The climbing community was confused and surprised to see speed climbing included in the Olympics when the sport’s Tokyo 2020 debut was announced.
Climbers will compete in three disciplines – bouldering, lead and speed climbing.
In bouldering, climbers have to perform a limited number of moves close to the ground. As there is no endurance or rope work involved, the moves are typically very technical.
The winner of lead climbing is simply the person who gets the highest before falling.
Speed climbing, the simplest of the three, is all about who gets to the top first and typically lasts less than 10 seconds.
The controversy is that climbers have to take part in all three. Imagine telling runners to compete in the 100m, 800m and marathon to earn gold. They might all be running disciplines, but the skill sets to compete in all three are barely related.
Speed climbing is the odd one out. For a start, the route is always the same, so for many, it does not constitute climbing because it lacks a problem-solving element.
What’s more, although the best boulderers and lead climbers tend to specialise, they also take part in the other, but very few of them have ever considered taking up speed climbing.
Despite all the noise around the format, I am excited. The idea behind speed climbing’s inclusion is to allow the masses to understand the sport. It can be as exhilarating as a 100m sprint. Seeing it at the Asian Games in Indonesia, and the excitement it generated in a crowd that did not necessarily know much about climbing, I understood why it has been included.
However, that’s not to say the layman cannot enjoy bouldering or lead climbing. The incredible athleticism of the climbers is a wonder to watch, even if people are not entirely clued up on the nuance.
Just like diving or gymnastics, the incredible feats, contortions and athleticism on display are enough to captivate the audience, even when one flip looks much the same as another to the average spectator.
Say what you want about the format, climbing fans or not, spectators are in for a treat when the Olympics get going next year.