By Sam Tucker
Sport Climbing will make its debut in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, testing athletes in three different disciplines of climbing: Speed, Lead, and Boulder. Each discipline holds its own challenges and nuances, but the athletes aiming for gold will have to display their abilities in all three.
Men’s speed climbing will kick off the qualifications on Aug. 3, bright and early at 4 a.m, and the women’s speed qualifications will begin Aug. 4, at 4 a.m. Speed is one discipline that many of the familiar faces seen on the international climbing event podiums have had to adapt to and include within their training. As the name suggests, speed climbing is all about getting to the top of the wall in the absolute fastest fashion.
Unlike bouldering and lead, speed climbing involves two climbers climbing an identical route next to each other. The sequence is wired into athletes since speed climbing takes place on a standard sequence of holds that never changes from competition to competition. The drag race finishes when one athlete touches the top of the wall. Placing times for speed range from five to six seconds, and with the wall standing just shy of 50 feet, the intensity and action of the event is a spectacle.
Lead climbing entails ascending a 15-meter wall (49.21 feet), where the primary goal is to get the highest up the route. In some competitions the route is so hard that no athlete makes it to the top, hence the need for the highest point judging system. This style of climbing generally entails the need for technique and stamina, so the climber can pace themselves and work efficiently through move after move, edging their high point up as far as they can go.
The discipline of Bouldering is a bit different. With walls at about the height of 15 feet, bouldering generally brings out the intense, dynamic movements that are needed to test athletes with only 15 feet of wall. The actual walls that athletes climb on range from very steep, overhanging walls, to less steep “slab” walls.
Regardless of styles, features, angles, or athletes, to bring home some hardware for their country, climbers will have to either perform very well in two disciplines or place highly in all disciplines. The final competition scores of all three disciplines are multiplied together to give the final placement score. The athlete with the lowest score will take home gold.
For example, if one climber places first in boulder and lead, and comes last in speed, their score would multiply one by one by eight; for a final score of eight. On the flip side, a climber could place first in speed, second in boulder, and fourth in lead; giving them the same score of eight.
This scoring format promotes the need for versatility in all the disciplines, and proves to be even harder to decipher who will bring home gold with so many versatile athletes on the stage.
One athlete that has dominated across the globe, is the Slovenian Janja Garnbret. With 14 world cup titles to her name and a complete sweep on the bouldering stage in 2019, Garnbret is geared for gold, but so are her world class competitors.
One matchup to look out for between the men is Japan’s Tomoa Narasaki, a shorter climber known for his explosive yet balanced style, and the Czech Republic’s Adam Ondra, a tall and lanky climber known for his efficient, technique-based movement. Although their styles are nearly opposite, their success is similar, and with the uncertainty of what the athletes are facing on the competition stage, one’s style could result in more tops than the other. We’ll just have to wait and see.
You can find the Sport Climbing Olympic Schedule here.