Alexey and Maxim Tomilov fell in love with the sport they dominate by chance.
Back in 1998, the two avid competitive indoor climbers watched the first Russian ice climbing championships in Kirov, their hometown, as spectators and were intrigued by what they saw.
“We realized we wanted to do it,” says Alexey, 29, the shorter but older brother of Maxim who is 27-years-old.
Since that fateful moment, the two brothers who work as construction workers on high-rise buildings during the summer and compete during the winter, have dived into the sport which now takes up almost six months each year.
They personify what it takes for a competitive ice climber to compete at the highest levels today.
Alexey has been one of the top ranked athletes on the UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup tour since 2002 when he won his first world cup in Valdone, Italy and since then he has consistently placed among the best. Maxim’s best year was in 2012 when he became overall Men’s Lead champion.
“By nature Alexey is more talented than me,” says Maxim. “It takes longer for me to get into competition shape, but during competitions I am more psychologically prepared.”
Of the two, Alexey is the more talkative, while Maxim makes pointed interjections every now and then, often preceded by a gentle smile.
By the time construction season winds down in September, the two brothers who train together and live near each other in Kirov start getting ready for the ice climbing season by rock climbing and jogging together.
For the next three to four months, the two brothers undertake a gruelling regime of training which sees them on the ice climbing competition wall in Kirov and the gym twice a day for between four to six hours daily.
“It’s getting more and more difficult to compete every year,” says Maxim about the quality of climbers that have begun to emerge on the scene.
They say the Lead routes are also getting longer and more difficult by the year as route setters find ways to push the limits for athletes.
The brothers are optimistic about the future of the sport which will be showcased during the Sochi Winter Olympics next year in Russia, but acknowledge that it’s still a relatively young sport.
“We think the Speed event is more dynamic and more suitable because people can understand what’s going on and world records can be made and broken,” the two say through their translator and team doctor Jamel Evgeny Mashkovskiy.
The more involved Lead discipline, however, is more popular among a lot of athletes, they say.
The sport, they say, has to include many more countries than compete today.
“When other countries begin to compete we will have more of a chance to get in the Olympics,” says Alexey.
Both remain hopeful they can compete for Russia in the Olympics as athletes but say what drives them is competing today in the UIAA Ice Climbing World Tour.
“We are competing now and we are not disappointed,” says Maxim.
Asked what he loves best about the about the sport, Maxim says: “It’s about how something can always change during the competition. I love the feeling of the unknown, the sudden fall, the ice is always changing. It’s not predictable.”
“You can be physically ready to compete but one technical mistake and it’s all over,” he adds.
Both have their favourite venues.
Maxim loves the audience and the wall in Saas Fee, Switzerland while Alexey says he loves competing in France where he says there is lot more ice on the wall.
There isn’t a third Tomilov brother on the horizon to compete in future competitions but both brothers jokingly warn that they have young daughters.
Alexey’s little girl is four-years-old and Maxim’s has a girl who is almost two.