Ashima Shiraishi Announces Partnership With Coca-Cola

Ashima Shiraishi Announces Partnership With Coca-Cola
Climbing prodigy Ashima Shiraishi rang in her 16th birthday last week by announcing her partnership with Coca-Cola--the largest single endorsement for any climber in history.



Since this announcement, there has been endless debate as to whether or not her new partnership with a corporation best known for making unhealthy soft drinks can be considered "selling out." There is little doubt that Shiraishi is on the forefront of the next generation looking to push the boundaries of rock climbing and potentially reinvent the sport for future generations to come. With climbing's first appearance at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo on the horizon, Coca-Cola may have just staked its claim on the first Olympic gold medalist.

This past season was Shiraishi's first year of eligibility to compete as a pro in the open category, and she made her presence known right away. She won gold last month at the 2017 USAC Sport Open Nationals, earning the title of national champion. One month prior, she earned silver at Bouldering Open Nationals just behind 10-time national champion Alex Puccio. With two massive successes early on in Shiraishi's professional career, there is little doubt that the future is bright for this young phenom. She has accomplished more than most could ever dream since being exposed to the sport only 10 years ago.

Shiraishi has been climbing since the age of 6 after accidentally stumbling across the Rat Rock boulder located in Central Park in the heart of Manhattan, where she lives with her parents. Since then, it's been nothing but climbing on the docket, as Shiraishi progressed quickly as a young climber. In six years of competing in the USAC youth category, she has eight medals (seven gold, one silver) as well as two gold medals in two years of competing at the IFSC Youth World Championships--both for bouldering.

To accompany her accomplishments on the competitive scene, her production on real rock has transcended both age and gender in the sport. Just shy of her 15th birthday,  Shiraishi became the first female climber and youngest climber ever to climb V15 with the second ascent of Horizon near Miyazaki, Japan.



This groundbreaking ascent came nearly a year after Shiraishi made major headlines with her redpoint ascent of Open Your Mind Direct 5.14d in Santa Linya, Spain. There was much debate about the grade of the climb after a hold broke prior to Shiraishi's send, making the climb harder and potentially bumping the grade to 5.15a, a grade that had yet to be established by a female climber. Daniel Woods repeated the climb later in April 2016, confirming the original grade.



In most other professional sports on the planet, a partnership like this would make sense given the elite status and limitless potential of an athlete like Shiraishi. So what's the problem?

Much of the blowback from the community has come in the form of criticizing the young athlete for endorsing a product that does little, if anything, to promote the healthy lifestyle commonly associated with the sport. The comments following her Instagram post ranged from disappointed to utter outrage at the news:

"Yet another 'athlete' peddling Coca Cola. Sad, sad times."

It seems that the general public is having a difficult time separating the economic pursuit of an elite athlete from the hero-like persona it has bestowed on Shiraishi.

While many are quick to point fingers at the young phenom for "selling out," there is something to be said about the fact that one of the biggest corporations in the world is paying attention to rock climbing. With the rapid growth of the industry and the potential for great things on the horizon, it begs the question: Is this just the beginning, and is it really all that bad?

Interview with Ashima on the Olympic format for 2020:



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