolts, placed in 1970 by Italian Cesare Maestri on a 4,000-foot verical face that would come to be known as Maestri's Compressor Route. Lama attempted the route in 2010 and 2011, but it wasn't until two of his peers—Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk—removed some 120 of the bolts that Lama was forced to rely entirely on removable protection, a much riskier proposition. He was exposed to greater risk, yes, but the lack of fixed protection pushed the 22-year-old beyond his limits. On January 21, 2012, Lama and partner Peter Ortner free climbed Cerro Torre, advancing climbing to a new level.
It seems that climb also advanced the Austrian's confidence on big mountains. Always a sport and competition climber—going back to when he was just a 10-year-old phenom racking up competition titles—after Cerro Torre, Lama went on to tackle two more huge climbs in 2012: Trango Tower (6,251 meters) via the Eternal Flame and Chogolisa (7,665 metres), both in Pakistan's Karakoram Himalayas. “Cerro Torre will always be a special mountain to me," he recently told National Geographic Adventure. "It changed me from a sport climber into an alpinist.”
For more on David Lama, click here.
Many of Rich Froning's records are in events that most people haven't even heard of, blazing through timed workouts in the rising sport of CrossFit. Still, when you're sporting the title of "Fittest Man on Earth" for your second straight year at the relatively young age of 25, it demands attention. Froning picked up CrossFit—"the sport of fitness"—shortly after graduating from Tennessee Tech in 2009, and quickly established a name in the sport by placing second at the Crossfit Games in 2010. He went on to win in 2011 and 2012, making him a fitness celebrity and the sport’s first repeat champion. There are, of course, hard numbers behind Froning's athletic prowess that translate for you and me: at 195 pounds, he deadlifts 525 pounds, squats 425 pounds, snatches 270 pounds, bench presses 335 pounds and can perform 70 straight pull-ups. Fittest man on Earth? Maybe. A fitness beast? Definitely.
Fore more on Rich Froning, click here.
From the time Sasha DiGiulian began climbing at the age of 7, it was obvious she had a knack for the sport. When her local climbing gym held a competition, she entered on a whim…and won. From there, it didn’t take long for her climbing career to take off. Since 2004, she’s been racking up titles and prizes across the world at an absurd rate, including three straight national championships, the 2011 world championship and the 2012 Arco Rock Legend Award—more or less the Oscar of the climbing world—for sending 5.14d (9a) on Kentucky's Pure Imagination and Spain's Era Vella.
Just as impressive as her climbing skill is DiGiulian's brain. She's currently living in New York City, trying hard to balance climbing with an Ivy League education in business and marketing at Columbia University. Last year, she gave a TED talk in Montreal and partnered with HERA Women’s Cancer Foundation to put on her “Boulder Like a Girl” climbing clinic.
With a vision as sharp as her rock-crawling skills, DiGiulian is nowhere close to topping out, both on and off the crag.
For more on Sasha DiGiulian, click here.
This 25-year-old Aussie surfed her first pro event as a wildcard at age 17, won her first world championship at 19, and has tacked four more titles onto her total since. The first four came consecutively during her first four tours, by the way, something no other man or woman has done in professional surfing. She’s the youngest-ever inductee into not one, but two surfing halls of fame (So Cal’s and Australia’s) and, if she continues on this course, may become the most decorated female surfer of all time well before she turns 30.
Hell, if Gilmore keeps shredding waves like she is, she could give 11-time men’s champion Kelly Slater a run for his money—not that there's any ill will. Asked by the Sydney Morning Herald in 2010 if anyone can beat his record number of titles (then ten), Slater responded, "I think Stephanie Gilmore will."
"She's tried for four world titles," Slater added, "she's won four and there's no one out there right now whose telling me or showing me they're going to beat her anytime soon."
But Gilmore's passion for the sea goes beyond her dominance in surfing. Gilmore, along with Slater, is on the advisory board for ocean eco-activists Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
For more on Stephanie Gilmore, click here.
Decathletes are jacks of all trades, well-rounded athletes who master 10 track and field disciplines—100 meters, pole vault, shot put, long jump, 400 meters, javelin, high jump, discus, 110-meter hurdles and 1500 meters. It's such a difficult, grueling competition that the Olympic gold medalist is named the “World’s Greatest Athlete,” a tradition started by no-nonsense King Gustav V of Sweden at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912. Ashton Eaton, the 2012 Olympic champion, has not only proved himself to be the best, but also shattered a decade-old world record, prompting many to recognize that, this time, the title may be more than a traditional honorarium.
Click here for more about Ashton Eaton.