Rock climbing secures grapple at Tokyo Olympics

Analysis: The sport us a welcomed addition, but there are hanging concerns

By David Ludwig | Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of

At the closing ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared from a green pipe dressed as Mario to announce where the 2020 Summer Olympics would be held. 

This may have noted the location of the Summer Games but the performance also paralled the Olympics’ latest addition — rock climbing.

Part of the excitement of the planning of the next Olympics is learning what events, if any, are added or dropped from the list of competitions. Rock climbing is the latest entry to the roster.

Even though rock climbers celebrate the inclusion of the sport, there are several concerns about how the event will be organized.

Even before the first official rock climbing competition in 1985, the sport had a long history of friendly rivalries and climbers aiming to outdo other climbers by finding ways to scale mountains and cliffs that were previously thought to be insurmountable. 

It is a sport that focuses on coordination and technique as much as it relies on stamina and strength. 

In recent years, there have been competitions all over the world from regional to international events. 

Along with its approval of rock climbing as an Olympic sport, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has created events in three disciplines.

The first two disciplines, lead climbing and bouldering, have not caused any uproar from competitors.  Lead climbing involves a climber scaling a wall within a given time limit.

A competitor’s placement is based on how far they can scale the wall, but time can also be used to break a tie.

In the bouldering event, climbers traverse as many small routes as possible in a given time limit.

In this event, many of the routes serve as physical and mental challenges.

The third discipline that has become cause for concern is speed climbing.  In this competition, two climbers face off head-to-head and race to the top of a wall. 

The reason the inclusion of speed climbing has sparked concern and controversy in the climbing community is that climbers must compete in all three disciplines if they want to have any hope of earning a medal.

Scores from all three disciplines will be combined into a composite score which will determine the final rankings. This is not the case for most other Olympic sports. 

Critics of the IOC’s decision say that the situation is akin to asking runners to compete in both short-distance and long-distance events to earn a medal. 

Many of the athletes who excel at the other two disciplines have little to no training in the breakneck pacing of speed climbing. 

Outside of competition, rock climbers are normally strategic in planning their moves carefully and given more time to execute their climbs.

Although the competition format has upset many athletes, it has not deterred them, and many will still compete for a spot at the Olympics.