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Katie Brown is just 19, but she's already reached the pinnacle of her sport. And when you're a competitive climber, being at the top of your game is a pretty steep trip.

Brown is a three-time champ at the X-Games, a two-time winner of the American Sport Climbing Federation (ASCF) championship, and a fourth-place finisher in last year's World Cup, the Super Bowl of sports climbing. She's a heavy favorite at this July's Gravity Games in Providence, R.I.

Climbing is quickly catching a foothold in teen sports. The challenge of "flashing" a wall -- climbing to the top can be just as thrilling as a hot grind on your skateboard. "It's really hard, but it's something you do naturally," says Brown. "When you're a kid you climb over everything. I just haven't stopped climbing."

Competitive sports climbing is usually staged on indoor, specially constructed walls. Strapped to a safety rope and using finger- and toeholds called "clips," the athletes scale walls that range from 45 to 60 feet high. The safety rope comes in handy because usually only one climber out of an average pack of 25 flashes to the top. Whoever climbs the highest before falling is the winner.

"Falling is just part of it," says Brown. "It's not embarrassing. Everyone falls." Everyone but Brown, that is. At the last ASCF match, she was the only climber to flash the wall in each of three rounds.

Brown started climbing at 13, when she tagged along with an older brother. A year later, she entered her first competition--and finished last. Since then, competitions have taken her throughout the U.S. and Europe.

The travel makes it hard to have a normal life. Brown, who is from San Francisco, got her high school diploma without attending classes (she had tutoring instead), but missed her prom. "It's a trade-off," she says. "I got to do cool things other kids haven't done, but I missed stuff too."

Now she's taking college courses and dating another climber. "That way we get to see each other while we practice," she says.

The climbing world has learned that if you want to see Brown, you have to look up. She'll be at the top of the wall.


What comes up must come down. It may be true in physics, but don't tell that to the athletes at this summer's Gravity Games, who all have the same goal: staying in the air as long as they can.

More than 200 athletes from 14 countries will take to the air from July 15 to 23 at the second annual summer Gravity Games in Providence, Rhode Island. Billing itself as an "alternative sports, lifestyle, and music festival," the Gravities, like the X Games, are the Olympics of extreme sports. Events include in-line skating, sports climbing, biking, downhill skateboarding, freestyle motocross, and street luge. Highlights will air on NBC in October.
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Publication:New York Times Upfront
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 8, 2000
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