Olympic Climbing Dictionary for Dummies

Don't know a belayer from a send, no worries, our easy-to-use guide can set you straight.

Photo: Vladek Zumr

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Here’s a list of key climbing terms both to help you understand this article and what the commentators will be talking about during the Olympics. Climbing is certainly one of the most lingo-intensive sports in the world. If you want to learn more, there’s a handy reference called the Climbing Dictionary.


The roped system (and the device itself) used in speed climbing to ensure that a competitor is lowered safely and slowly to the ground in the event of a fall. The auto-belay only lowers the climber; it does not in any way assist the climber, i.e., pull her up the wall.


Sarah fell midway up the speed wall and was lowered by the auto-belay.


The person who controls the rope’s slack and tension, and arrests any falls, while the climber is on the wall. In the Olympics, the belayer will be standing on the ground the entire time while the climber ascends.


When the climber fell, he was caught by the belayer.


Information or general strategizing about the best way to decipher the moves/sequences on a route.


Her beta of trying to jump to the next handhold is proving to be ineffective.


A type of handhold (and the corresponding way of gripping it—usually with the thumb wrapped over the index finger) that is usually a small horizontal edge or lip. Technique for properly “crimping” will vary, but in all types of crimps, climbers must load a significant amount of their body weight onto their fingertips.


He is reaching for the crimp. [or] He is crimping the edge of that yellow volume.


A type of climbing movement in which the competitor lunges toward the next handhold but does not fully give up all points of contact with the wall—usually maintaining three.


Nathaniel Coleman can probably deadpoint from the first hold to the zone hold.


A type of climbing movement in which the competitor all-out jumps to the next handhold, essentially becoming airborne and briefly giving up any points of contact with the wall.


Nathaniel Coleman will dyno to the top of the boulder problem.


To climb to the top of a route or boulder without any prior knowledge (or beta) of the proper sequence. In competition, this means coming out of the isolation zone and climbing to the top on the very first attempt.


Brooke Raboutou flashed the first boulder.


A difficulty rating assigned to a roped climb or boulder problem. There are many climbing-rating systems the world over; a full explanation can be found here.


While the setters didn’t give this problem an official grade, those who’ve tried it so far peg the difficulty around V10.


A type of hold gripped between the fingers and an opposing thumb, in any orientation.


The route starts with a big pinch and then turns into a collection of volumes.

Quickdraw (aka Draw)

Gear used in lead climbing to secure the climber to the wall and help arrest a fall. One end of the quickdraw will be anchored to the wall; the other end will be a carabiner that’s “clipped” as the climber ascends, clipping her rope into successive quickdraws (usually spaced a body-length apart) and thus limiting the distance of any fall. Here is an example of South Korea’s Jain Kim clipping the rope into a quickdraw with her left hand as she climbs.


Climbers’ slang for a successful ascent.


Her send of the third boulder was quick and impressive.


A climbing wall that’s typically vertical or slightly less than—think obtuse angles from geometry class. Climbing on slab generally requires slower, technical movement and balance on small or poor holds.


The second boulder is a slab, which is generally something she struggles with in competition.


A type of handhold that’s usually rounded and must be gripped by using the full surface of an open hand, almost like palming a basketball.


That right-hand sloper will help her stabilize her body so she can reach for the top.


The end of the climbing route or the boulder. Note that the “top” in competition is not literally the top of the wall but rather a handhold that’s been designated as the “top” handhold.


Adam Ondra won the bouldering event with three tops.


A type of hold that’s too large to be designated as just a handhold or foothold, but is more of a feature. Volumes are often extremely large, hollow, and geometrically shaped (prisms, spheres, pyramids).


If she can press away from the volume with her feet, she will be able to reach the next handhold.


A scored handhold approximately halfway up a boulder. There is one zone hold per bouldering problem. [Note that the scoring for IFSC bouldering competitions—and, thus, bouldering in the Olympics—is different from the scoring of USA Climbing competitions. So, if you’ve watched any USA Climbing Bouldering National Championships in which there are holds that are worth 10 points, 15 points, etc., be aware that the scoring for the bouldering portion of the Olympics will not be comparable.]


She didn’t get the top, but she got the zone on her first attempt.

John Burgman is the author of High Drama: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of American Competition Climbing, which chronicles the history of American competition climbing.

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