• Sáb. May 18th, 2024

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Sport climbing at the Olympic Qualifier Series: Everything you need to know

#Sport #climbing #Olympic #Qualifier #Series

Sport climbing is like a track meet gone vertical: Speed climbers sprint up the hold-studded rock wall, using their arms and legs to scale nearly 50 vertical feet (15m) in 5 seconds … faster than many spectators can run that far.

Lead climbers and boulder athletes—the 400-metre runners of climbing—jump, pull, and swing their way up nearly impossible-to-fathom overhangs of up to 60 degrees using jaw-dropping moves at breakneck speeds.

Since the first International Sport Climbing Championship was held in Snowbird, Utah, in 1988, climbers have gotten faster, stronger, and more skilled. Now, in its second Olympic Games, sport climbing will feature two medal events: Speed climbing and combined. They’re a lot like heading to your local climbing gym … with the difficulty set to 11.

Olympic sport climbing combines puzzle-solving, full-body strength, and dizzying heights into a thrilling, nail-biting combination that will thrill audiences at Paris 2024 and the Olympic Qualifier Series, where sport climbing will be featured alongside skateboarding, BMX freestyle, and breaking.

Here’s everything you need to know to understand and love watching one of the Olympics’ newest sports, with expert insight from Libor Hroza, a Czech climber who coaches Team Canada’s speed climbing athletes through Climbing Escalade Canada.

  • The new sport climbing format at Paris 2024
  • These athletes will compete in sport climbing at the Olympic Qualifier Series

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What is a sport climbing competition?

In sport climbing, athletes scale artificial rock walls as quickly as possible. The walls are dotted with holds, pieces of resin of different shapes that the climbers can use to hold with their hands, pull with their arms, or use their feet to propel themselves up the wall. In sport climbing, here are three different kinds of competitions:

Speed climbing

In this type of sport climbing race, climbers see who can reach the top of a 15m (49ft 2.55in) wall the fastest. According to the regulations of the International Federation of Sport Climbing, the wall is tilted at an overhanging angle of five degrees. Athletes climb up this wall while tethered from the top with a rope.

The wall has two identical lanes of holds that are side to side, and two climbers climb at the same time. Sometimes, they’re racing in a knockout fashion, where the winner moves on in the competition. Other times, they’re racing against the clock only.

The holds on the sport climbing wall don’t change: they’re the same for every race in every competition. So athletes are able to practice their moves again and again, and can climb at unbelievable speeds. At the 2023 World Cup event in Seoul, South Korea, climber Veddriq Leonardo of Indonesia became the first man to scale the wall in under five seconds.

“The initial move is what gives you a lot of momentum, and then you want to add onto it” as you climb, Hroza says. And while the momentum increases, he says, climbers try to decrease something else—their thinking. Climbers try to get in a flow state, just running through moves they’ve practiced hundreds of times. “You don’t want your brain to start engaging halfway through, like ‘I need to do this, then that.’ You need to let the body do its work.”

To build the momentum needed to fly up the wall, Hroza says, it’s all about the start. When the starting gun sounds, climbers explode up off the floor—what Hroza says is “the best hold on the course”—with a combination of an explosive move with their legs and a big pull with their arms. From there, they try to maintain the momentum of that initial burst with a climbing style that he says is about 60 percent arm-pulling, and 40 percent pushing up with the legs. The result is an all-out vertical sprint: the 100m dash of the climbing disciplines.

Lead climbing

In lead climbing, climbers are challenged to try to make it to the top of the wall within six minutes. And while the wall can be the same height as the speed wall, it’s a much tougher climb than the one traversed by speed climbers in five seconds. The lead climbing wall and holds are different for every competition, with a variety of difficult-to-grab holds, big gaps, and extreme overhangs.

According to IFSC rules, the wall can be pitched up to 60 degrees hanging over the ground. The average overhang is eight to nine metres (26-29.5 feet), meaning climbers are basically climbing upside-down.

As if that weren’t enough of a challenge, climbers are given a limited amount of time to study the wall before they climb it. During semi-final and final rounds of competitions, athletes are given six minutes before their climbs to look at the wall. They can touch only the bottom holds during this period, and they can’t take any pictures. They may make some hand-written notes and use binoculars. But after the six minutes are up, they’re isolated—unable to see the wall or watch the other competitors climb it.

While they’re isolated, “ideally, they memorise the whole route, and they climb it in their heads over and over. You try to remember all the moves, and visualise what you want to do,” Hroza says. “And you do it so many times while you’re waiting for your turn that when you get to the wall, it feels natural.”

Once they get on the wall, though, Hroza says that like speed climbers, lead climbers would rather be moving without thinking too much. They rely on the practice of their mental map, as well as thousands of hours of experience moving between different types of holds in practice. When a climber has to think too hard about a problem on the wall, they waste both time and precious bodily energy, the Canada coach says.

Another way lead climbers save energy compared to speed climbers: They’re usually lighter. Just as distance runners are built differently from sprinters, lead climbers are usually smaller than their speedier counterparts. When you’re hanging upside down, every ounce matters.

In lead climbing, the winning climbers are those who make it furthest up the wall. If you fall off, you’re out. If multiple climbers make it to the top, the best time wins.


This climbing discipline is performed on a wall that’s just 4.5 metres (less than 15 feet) high, so athletes don’t wear a safety rope. But unlike in lead and speed climbing, the climbers must climb the boulder wall multiple times: The shorter wall is equipped with four to five set routes, also called “problems.”

In each round of competition, climbers must try to scale multiple routes in limited amounts of time for each route—usually five or six minutes. The athletes can try the route as many times as they want during the five- to six-minute time frame, resting around the same amount of times between “problems.”

