For the Avezou family, winning a ticket for the Paris Olympics is a family adventure. Zélia and Sam are currently part of the climbing team of France aiming for Olympic qualification. Cécile, their mother, is now part of the French coaching staff after a busy career at the highest level.

The trio was at work last October at the European Olympic Qualification Tournament (OQT) in Laval. Under a watchful maternal eye, Sam, 22, and Zélia, 19, placed 3rd and 5th respectively. They have certainly failed for the moment to get their ticket to Paris, reserved for the winner of the continental tournament, but the siblings are now boosted in view of their last chance to be there: the Olympic qualification series in Shanghai and Budapest in May and June 2024.

To do so, they will have to rank among the top 10 climbers who have not yet qualified for the Olympics. A challenge that does not scare them and that they have already started to prepare in their cocoon of ES Massy, on the outskirts of Paris, where they have been licensed since their earliest childhood, alongside their mother.

Children take over

Because at the root of Avezou's passion for climbing, there is Cécile. She discovered the discipline during an initiation with her college in the 1980s before taking it a little more seriously at university. At a time when the level is less dense than it is now, she is quickly achieving results.

Amazingly, it performs well in all climbing disciplines: speed, lead, bouldering... The highlight of her career remains her title of vice-world champion in combined, obtained in 2012 at home in Bercy, when she was already 40 years old.

© Manfred Werner, Wikimedia Commons / FMM Graphics Studio

The different disciplines of climbing

Bouldering: the climber is confronted with several "boulders" to be climbed in a limited time, in just a few movements. The aim is to "solve" as many boulders as possible - with a maximum height of 4.50 m - without belaying.

The difficulty (or route): this is the most "classic" discipline. Each athlete takes turns climbing a 15m wall and whoever gets to the highest hold wins. In the event of a tie, the timer will decide the tie.

Speed: this is the sprint of climbing. Two athletes compete simultaneously on identical 15m walls. The first to the top wins and advances to the next round.

The combined: a format set up for the Olympics combining bouldering and difficulty. The athlete must first face 4 blocks, each worth 25 points, and then go as far as possible on a route that is worth 100 points. On this route, each catch earns more points as you get closer to the top.

At the time, she couldn't imagine her children taking over. However, they soon caught the family bug. Zélia, Sam and even Leo, the eldest, are all passionate about climbing.

"I also used to go to the gym but I stopped climbing anyway," says Zélia. "When you're young and you're stronger in one sport, you look more to that one than the other."

"It was also easier," Sam smiles. "If your three kids are climbing, you bring them to the same place all at once and presto! They're all climbing!"

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"In the beginning, it's just small local competitions. And if you do well, you find yourself in the championship of France quite quickly, because there are not many people from 14-15 years old. And you can find yourself in the France team quite quickly. At this stage it's quite easy to want to do better," the 22-year-old continued.

Versatile as mom

And Sam, just like Zélia, inherited his mother's versatility. In 2018, he won a historic bronze medal in combined at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. He also won a silver medal at the European Senior Bouldering Championships in Munich in 2022 and made a podium in the Lead World Cup in Chamonix in the summer of 2023. Now, he is chasing an Olympic qualification, even if the competition is tough within the France team with Medji Schlack, Paul Jenft and Mickael Maiwen.

"In the end, there will be one or two who will be there. But we know each other, we'll be happy for the others if we don't go and they'll be happy for us if it's us," Sam Avezou said.

© Jan Virt, IFSC / FMM Graphics Studio

Zélia also has a lot of money at her fingertips. In the junior category, she won the gold medal at the World Junior Championships in Dallas in March 2022. For her first season in the senior category in 2023, she started in the shadows before finishing in a cannonball: a 4th place at the 2023 Bouldering World Championships in Bern before 5th place at the TQO in Laval. This was enough to change her plans, as she was not necessarily aiming for Olympic qualification this year due to her young age.

"All of a sudden in Bern, I realised that the Olympics were something I could try to go for...", says the 19-year-old climber.

© Jan Virt, IFSC / FMM Graphics Studio

An Olympic tournament that she will experience under high pressure. As the 5th French woman in the world ranking, she lives the event on an ejection seat because the France team can only have four people for future meetings.

In the end, the ending was a happy one. France's Oriane Bertone proved to be by far the strongest, and secured a direct ticket to the Games, giving Zélia Avezou a place in qualifying. When the results arrived, she fell into the arms of her friend "Ori" with genuine joy for her. And a boost for the future.

"I know what I have to do...", she begins. The difficulty," his brother cuts off directly with a mocking smile.

"I know that I can gain a lot of difficulty because it's a discipline where you need a lot of experience to progress, both in training and in competition. And I'm kind of missing," she continues. "The difficulty, we saw that it was decisive in combined," adds his brother.

"If you do all the blocks, you're not training enough"

To give themselves the means to achieve their Olympic ambitions, the brother and sister have already resumed training: hours of climbing every day to master as many boulders, routes and different movements as possible. In addition to the ES Massy room, they walk together the ever-growing network of rooms in Île-de-France.

Sam Avezou attempts a spectacular move. © Romain Houeix, France 24

"The best ones are the ones that are going to be able to climb on a maximum variety of movements," says Sam. "We go to all the venues that open at a level that's hard enough for us."

"In the warm-up, we do almost everything 'on sight' [on the first try] to take it easy. But after that, we're going to try to go on blocks that are a little too hard for us. We'll spend 1 hour, or even 2 hours on a block, sometimes without ever succeeding," continues her sister.

"If you do all the blocks, you're not training enough," she concludes.

Zelia watches Sam climb. © Romain Houeix, France 24

Big brother Leo also helps them

The family can also count on another asset: the older brother Léo. While he's not chasing the Olympic dream himself, he's just as addicted to climbing as the others. A member of the France bouldering team, he is above all a professional opener, that is to say that he designs climbing walls for climbers. A profession that he puts at the service of the youngest and youngest. Before the competitions, he sometimes offers them a circuit of four new blocks to get into the conditions of D-Day.

"It's also a good climbing partner for them. They don't have the same qualities at all. So when they train together, it pushes them to work on something else," notes their mother.

Indeed, Zélia and Sam are small in stature, rather light. This gives them an advantage for technical blocks.

"In terms of physical qualities and explosiveness, they are quite similar. But in terms of temperament and personality, it's something else, you have to learn to deal with it," explains their mother, watching them with a tender eye as they warm up on the walls of the club. "I'm their mom and I'm also their coach. For Zélia, I'm the one who coordinates her project with her. Sam, on the other hand, has become more independent."

Sam and Zélia warm up side by side on a climbing wall at ES Massy. © Romain Houeix, France 24

"For me, the role of parent and coach is quite similar. It's about teaching them autonomy so that they can fend for themselves afterwards, so that they don't need outside help to be successful. The common thread is to let them live their passion and I feel like it works quite well."

The Avezou team is well established and is looking forward to May and June when everything will be played out for the dream of the Olympic Games at home. However, there is no question of putting too much pressure on yourself.

"It's going to look like it's an obsession. That's all we talk about all the time. It's true that the Olympics are a goal in one's life. But after this Olympiad there are other competitions that are just as important," she relativizes. "Winning a world championship is as important as the Olympics," his brother added.

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