Sport climbing is a modern discipline that has become immensely popular over the past 20 years. It is a young, mixed sport – with 39% of climbers under 18 years old – practised both outdoors and in a more urban format indoors. There are over 25 million climbers in around 150 countries all over the world.
Climbing as a competitive sport started in 1985 in Bardonecchia near Turin, Italy. One year later, the first competition event on an artificial climbing wall was organised in Vaulx-en-Velin near Lyon, France.
Brief overview of the rules
At the Olympics, sport climbing involves two events in three formats: bouldering, speed and lead. In bouldering, athletes climb 4.5 m high walls without safety ropes in a limited period of time and in the fewest attempts possible. Speed is a spectacular race against the clock in one-on-one elimination rounds that combine precision and explosivity. The best athletes scale a 15m high wall in under six seconds for men and under seven seconds for women.
In the lead event, athletes climb as high as they can on a wall over 15m high in six minutes without having seen the route ahead of time. The routes for this event are the most complex and challenging, requiring all of the athletes’ physical and mental ability.
In Tokyo, each athlete must compete in all three disciplines and the final scores reflect the combined results of the three competitions. The climber with the lowest score will take home the first Olympic gold medal in the history of sport climbing.
Sport climbing took its first steps on the Olympic stage at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympics, then Buenos Aires in 2018. The event had not been highly publicised but the public was impressed by the spectacle and the suspense of this exciting sport. A hit at the youth events, sport climbing will make its debut at the Games at Tokyo 2020, joining the Olympic programme as a new sport.
The originality of these events as well as the discipline’s visual, aesthetic and exciting nature make it a very popular and widely-practised sport for young people that can take place in very diverse environments, urban or natural.
Sport climbing is also one of the four new sports proposed by Paris 2024 to the IOC. The IOC will make its final decision on the integration of these new sports in december 2020.
International federation : International Federation of Sport Climbing
© Simon Bruty for OIS/IOC