Sport Climbing

Photo by Maja Hitij/Bongarts/Getty Images
Photo by Maja Hitij/Bongarts/Getty Images

Sport Climbing makes its Olympic debut, with athletes winning gold thanks to the power and strength in their fingertips.

Overview

Sport climbing takes the challenge of scaling steep ascents to a whole new level. Using a range of hand and foot holds of different shapes and sizes, climbers put their skills and strength into practice on a vertical wall. The wall may feature varying angles of either positive (known in climbing as a slab) or negative (steep, overhanging) sections.

The sport will make its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 and will feature three disciplines: Speed, Bouldering and Lead. Speed climbing pits two climbers against each other, both climbing a route on a 15m wall. In Bouldering, athletes scale a number of fixed routes on a 4.5m wall in a specified time. In Lead, athletes attempt to climb as high as possible on a wall measuring over 15m in height within a specified time. At the Games, each climber will compete in all three disciplines, and the final rankings will be determined by multiplying the placement in each discipline, with the athletes achieving the lowest scores winning medals.

In some disciplines, climbers attach safety ropes; however, no other equipment is permitted, and competitors must climb using only their bare hands and climbing shoes. The sport requires strength, flexibility and skill, together with careful advance planning: the first ever medallists will all possess this unique combination of physical and mental capability and decisiveness.

One Minute, One Sport | Sport Climbing
01:18

Event Programme

  • Combined (Men/Women)

Essence of the Sport

Three disciplines, one goal

A variety of techniques are required for success in the combined formats of sport climbing at Tokyo 2020:

Speed
Two climbers secure safety ropes to themselves and attempt to scale a 15m-high wall, set at an angle of 95 degrees, faster than their opponent on identical routes. Winning times for men's events tend to be around the five to six-second mark, while women's events are usually won in around seven or eight seconds. A false start results in instant disqualification.

Bouldering
In Bouldering, athletes climb as many fixed routes as they can within four minutes, on a 4.5m-high wall equipped with safety mats. The routes vary in difficulty and climbers are not permitted to practise climbing them in advance. When a climber grabs the final hold at the top of a route with both hands, they are deemed to have completed it. Climbers tackle the wall without safety ropes and can try a route again if they fall during their initial attempt.

The walls used for bouldering present a range of challenges, with overhangs and some holds so small that they can only be held by the fingertips. Climbers must plan each move carefully, thinking about which hand and foot to place in the next holds, while constantly being aware of the time limit. The physical and mental dexterity required for success is extraordinary.

Lead
Lead involves athletes attempting to climb as high as they can on a wall measuring more than 15m in height within six minutes. The climbers use safety ropes and attach the rope to quickdraws (equipment that allows the rope to run freely while leading) along the route. When a climber attaches their rope to the top quickdraw, they have completed the climb. If a climber falls, the height (hold number) attained is recorded. There are no re-climbs.

If two or more athletes complete the climb or reach exactly the same height, the fastest to do so is declared the winner. This is a demanding whole-body activity and dynamic climbing techniques are greatly important.

To prevent athletes gaining an advantage from watching others scaling the bouldering and lead climbing walls before them, each climber is kept away from the climbing wall before their turn and given just a few minutes to examine the wall and routes prior to starting.

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Trivia