Olympic Climbing

Rock climbing has been gaining momentum and popularity as a competitive sport for years, so much so that it has finally made its way to the Olympic stage.  There are so many intricate details that make rock climbing interesting to watch, and the Olympic rendition has thrown in a few wrinkles that add to the excitement.

Here is a breakdown of what to expect at the 2020 Olympic summer games of 2021.


40 climbers (20 female and 20 male) will be competing for medals in this year’s Summer Games.  All of the qualifiers standout as greats, but there are some very recognizable names on the roster including Adam Ondra (Czech Republic), Alex Megos (Germany), Kyra Condie (United States), and Jana Garnbret (Slovenia).


The medals will be based on combined scores from lead climbing, bouldering, and speed climbing.  The decision to combine scores didn’t come without criticism and heavy scrutiny.  Climbers typically train and excel within one particular discipline of rock climbing, maybe two.  Speed climbing is the oddball in this year’s summer games (the 2024 games will amend this strange combo of disciplines and separate speed climbing from sport climbing).

Lead Climbing:

A combination of strength, endurance, balance, and technique, lead climbing will be the most recognizable style of climbing in the 2020 games of 2021.  Climbers will do their best to make it as high as possible up a 15 meter wall within six minutes.  A point will be awarded for each hold that a climber maintains control on, so even if a climber doesn’t make it to the top of the wall, points will be conferred.  Each climber will only be given one opportunity to climb a route, any fall before reaching the top will conclude that attempt. Climbers will only have a couple minutes to study a route prior to climbing it.  In the case of a tie, the climber who reaches the high point in the shortest amount of time is the winner.


Traditionally bouldering has been about strength, but route setters have such advanced styles nowadays that finesse and coordination have become equally important.  The bouldering routes are much shorter than the lead climbing routes measuring around 4 meters, so these routes can be climbed without ropes.  Competitors will be given four minutes to reach the top of a route by matching both hands on the finish hold.  Climbers can attempt each route as many times as it takes within the allotment of time.  The climbers who complete a route in the fewest attempts move to the top of the leaderboard.

Speed Climbing*:

The idea behind speed climbing is pretty simple…get to the top as fast as you can.  The Speed route is the exact same route everywhere in the world.  It’s a 15-meter wall set at a 95-degree angle, with the exact same holds set in the exact same way.  Speed climbing will be scored in two person heats, meaning you don’t necessarily need to be the fastest climber to advance, you just need to be faster than the person you are racing against.


The top six male and top six female climbers from the qualifying round will advance to the medal round.  Medaling will be based on multiplied scores from a climber’s placement in each event. The gold medal being awarded to the lowest score, the silver medal to the second lowest score, and the bronze medal will be awarded to the third lowest score.  If a climber places first in bouldering and lead climbing, but sixth in speed they would have an overall score of 6 (1x1x6), if a climber places second in lead, third in bouldering and first in speed, this would also achieve a score of 6 (2x3x1).


Aomi Urban Sports Park, located in the waterfront Bay Zone of Tokyo, Japan.  Check local listings for broadcasts.


Qualifying August 3-4.  Finals August 5-6. The complete Olympic Climbing Competition Schedule can be found here.


*The inclusion of speed climbing into the medal requirements is strange.  It’s like requiring a Michelin chef to compete in a hotdog eating contest.  Hotdog contest winners can be very impressive, but that in no way suggests they can cook.  Watching the world’s greatest climbers try and climb fast will be entertaining, but it is a bizarre metric by which to judge who is the “best” climber in the world.

5 Replies to “Olympic Climbing”

    1. I think it’s so odd too, but there are all these little pieces of drama that creep in, like matching up the best competition climbers against some of the best outdoor climbers, or forcing boulderers to speed climb. I’m really curious to see if watching climbing is going to be entertaining for non-climbers, and if so, which events will be enjoyable? Another thing that is intriguing, is that most climbers really just want to have fun, and I wonder if “going for the gold” will have an impact on them. But the oddest thing is taking an activity that is traditionally super chill and making it competitive at the highest level. I’m pretty excited!

      Liked by 1 person

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