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In August, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved climbing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC), who submitted the proposal, had asked for eight medals and 60 competitors. This would have allowed 30 men and 30 women to compete for medals in sport climbing, bouldering, and speed climbing, as well as an overall medal for male and female competitors who ranked the best across all three events. Instead, the IOC allowed only 40 competitors (20 men and 20 women), and two medals (one per gender). The Olympic climbing event will require athletes to compete in all three events, with medals only going to competitors with the highest combined score. The format, and inclusion of climbing in the Olympics in general, has sparked a range of opinions across our community. We asked a variety of pro climbers to weigh in.
“To say that I’m excited that climbing is in the Olympics would be an understatement. It’s a tremendous step forward in the progression of the sport, and it will greatly expand the sport’s prospective audience and influence. While I do not think the combined medal format is ideal, it is still the best option given the limited quota of athletes that will be invited to participate. I hope that in the future the format will change to resemble the four medal presentation that is currently in place for the World Cup.”
“I’m happy that climbing has finally made the Olympics! I am NOT in support of the format that imposes that all climbers must compete in speed climbing. That is like asking a middle distance runner to compete in the sprint. Speed climbing is a sport within our sport. However, it has nothing to do with the sport or spirit of rock climbing!
“I hope the Olympic committee will reconsider their decision and allow competitors to choose speed climbing only if they want to.”
“Opinions aside, climbing is growing rapidly and our spot in the Olympics is about to supercharge that growth. Whether we like it or not, it’s crucial to the longevity of our sport that all climbers step up and take responsibility for our crags and actions at the crags.”
“Climbing in the Olympics doesn’t change much for me as an adventure/trad climber, but for the true athletes of our sport, it will be a great opportunity. As for the combined medal format, and more specifically speed climbing, it’s bogus. Competition speed climbing is so far removed from the heart of rock climbing, and I don’t think it deserves to be on the Olympic stage representing our sport. It will, however, be interesting to see who can cobble together the necessary skills to end up on the podium.”
“I like climbing in the Olympics for the reason the games were created: enjoying an ancient athletics competition. As far as the combined medals, each event deserves to be in a separate category. Though sport and bouldering are more similar than speed, they still are different disciplines. Speed climbers will have the biggest disadvantage because their realm isn’t based on difficult movements. It’s going to come down to boulderers and sport climbers begrudgingly giving their go at the speed wall, while the actual speed climbers blow the others’ scores out of the water.”
“I don’t have particularly strong feelings one way or another about climbing in the Olympics. Doesn’t seem like it’ll be too fundamentally different than the current World Cup series. I suppose the bigger stage will be good for the individual athletes involved, especially whoever winds up winning. The format is a bit of a bummer since none of the athletes want it that way. But I’ve been told it was either that or choose one specific discipline at the expense of the others.”
“I love the idea of climbing being in the Olympics. I never thought I would see the day. This is HUGE for climbing! This is almost a new start, or a jump, in our industry’s growth. The young pros of tomorrow will have such a different experience.
“I believe the three disciplines being the one game is cheesy and unfair. I mean there is NO question the speed climbers will be the ones with the hardest time. The usual bouldering and lead format would be perfect and would make sense to us. Instead, it feels like some cigar smoking goomba made up the format behind a desk somewhere in a high-rise building. It’s comical and unfortunate.”
“Overall I am excited that climbing is being included in the Olympics. However, I feel that the combined event is a compromise, and like all compromises, not everyone is happy. I know they were only offered one medal, so I would rather the combined event over just speed climbing, but I really think the majority of climbers prefer to specialize in bouldering or difficulty. Honestly, the people that will suffer the most are the ones that focus only on speed climbing. Those skills/abilities don’t transfer as well to the other disciplines. I don’t see any top speed climbers making it to the Olympics in the first year. We’ll have to see how the selection process pans out. Hopefully in 2024 we can see four medals for climbing; one each for speed, bouldering, difficulty, and combined.”
“I favor introducing more people around the world to this wonderful activity, and hope they might discover the life-changing potential of recreating in the vertical world! As for the format, I feel strongly that there should be three medal events—sport, rope, speed—since they are different disciplines that test very different physical attributes, just as running 100, 400, and 1,600 meters are very different events.”
“I’m curious if people will start training in speed climbing that haven’t done it much before. I think that the more people that get into climbing, the more it will have a bigger impact on climbing areas and our natural world, which can be hard if Leave No Trace tactics aren’t passed on to the new climbers. On the flip side, it also presents more opportunity for more people to champion climbing and learn to value and protect the places we love. So I think it can have a good impact, too.”
“Climbing in the Olympics has always been a dream of mine, ever since I started competing 10 years ago. Olympic exposure will introduce our sport to the world and hopefully increase the amount of support and resources available to athletes. The format is less than ideal. There is some overlap between top athletes in sport climbing and bouldering. However, none of the top speed climbers are also elite in either of the other disciplines.”
“Personally, I think climbing in the Olympics is a positive event for the sport. Climbing in the Olympics is especially good for the younger generation—it is an exceptional goal that many young climbers will want to reach for and will only push the bar higher. That being said, as primarily an outdoor climber, I do have some concerns. I hope it doesn’t stray climbers away from the outdoors.”
“The fact that climbing is in the Olympics at all is a huge step forward for the sport, and I’m psyched about it! However, the one combined medal format is the best way to showcase the talent of some of the world’s best climbers. Most of the big-name World Cup athletes specialize in their respective disciplines, especially the speed climbers. Ideally, if climbing remains an Olympic sport, we’ll see this format change in 2024. It’ll allow some of the true best climbers in the world to compete, and it’ll display the differences between the three disciplines much more accurately.”
“I will say that it worries me to some extent. Our outdoor climbing resources are finite and every year more and more issues concerning access arise. I just hope that along with the undoubtable growth of the pursuit that there remains an overarching emphasis on conservation and outdoor ethics.”
“I think that climbing being in the Olympics is great for the sport! Climbing is still quite obscure to non-climbers, so maybe this will give people a better understanding of what goes on. When I tell people I’m a professional climber half the time they have no idea that climbing is a sport.”