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 three formats : bouldering, speed and lead. In bouldering, athletes climb 4.5 m high walls without 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 and five degrees inclinated 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 more and more complex and challenging during the event, requiring all of the athletes’ physical and mental ability.
In Tokyo, each athlete competed in all three disciplines and the final scores reflected the combined results of the three competitions. The climber with the lowest score took home the first Olympic gold medal in the history of sport climbing.
In Paris 2024, two competitions will crown their own olympic champion in sport climbing. One will be a combined competition of bouldering and lead events, and the second one will only feature a speed event.
Janja Garnbret, Slovénie ©Maja Hitij/Getty Images
Miho Nonaka of Team Japan during the bouldering event of the Sport Climbing Women’s Combined Final of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games ©Maja Hitij/Getty Images
Nathaniel Coleman of The United States of America during the Sport Climbing Men’s Combined of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games ©Maja Hitij/Getty Images
Kyra Condie of The United States of America (L) and Aleksandra Miroslaw of Poland compete during the Sport Climbing Women’s Combined, Speed Qualification of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games ©Maja Hitij/Getty Images
Sport climbing took its first steps on the Olympic stage at the Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games, 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 then made 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 will also be one of the four new sports of Paris 2024, alongside breaking, surfing and skateboarding, and it also will be in the olympic program of the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games.
Events in 2024
In 2024, Bouldering and lead combined events will take place between the 5th and the 10th of August, while the speed events will take place between the 5th and the 8th.
- Bouldering & lead combined (women’s / men’s)
- Speed (women’s / men’s)
Venue in 2024
International federation : International Federation of Sport Climbing
© Simon Bruty for OIS/IOC