Sport climbing has reached the top of the Olympic wall for Tokyo 2020. It should all be uphill from there.
An activity on the rise due to its combination of physical activity and euphoria will cross a new frontier when the first rock is grabbed at the Olympics on August 3.
Here’s everything you need to know about rock climbing:
Controversial! Because rock climbing only received one Olympic medal from the International Olympic Committee for Tokyo 2020, it combined three disciplines.
In a typical competition, bouldering, speed climbing, and lead climbing are all their own events.
But at the Olympics, 20 men and 20 women will each compete in each event. The podium and the general classification are then determined by multiplying the individual classification of each event.
Let’s say Canadian Sean McColl is second in bouldering, fourth in lead climbing and sixth in speed climbing. His total would be 2x4x6, which equals 48.
The format meant that athletes, who typically specialize in one or two of the three disciplines, had to quickly learn the third.
WATCH | Sport climbing, explained:
In bouldering finals, athletes have four minutes to climb up to three routes (called bouldering problems) on a shorter wall than the other two disciplines. You can drop and try again as many times as necessary – think of it like the NBA dunk contest.
In speed climbing, it’s a straight sprint to the top of a 15-meter wall that takes the fastest men under six seconds and the fastest women just under seven seconds. The final is disputed in the form of a slice.
Lead climbing is the way you may have tried rock climbing before. Climbers have six minutes to climb a 15-meter wall as high as possible. If you fall, the height you have reached is the one recorded.
Podium contenders will have to be careful not to spoil their chances with too poor a ranking in their worst event. At least two top-three finishes, plus another in the middle of the pack, should do the job.
The multiplier means that every point is important – if the points were added up, one or two places might not mean much. But with multiplication, the stakes could grow exponentially.
Of the three new sports – excluding returning ones like baseball and softball, and a new discipline like 3×3 basketball – Canada has the best chance of climbing the podium in, well, in climbing.
McColl, 33, of North Vancouver, British Columbia, has won four world championships combined, although he only narrowly qualified for the Olympics with a 10th place finish at the 2019 world championships.
After appearing before the IOC to lobby for the addition of rock climbing, McColl found himself having to be first or second in a lead climbing event to make it to Tokyo. He then nailed what he called a “reckless” climb after initially holding on to his harness incorrectly to punch his ticket.
Still, McColl remains one of the most skilled competitors in all three events, with 34 total World Cup podiums in his career. He specializes in lead and block, but is strong enough in speed to stop large numbers from blowing his total score.
Family friend Alannah Yip, a 27-year-old Vancouverite, was expected to win the 2020 Pan American Championships, but did so after placing fifth in speed, third in lead and first in bouldering (for an overall score of 15, which can give you an idea of what it takes to land on the Olympic podium.)
WATCH | McColl, Yip on Olympic preparation:
But Yip, who has a degree in mechanical engineering, will likely have a harder time getting to the podium than McColl.
One of the reasons is Janja Garnbret.
Think Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, Mikael Kingsbury, American women’s basketball. Garnbret is that dominant.
The 22-year-old Slovenian won six bouldering World Cup events in 2019, the first person to accomplish the feat. Garnbret is almost as unbeatable in the lead. If she can keep up the speed, she’ll likely head straight for the top of the podium.
Among the men, the Czech Adam Ondra is considered the favorite, but not Garnbret.
Ondra was disqualified from the event at which McColl took the last Olympic berth in 2019 before bouncing back to book his ticket for a 2020 event.
But Ondra is not just a competitive climber. Although he is well balanced like McColl, he also devotes a lot of time to bouldering outside, leaving him beat on the plastic.
In both women’s and men’s events, host Japan has several athletes capable of reaching the podium.
More than any other new sport, climbing wants to take advantage of the Olympic Games to extend its international influence.
Although an ingrained activity, the Games can help rock climbing to assert itself as a sport and a competition.
And the growth has already begun: at Paris 2024, climbing was awarded two podiums per gender, allowing it to separate speed climbing from the other two disciplines while including more athletes in total.
One step after another.