As with lead climbing, the routes on the boulder’s faces change for each competition, and climbers are given a short “observation” period to look at the rock before being isolated while others climb.

Climbers have “solved” a boulder problem when they’ve grabbed the top hold of the route with two hands and controlled their bodies. Finishing a route in fewer tries improves the climber’s score.

Athletes who excel in bouldering combine the body types and strengths of lead and speed climbers, Hroza says: They’re explosive like the speedsters, but still have plenty of endurance like the lead climbers.

How long has sport climbing been an Olympic sport?

Sport climbing debuted at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In its inaugural Games, sport climbing featured all three disciplines—speed, lead, and bouldering—in a combined event, with men’s and women’s competitions. On the men’s side, Spain’s Alberto Gines Lopez took home gold, with American Nathaniel Coleman and Austria’s Jakob Schubert winning silver and bronze. In the women’s competition, Janja Garnbret of Slovenia won gold, with Japanese climbers Nonaka Miho and Noguchi Akiyo winning silver and bronze.

For the Paris Games, the competition has changed: Speed climbing will have its own set of medals, with men’s and women’s events. Bouldering and lead climbing will be paired in the refreshed “Combined” event, with medals for women’s and men’s competitions.

Before Paris, sport climbing—in all three disciplines—will feature at the first ever Olympic Qualifier Series, to be held this May in Shanghai, People’s Republic of China, and in June in Budapest, Hungary.

How does the Olympic sport climbing competition work?

Sport climbing at the Paris Games will have men’s and women’s competitions, with two events for each gender: Speed and Combined, an event that consists of both bouldering and lead climbing. Sixty-eight total competitors will take the Olympic stage—20 athletes per gender in the combined event, and 14 athletes per gender in speed climbing.

Here’s how the two events will work at Paris’ Le Bourget Sport Climbing Venue.

Speed climbing at Paris 2024

Twenty-eight athletes—14 each in the men’s and women’s events—will compete in speed climbing. At the Paris Games, speed climbing will happen in two rounds:

  • Qualification Round: In this round, each climber will attempt to climb each of the wall’s two lanes. In these rounds, the two athletes that are climbing at the same time don’t knock each other out. Their times are simply recorded, and the top eight competitors at the end of these two climbs move to the next round, the Final Round.

  • Final Round: The final round is actually three rounds: Quarter-final, semi-finals, and a final. At the beginning of the overall “Final Round,” the top eight climbers are seeded by their times in the previous round. The top climber is paired with the number eight climber; the second-fastest climber is paired with the number seven climber, and so on.

These paired climbers compete in a head-to-head race to the top, with the winner of the matchup moving to the next round, while the other climber is eliminated. After the quarterfinals, the remaining four climbers compete in a semifinal in the same way.

Finally, in the final, the remaining two climbers compete for the gold and silver medals. The two climbers who lost in the semi-finals compete for the bronze medal.

Combined climbing (Boulder + Lead) at Paris 2024

In Paris, combined climbers will compete for a possible total of 200 points between bouldering and lead climbing. Athletes can score as many as 100 points in each discipline. The competitors with the highest point total between bouldering and lead events will be crowned champion.

The bouldering event will have four “problems” for climbers to attempt. Each will be worth a maximum of 25 points. Each problem has three main “holds” along the route. The top hold at the top of the route is the goal. Reach that hold on the first try, and a climber will grab all 25 points for the route. Reaching the lower two “zone holds” will net the climber five or 10 points.

Reaching these holds on subsequent attempts earns slightly fewer points. For example, according to the IFSC rulebook, a climber who reaches the top of a bouldering problem on their second try will receive 24.7 points. If the climber gets to the top of all four bouldering problems on their first try, they receive the maximum number of points: 100.

In the lead event, reaching the top of the wall (and clipping their rope to the top) before time expires scores 100 points. If a climber doesn’t make it in time, or if they fall, they’ll be scored on how far they’ve made it. The scoring works backwards from the top hold of the wall, with each of the 40 holds from the top of the wall earning points. The last 10 holds—the ones just before the peak—are worth four points each. The 10 before that are worth three points each. The next 10 are worth two points each, and the 10 before that being worth one point each. Holds before these last 40 don’t score any points. If a climber doesn’t make it to these last 40 scoring holds, they score zero.

So if a climber makes it within three holds of the top, they’d lose 12 points (four points times three holds), for a total of 88 points. If there’s a tie, climbers are ranked by the amount of time it took them to reach their top spot.

How do sport climbers qualify for the Olympics?

For each discipline, one Olympic quota per gender was obtained automatically by the host country, France. The other spots in the Paris Games are secured at three events:

  • The IFSC World Championship, which was held in Bern, Switzerland, in August 2023
  • The IFSC Continental Qualifiers, a series of events held in Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceana, and the Americas in 2023
  • The Olympic Qualifier Series, to be held this May and June in Shanghai and Budapest

At the Olympic Qualifier Series, 10 quota places will be available for each gender in the combined event, and five quota places will be available for each gender in speed climbing.

Each country can obtain a maximum of two quota places per gender per event (two men and two women for combined, and two men and two women for speed).

Learn more about the qualification process for speed climbing here, and for combined climbing here.

  • Qualification and points system unveiled for Olympic Qualifier Series

As National Olympic Committees have the exclusive authority for the representation of their respective teams at the Olympic Games, athletes’ participation at Paris 2024 depends on their NOC selecting them to represent their delegation.

Click here to see the official qualification system for each sport.

When to watch Olympic sport climbing in Paris

Both the Combined and Speed events will be held at the Le Bourget Sport Climbing Venue.

Combined climbing events will be held from 5-10 August. Speed climbing will be held from 5-8 August. You can view the full schedule of events here.

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