We take a closer look at sport climbing – one of five sports appearing exclusively at Tokyo 2020. Find out the rules, events, big names and more.
Climber Janja Garnbret hangs on to the bouldering wall with one arm as she swings her body to reach the next hold.
Climber Janja Garnbret hangs on to the bouldering wall with one arm as she swings her body to reach the next hold.Climber Janja Garnbret hangs on to the bouldering wall with one arm as she swings her body to reach the next hold.

To celebrate the latest addition to the Olympic programme, we give you the lowdown on sport climbing, which is one of five sports making an appearance at Tokyo 2020. Ahead of the big debut, we explain the different climbing events, run through the rules and put the sport’s rising stars in the spotlight.

What is sport climbing?

Sport climbing is, essentially, competitive climbing. Dating back to the 1940s in the former USSR, the sport really started gaining ground in the 1980s before the first World Championship in 1991. Sport climbing covers a number of forms, and below you can read about the three disciplines that have been chosen for the Tokyo Games in 2020.

The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) says the sport is enjoying a popularity boom, with an estimated 25 million people across the world climbing regularly – with hotspots in Japan and the US. Learn more about this recent growth in our exclusive video with pro climber Sasha Digiulian.

The sport demands incredible strength, requiring around 650 muscles across the body. Athletes have to haul themselves up vertical and inverted walls, gripping on to a variety of holds – sometimes only big enough for a fingertip.

Then, there’s the mental challenge. In competitions, athletes are not allowed to see the wall before they compete, meaning they must make quick, on-the-spot decisions about which route they should take to reach the top.

Why has it been introduced to the Olympics?

Tokyo 2020 is a pioneering edition of the Games. For the first time, the host nation is permitted to propose new events to be added to their edition of the Olympic programme. One of five sports successfully proposed by the Tokyo Organising Committee is sport climbing, due to its local popularity.

The other sports that will be featured at Tokyo 2020 comprise: Olympic baseball and softball, Olympic surfing, Olympic skateboarding and Olympic karate.

What are the rules of Olympic sport climbing?

A wide-angle shot of an inverted climbing wall with a dark grey surface and large green, blue and red holds.
A wide-angle shot of an inverted climbing wall with a dark grey surface and large green, blue and red holds.A wide-angle shot of an inverted climbing wall with a dark grey surface and large green, blue and red holds.

At Tokyo 2020, the three disciplines of sport climbing will be competed in a triathlon format. These events are:

Speed climbing. This is a duel between two climbers on a 15-metre-high wall, sloped at a gravity-defying 95-degree angle. Whoever reaches the top first is the winner, which usually takes around five seconds for male climbers and seven for women.

Bouldering. Set on a four-metre-high wall, climbers have four minutes to climb as many set routes up the wall as they can, scoring points based on route difficulty. This is the only one of the three disciplines that’s completed without a safety rope.

Lead climbing. Competitors have six minutes to climb as far up a 15-metre wall as they can. They only have one chance to climb. If they fall, the top height they reached is recorded as their score.

There will be a total of 40 climbers competing – 20 in the women’s tournament and 20 in the men’s. The combined scores at the end of these three events will decide the very first Olympic sport climbing champions.

At Tokyo 2020, the three disciplines of sport climbing will be competed in a triathlon format. These events are:

Speed climbing. This is a duel between two climbers on a 15-metre-high wall, sloped at a gravity-defying 95-degree angle. Whoever reaches the top first is the winner, which usually takes around five seconds for male climbers and seven for women.

Bouldering. Set on a four-metre-high wall, climbers have four minutes to climb as many set routes up the wall as they can, scoring points based on route difficulty. This is the only one of the three disciplines that’s completed without a safety rope.

Lead climbing. Competitors have six minutes to climb as far up a 15-metre wall as they can. They only have one chance to climb. If they fall, the top height they reached is recorded as their score.

There will be a total of 40 climbers competing – 20 in the women’s tournament and 20 in the men’s. The combined scores at the end of these three events will decide the very first Olympic sport climbing champions.

Who will be climbing at Tokyo 2020?

World-class climbers will come to Tokyo with their eyes locked on those prestigious medals. Here are some of the athletes you might see scaling the walls in the Aomi Urban Sports Venue.

Women’s tournament

Climber Miho Nonaka holds on to a steep, inclined face of a climbing wall using the blue hand and feet holds.
Climber Miho Nonaka holds on to a steep, inclined face of a climbing wall using the blue hand and feet holds.Climber Miho Nonaka holds on to a steep, inclined face of a climbing wall using the blue hand and feet holds.

Janja Garnbret is perhaps the biggest star in women’s sport climbing and is ranked the combined world number one by the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC). Among her many stellar climbing achievements, the Slovenian was crowned combined world champion in 2018. See Garnbret in action in this video.

Akiyo Noguchi is a Japanese climbing celebrity, currently ranked number one in the world for women’s bouldering. She’s firmly at home on the World Cup podium – she’s a four-time winner – so there are high hopes for her in Tokyo. Watch her incredible World Cup performance.

Miho Nonaka is also one to watch, hot on Noguchi’s heels as bouldering’s world number two. Born and raised in Tokyo, this hometown climber matches her physical talent on the wall with fiery determination and mental strength. “My goal is to become the world’s greatest climber”, she told the Olympic Channel in this exclusive video.

Men’s tournament

Climber Tomoa Narasaki balances between two grey boulders using his feet and looks up to the wall to decide where to move next.
Climber Tomoa Narasaki balances between two grey boulders using his feet and looks up to the wall to decide where to move next.Climber Tomoa Narasaki balances between two grey boulders using his feet and looks up to the wall to decide where to move next.

For Jakob Schubert of Austria, 2018 was gold-plated with a plethora of World Cup and World Championship wins. Schubert excels in lead climbing, but has also claimed a combined gold medal, making him a strong contender ahead of the mixed-discipline tournament at Tokyo 2020.

Tomoa Narasaki carries high hopes for Japan, with a high-flying career in bouldering and lead climbing. Placed fifth in the men’s combined World Championships in 2018, behind Schubert, he’s certainly a strong contender for an Olympic title.

Last but not least, Dmitrii Timofeev of Russia leaves others trailing in his wake on the speed-climbing wall. However, he’ll have to work hard on his combined performance for a chance at gold in Tokyo 2020.

The qualifying event will take place in Toulouse, France in early 2019. Only then will we know for sure who will be climbing at Tokyo 2020 and scaling new heights for the sport.

Keep a grip on the latest sport climbing news and action on the Olympic Channel.

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