Early Monday morning, a video of Indonesian speed climber Aries Susanti Rahayu setting a new world record at the IFSC Climbing World Cup made the rounds on social media. Rahayu beat China’s YiLing Song, the previous record holder for the event at 7.101 seconds, with a time of 6.995 seconds.
Women's speed climbing record was smashed. Under 7 seconds. Inhuman. pic.twitter.com/8EC1A1wE1O— Mark Serrels (@Serrels) October 20, 2019
It’s apt that Rahayu’s nickname is “Spider-Woman” because the first thing that popped into my head when I first saw the video of her climb was Stan Lee saying, “Welcome back, true believers” from the original PlayStation Spider-Man game.
It’s easy to watch Rahayu’s climb and think, “she’s inhuman.” Though we can see and reason how she manages it, the climb is so outside our regular capabilities and experiences that one of the only fitting compliments we can give is to say that she has transcended human ability. For many people, just finishing a climb like that is tough. Rahayu not only does it, she is breathtakingly fast and fluid up the wall.
Rahayu’s climb is not inhuman, however; instead, it’s everything wonderful about greatness in sports. It’s a push against and an expansion of human limits. In a hair under seven seconds, she shows what can be accomplished with rigorous training, focus, strength, agility, and intelligence. The climb is an example of having the power and dexterity to go from one hold to the next, but also of problem-solving to determine the most efficient route and body positioning to make each successive move as effortless as possible.
Rahayu’s body and mind are so in sync, she wastes no motion or thought. Watching her feels surreal, as if she’s being pulled upwards by an external power.
Rather than try to understand Rahayu’s feat through our own abilities and end up speechless, it’s best to look at the accomplishment in relation to her opponent. Song is also an amazing athlete. The two of them exist in a bubble that the rest of us will probably never enter. Song held the record beforehand, and had trained her body and mind as much as her opponent. Yet, the course is so difficult that Song slips and loses any chance at victory by the second move.
The requirement to be as good as Rahayu is to be perfect. Her goal wasn’t just to beat Song, but to push the limits of human capability. Sports, as much as any other art, is a platform to challenge our understanding of the world, beginning with what we think the body and mind together are capable of.
Rahayu just set the standard in speed climbing, but her record is not a dead-end. It’s a suggestion to the next individual to go even faster.