Sport climbing is in the Olympic games for the first time in history and it all starts on August 3!
We’re only a few weeks away from rock climbing’s debut in the Olympics for the first time in history! Some of the best climbers in the world are descending on Tokyo to compete in a three-part rock climbing competition that will challenge their strength, speed, power, strategy, and endurance. And in the end, only one woman and one man will receive the first-ever gold medals in sports climbing.
This is a big moment for rock climbing as the sport gains recognition on the world’s largest stage. And we’re more than a little bit excited to watch some of the top climbers in the world go for gold on the wall!
Who are the top athletes to look out for? How do the competitions work? Where can I tune in? What events is my local BKB hosting?! We’ve got all the answers and more for you in our Guide to Rock Climbing in the Olympics. So grab your climbing buddies and head to your favorite BKB to watch the Climbing Events. Starting August, we’ll be screening the climbing events at all locations. Check the schedule here.
TL;DR Quick Olympic Break-Down
- Sport climbing at the Olympics breaks down into three disciplines: speed, bouldering, and lead climbing. Every athlete needs to compete in all three disciplines.
- Speed climbing: Fastest to the top of a 15-meter wall wins!
- Bouldering: Four minutes to ascend unknown bouldering routes without a rope. The first-place winner is the athlete with the most finishes to the “top” or the last handhold.
- Lead climbing: One attempt and six minutes to climb up a 50-foot wall while roped in. The winner is the climber who gets the highest.
- The athlete walking away with a gold medal is the climber who gets the best score overall across all three disciplines. This is calculated by multiplying the ranking of all three, and the lowest score wins.
- There will be 40 athletes in total, 20 women and 20 men, coming from all over the world to Tokyo. Each country is allowed up to two athletes per gender.
- Representing the U.S. are Nathaniel Coleman, Colin Duffy, Kyra Condie, and Brooke Raboutou.
- The Olympic Games in Tokyo officially start on Jul 23, 2021. The sport climbing events take place from August 3 to August 6.
Climbing competition format
Sport climbing at the 2020/2021 Tokyo Olympics breaks down into three disciplines: speed, bouldering, and lead climbing. Each athlete will compete in all three disciplines, like a triathlon of climbing. The gold medal winner for men and women will be the athlete who receives the best overall score.
This makes sport climbing in its first-ever Olympics, a sport that doesn’t favor the specialist but rather the best all-around athlete. For many in the climbing community, this is an unpopular competition format given that the skill sets needed for each discipline are very different.
What makes someone an excellent speed climber is very different from a more strategic lead climbing athlete. In many ways, it’s like asking a sprinter to compete in a long-distance run.
It’s likely that as this sport gets its foot in the Olympic doors that this will change over the years, especially as climbing continues to grow in popularity. Changes are already underway as organizers of the 2024 Paris games announced their proposal to separate bouldering and lead climbing from speed climbing for two medal-winning events.
But for Tokyo’s Olympics, this format is challenging the world’s best climbers to hone their skills across all three disciplines. And for us viewers at home, the diversity of discipline could make for some great Olympic viewing fun.
Here’s what you can expect in each one:
In the first event, climbers will compete head-to-head for the fastest time up a 15-meter (around 50 foot) wall. Both athletes will have the same standardized route that is the exact route used for every speed climbing competition. This means these athletes already know their way up the wall.
The key here is to be the first to hit the buzzer at the top. The winner advances to the next heat until there are only two athletes left, and the winner of that last face-off gets first place. The current world records for speed climbing are 5.208 seconds for men and 6.964 seconds for women. There’s a chance we could see a new record set in Tokyo!
In the second event, climbers will scale bouldering routes — called problems — up to three to five meters tall (around 10 to 16 feet) without any rope. Each athlete has four minutes to ascend an unknown route and they finish by placing both hands firmly on that last handhold (there are no buzzers here!).
