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EXPLAINER: Sport climbing debuts at Tokyo Olympics—how it’s scored and athletes to watch

By Kirsten Hallie Santos Published Jul 26, 2021 10:52 pm Updated Jul 26, 2021 10:53 pm

Sport climbing is making its debut at the Tokyo Olympics from Aug. 3 to 6 with over 40 athletes competing for the gold medal.

On Aug. 3 2016, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) formally introduced sport climbing as a medal sport in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Sport climbing uses a range of hand and foot holds of different shapes and sizes, and competitors put their skill and strength climbing a vertical wall.

Referred to as “vertical triathlon” by, sport climbing is divided into three disciplines: speed, bouldering and lead. With only one set of medals per gender, athletes need to compete in all three disciplines in order to take home the gold, silver and bronze medals.


The three disciplines

In speed, athletes are given the same speed route with a 95 degree angle. Climbers will secure safety ropes to themselves and attempt to scale a 15-meter-high wall with the fastest climber winning.

At bouldering, competitors will climb as many fixed routes as they can within four minutes on a 4.5-meter wall without safety ropes.

When a climber grabs the final hold at the top of a route with both hands, their route is considered complete and the leaderboard is determined by the number of tops, attempts, and zones.

When it comes to lead, climbers are expected to climb as high as possible over six minutes on a wall that’s at least 15 meters tall with safety ropes. The athlete who reaches the highest spot on the wall will get the most points and thus wins the discipline.

Final scoring

The speed climbing will be done in a bracket format, while bouldering is in a leaderboard format. Lead climbing will have a point system in which each hold on the wall counts as a point.

Each climber will compete in all three disciplines, and the final rankings will be determined by multiplying the climber’s placement in each discipline. If an athlete scores 1 in speed, 2 in bouldering and 3 in lead climbing, the final score would be 6 (1 times 2 times 3 is equal to 6). The athletes who achieve the lowest scores will win the medals.

Who to watch

There will be 20 men and 20 women competing for medals in the first sport climbing competition at the Tokyo Olympics.

In the men’s competition, Colin Duffy from the USA, at only 17, is the youngest climber to qualify in the Tokyo Games.

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A post shared by Colin Duffy (@colinclimbs)

Czech climber Adam Ondra has completed some of the most difficult outdoor climbs in the world and is a crowd favorite.

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A post shared by Adam Ondra (@adam.ondra)

In women's competition Slovenian Janja Garnbret is a six-time world champion, with gold medals in bouldering, and lead climbing from all over the world.

Brooke Raboutou from the USA has won three World Cup medals and she is the first US climber to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

The sport climbing event will take place at Aomi Urban Sports Park near the Athletes’ Village on August 3 to 6 this year.