“Climbing is not about my profession, it’s about doing something that I love. I don’t need a vacation from climbing” – Alex Megos
Apart from being a talented athlete, Megos has a big heart.
Earlier this year the German made headlines after hosting 15 Ukrainians in his home in Erlangen, Bavaria. They were fleeing their country after the Russian military invasion.
Supporting them has been an eye-opening and enlightening experience, he admitted, adding that he feels like an ‘older brother’ for his ‘little sisters’, whom he prefers not to name:
“I’m really lucky to have them. Whenever I have a bad competition or a bad day, I know that I can count on them and that’s quite cool,” he said to Olympics.com when we met him at the European Championships 2022 in Munich.
The German star told us how he changed his habits to be more environmentally friendly and explained why it’s important to use his platform to voice his opinions and try to change the world for the better.
Read the full Olympics.com exclusive interview below.
Olympics.com: How would you describe yourself? Who are you away from the sport?
Alex Megos (AM): In my free time I go training, just because I love it. People tell me that I often train too much, but I still enjoy it. I also like hanging out with friends and, occasionally, trying to invest my spare time in making the world a better place… If you would zoom a bit back, you’d see my whole outfit with yellow ‘crocs’, my shorts with birds on them, and my flower shirt, that’s me hanging somewhere on rocks. I like to hang on rocks rather than on plastic.
Megos during the interview
O: You’re someone who cares about the environment. What kind of ways are you trying to do that?
AM: “I started eating more plant-based, because it seemed like the easiest thing to do. I think everybody should go more in that direction because: A; it’s really simple and B; it’s better for the environment. I decided I’ll not fly anymore for any competitions around the world, so I’ll either do competitions in Europe or not at all, because it’s very unlikely that I’ll take a boat to Japan or to the States. [laughs]. There is an exception to the rule though, if I do it for a rock trip. I’m trying to minimise my flying. I remember maybe five years ago, I had literally 50 flights a year and I’m trying to keep that down to a maximum of ten.
“I’m trying to minimise my flying. I decided I’ll not fly anymore for any competitions around the world.” – Alex Megos
O: You also hosted some Ukrainian girls. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
AM: “I had a Ukrainian girlfriend (Jenya Kazbekova), now ex-girlfriend, but when the war started in Ukraine, lots of people came to Europe, also to Germany to flee from the war. I took some people in, my parents, my coach and quite a few people around too. A few of them are also climbers, so we’re trying to help them, give them possibilities to train, to still compete, to go to school and so on. I have a strong connection to them, because they’ve been living with me and we are like a family, which is quite nice. I’ve noticed that as an athlete, you can’t keep quiet and you have to use your platform to voice your opinion. I know that a lot of people don’t like that, especially when it comes to politics, to racism… I’m not only an athlete to upload some nice pictures on social media about climbing. If I want to raise my voice for those issues, then I have a right to do so. I’m not a puppet.”
O: How has this experience been for you?
AM: “In my group, there were three Ukrainian young girls, but including my family, and my coach and my sister there were loads more. We helped them in the start and now I think they are doing quite okay. They are young kids 16, 17, 19 [years old]. I just wanted to enable them to be able to compete and to have good education in Germany. Those were my important things.”
Change of perspective
O: This must have been quite humbling for you: to bring these Ukrainians into your home. What have you learnt? How has your perspective change in terms of talking to them about their reality?
AM: “That’s an interesting question. At first, there was a bit of a language barrier with two of them, which is getting better now that they’ve learnt much better English than before. Actually, being able to communicate with them is really cool. I’m rather maybe their older brother because we are not that far away in age difference. It tops maybe 12 or 13 years. I think that gives me a bit of a unique access to them. I can sort of still tell them what to do and they would listen, because I guess I’m old enough to do so. But I’m still young enough to be able to talk about all the things they wouldn’t want to talk about with their parents. Occasionally at least, they talk to me about those things, which is an interesting experience. It really feels like having a sibling that’s quite a bit younger. That being said, they are also supporting me quite a bit. It doesn’t only go that way. It also goes the other way around. I’m really lucky to have them. Whenever I have a bad competition or a bad day, I know that I can count on them and that’s quite cool.”
O: You have an outgoing personality. How do you manage how much you give to the public and how much you keep for yourself?
AM: “I keep my private life, I would say. I don’t think a lot of people know anything about me. So, I’m not giving anything on private life, which makes me maybe look outgoing. But in reality, I think like a politician: talking, but nothing’s coming out. [laughs]”
Alex Megos’ climbing future
O: What are your goals for the near future?
AM: “Probably the rest of the year I’ll be mostly climbing outside on rocks and maybe doing the occasional competition still. But apart from that, I’ll focus on climbing outside. Next year, no plans yet. There will be the qualification event for the Olympics, but I don’t know yet if I will participate or not. I guess we’ll see next year.”
O: What percentage of climbing is mental and what percentage is physical?
AM: “That depends on the round. I feel sometimes in bouldering it can be in 90% mental and 10% physical and it can also be 90% physical and 10% mental. It depends on the boulder and the athlete. I think that’s why climbing is so interesting, because you kind of need both. You can’t do it just like in gymnastics, where you can train your routine and you know you can do it, you just need to hope that you perform well enough and that it’ll be enough to win. That’s not the case in climbing. You can be the best climber in the world, and you won’t have a good competition if the odds are against you or if your mind isn’t on the right place, if the boulders don’t suit you, if the route doesn’t suit you… Then you just won’t perform.”
Alex Megos: Who isn’t a Taylor Swift fan?
O: How would you describe your climbing style?
AM: “It’s rather a playful dancing, what I’m trying to achieve. With my climbing style I feel like I trained a lot into one direction, so my climbing got quite choppy. It feels like chopping wood sometimes. I feel I need to get more into that dancing direction to be able to get into a flow and that’s what I’m trying to achieve. Emotional wise, definitely, rather happier and playful emotions than angry emotions.”
O: What kind of music do you listen to before you go climbing?
AM: “Taylor Swift, obviously. Who isn’t a Taylor Swift fan? [laughs]. I went to her concert in 2018 in Manchester, it was crazy. So good.”
O: How do you balance competition climbing and rock climbing?
AM: “To find the balance is quite odd sometimes and gets harder and harder the more advanced our sport becomes. If you want to be good, especially in indoor bouldering, you need to invest time and you can’t do that if you’re climbing outside 50% of the time. I’m trying to find the balance as good as possible, but at some point, I’ll just go outside climbing.”
O: There is a fine line between competition and sport. Is it fair to say climbing is not only your profession, but your lifestyle?
AM: “Definitely. If I can’t bring anything, not even a hand luggage, I would put my climbing shoes on the pockets of my jacket. Literally. I’ve done that already. [laughs]. It’s not about my profession, it’s about doing something that I love. It’s an easy pick in that sense for me. I don’t need vacation from climbing. I don’t need vacation from my job, because my job is climbing and I love climbing. Technically I shouldn’t call a vacation because it’s my job, but it does feel like it.”