They can attempt the route as many times as they’d like within that four-minute time limit, meaning that falls do not signal the end of their attempt. Competitors can also get points for reaching a scored handhold in the middle of the problem called a zone hold.
After the four minutes are up or after they get to the top, the athlete moves on to the next bouldering problem. The first-place winner is the athlete who reaches the “top” the most, with zone holds and the total number of attempts weighing into the ranking if there is a tie.
Unlike speed climbing, every route will be completely new to these climbers, they don’t have any time to practice before the round begins. This challenges their problem-solving ability on the go!
Interested in getting on the wall and trying bouldering for yourself? Our brand new BKB Lincoln Park and BKB Eckington Yard locations are exclusively bouldering spaces! There’s plenty of bouldering opportunities at all our locations for everyone from the beginner to the expert.
The last event is lead climbing where athletes get one attempt and six minutes to climb up a 15 meter (around 50 foot) wall while roped in. They complete the climb by attaching their rope to the top hold. The athlete who gets the highest hold on the wall comes in first place, with each handhold earning 1 point. If there is a tie, the athlete who climbed the route in the fastest time is the winner.
If an athlete falls they are safely roped in and caught by their belayer, but they will not be able to attempt again and their score is their highest hold. The Olympic route should have anywhere between 40 and 60 holds so, for example, if an athlete falls at handhold number 30, that would be their score.
Like bouldering, the route is unknown to the climbers ahead of time. But with lead climbing, they get six minutes before their attempt to study the wall and map out their game-plan. This route will be incredibly challenging, and most athletes won’t make it to the top of the wall.
Scores will be calculated by multiplying the rankings across each climbing discipline. For example, if an athlete finishes second in speed, first in bouldering, and third in lead climbing that gives them a score of six. The athlete with the lowest score brings home the gold.
In these Olympic games, there are only six medals in total up for grabs for sport climbers. One gold, silver, and bronze medal for men and another for women.
Athletes to look out for
There will be 40 athletes in total, 20 women and 20 men, coming from all over the world to Tokyo to compete for the title of first-ever sport climbing Olympic gold. Qualifying events started in 2019 as athletes went head-to-head at the World Championships to qualify for the Olympic games. Each country is only allowed two athletes per gender.
But don’t expect outdoor climbing favorites like Chris Sharma, Tommy Caldwell, or Alex Honnold in the Olympic lineup. Even some of the best rock climbers in the world would perform poorly on this Olympic stage. This is not only due to the combination of disciplines but the fact that the sport of indoor climbing has exploded into a different style of movement and performance than outdoor climbing.
So who’s headed to Tokyo? Here are some of the top athletes to look out for:
You won’t see a lot of outdoor climbers on this list, and that’s what makes Adam Ondra participating in the Olympics that much more exciting! This Czech rock climber is one of the favorites heading into Tokyo given he’s the first person to ever climb a 9C route, one of the hardest in the world. As a five-time world champion and an all-around incredibly strong climber, he’s one to look out for in lead and bouldering, although he is not a confident speed climber.
Like Ondra, German climber Alex Megos brings the star power as a famous outdoor rock climber, known for his mega ascents around the world. But something about the Olympics drew Megos into the World Cup circuit and out of his usual outdoor climbing comfort zone. His amazing 2019 World Cup season secured him a ticket to Tokyo, and we’re excited to see this German rock star compete against other athletes on the Olympic stage.
Nathaniel Coleman and Colin Duffy
Keep an eye out for Nathaniel Coleman and Colin Duffy, who are representing the United States on the men’s side. Nathaniel Coleman, nicknamed “Captain America”, is especially one to watch. He is one of the best American boulderers and was the first male U.S climber to qualify for the Olympic Games. Although he is expected to dominate in bouldering, he is also a great all-around athlete and could be a big contender to win the Games.
