Rock Climbing’s Olympic Fate Posted By Charlie on

In the last few years, the number of sports in the winter Olympic games has nearly doubled. The summer games, though, have remained an impenetrable club, where outsiders have little chance at basking in the Olympic glory currently reserved for sports like ribbon twirling and weightlifting… among others. One eager community, however, has earned a very real shot at going Olympic. Rock climbing could really earn a place in 2020 and on July 5th, the world of climbing gets one step closer (or waits another four years), as the Olympic committee announces the short list of new sport candidates for those Games.

The types of climbing being considered for inclusion in the Olympics are sport climbing, bouldering, and speed climbing, which are also the events that the Climbing World Cup features. The first of these events gives climbers one attempt to climb a long, roped route. The higher a climber gets on a route, the more points he earns and the climber with the most points wins. While a similar scoring strategy is used in bouldering events, this discipline requires athletes to ascend very gymnastic and cerebrally demanding routes, affectionately called “boulder problems.”

An Athlete at the Bouldering World Cup in Sheffield, UK lunges for a hold

Each climber is given 5 minutes to “work” on the boulder problem, typically. Finally, the most intuitive discipline of competition climbing, “speed,” is a race. Climbers all attempt to do the same route up a wall, using a rope, as fast as they can. All three events are being considered and all three events happen on artificial walls, so that routesetters can ensure a desirable, controlled environment in which fair competition can take place.

Almost all competitive climbers want to see climbing in the Games. It legitimizes the popular and growing practice of competitive climbing and make the stakes a little higher for athletes. For an athlete like Francesca Metcalf, Panoraker and 17 year old US Climbing Team member, Olympic climbing would make her years of hard training seem totally worth it. The climbing world at large, though, is extremely diverse in its climbing habits and, therefore, opinion on this matter. Since “climbing” encompasses the short boulder problems described above as well as the pursuit of climbing 8000m peaks, it is hard to put a finger on how the community at large feels about the Olympic prospect. Many traditional climbers believe that the Olympics are a road to ruin. Indeed, many realms of the climbing world feel that the commercialization that would result from an Olympic transition in climbing could ruin the more adventurous, wilderness facets of the sport. Many of these “traditional” climbers already shirk at outdoor sport climbing crags, where pre-placed bolts and quickdraws take the skill out of protecting a climb. They fear, perhaps rightly, that a more commercialized climbing means a less genuine outdoor experience.

Another Facet of Climbing is the Experience of Adventure and Nature. Will Competition Ever be able to Coexist with these Pursuits?

Nonetheless, there is enough support of competitive climbing to have several organizations nurturing the activity towards the Olympic dream. USA Climbing, the governing body of the sport in the US has been pushing for the move for years. The newer International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) that currently oversees World Cup competitions, such as the one staged in Vail earlier this month, is also pursuing the goal with vigor.

Whatever your thought, keep your eyes on the IFSC site on July 5th to hear about the future of this far flung sport.


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