Mickael and Bassa Mawem
French siblings Mickael and Bassa Mawem are both competing in the Olympics, with Bassa Mawem the oldest climber currently on the Olympic roster. With a previous speed climbing run of 5.656 seconds, Bassa’s one of the favorites for breaking the world record. Both Michael and Bassa are famous around Europe after competing in the French broadcast of Ninja Warrior.
Kai Harada and Tomoa Narasaki
Our Olympic hosts are represented by bouldering world champion Kai Harada and three-time world medallist Tomoa Narasaki on the men’s side. Narasaki is especially one to look out for given he has won bouldering World Cup events, placed high in lead climbing competitions, and is also a great speed climber. This makes him a triple threat and a big contender for the podium.
Janja Garnbret from Slovenia is the clear favorite for a medal and the one to beat on the women’s side. This eight-time World Cup champion has both lead climbing and bouldering championships under her belt making her a strong all-around contender. For those who’ve been following her progress, it’s not a matter of if she’ll make the podium, but which medal will be hanging around her neck.
Kyra Condie and Brooke Raboutou
Representing the U.S. on the women’s side are Kyra Condie and Brooke Raboutou. Raboutou was the first American climber to qualify for the Olympics and is an all-around contender with experience in lead climbing, bouldering, and speed climbing. This is thanks to her days with ABC Kids Climbing, one of the top climbing youth programs in the U.S., which also happens to be run by her parents.
Representing Great Britain is climber Shauna Coxsey, one of only four women to climb an 8b+ (V14) boulder route, the third most difficult rating. She’s a big media sensation in Britain as well as a major contender in all three of the climbing disciplines.
There are only a few speed specialists on the women’s roster and one of them is Russia’s Iuliia Kaplina. Not only has Kaplina won multiple World Cup events, but she previously held the women’s speed world record with a run of 7.32 seconds. Keep an eye out for her in the speed climbing discipline!
Another climber known for their outdoor ascents is Italian climber Laura Rogora, who at the age of 14 became the second-youngest climber to complete a 9a (5.14d) route. We’re excited to see how Laura does in the Olympics and if this is the catalyst for her indoor climbing career or if she’ll return to the world of outdoor climbing. At the young age of 20, she’s got a great career ahead of her no matter what, and is definitely one to watch in the Games!
For a full lineup of the athletes heading to Tokyo make sure to check out The International Federation of Sport Climbing’s roster!
How to watch
So where and how can you tune in? Here are more details:
Where to tune in
Can’t wait to watch? Experience the road to the Olympics and the drama of the qualifying events in the Olympic series Road to Tokyo: Sport Climbing – The Qualifier Stories. All episodes are available to stream for free on the Olympic Channel!
The Olympic Games in Tokyo officially start on Jul 23, 2021. The sport climbing events take place from August 3 to August 6. Here’s the schedule of events so far, but make sure to check NBC for the latest updates.
Tuesday, August 3: Starts at 4 a.m. EDT
- Men’s Combined Qualification – Speed
- Men’s Combined Qualification – Bouldering
- Men’s Combined Qualification – Lead
Wednesday, August 4: Starts at 4 a.m. EDT
- Women’s Combined Qualification – Speed
- Women’s Combined Qualification – Bouldering
- Women’s Combined Qualification – Lead
Thursday, August 5: Starts at 4:30 a.m. EDT
- Men’s Combined Final – Speed
- Men’s Combined Final – Bouldering
- Men’s Combined Final – Lead
- Men’s Combined Victory Ceremony
Friday, August 6: Starts at 4:30 a.m. EDT
- Women’s Combined Final – Speed
- Women’s Combined Final – Bouldering
- Women’s Combined Final – Lead
- Women’s Combined Victory Ceremony
We’re celebrating the Olympics with screenings of all climbing events + Olympic style setting at all BKB locations!
Check out everything your local BKB is offering over the next few weeks.
We’ll be screening events and more at each BKB location and will keep you updated will all the olympic climbing news you need so keep checking back!
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