Salt Lake City – Climbing’s status as a distinct sport has always been part of its appeal.
A rock wall can be a place of solitude or camaraderie with a small group of fellow climbers. There are no crowds, just the calmness of the outside and the job of trying to find the best way to the top.
Climbing is an Olympic sport for the first time, and the spotlight may be a lonely pursuit to the mass audience.
“For the most part, people were nominated,” said American Olympic climber Nathaniel Coleman. “They knew the game would get more attention, a lot of money inflow and be recognized as a high quality game.”
The inaugural Olympic climbing competition will feature three disciplines: lead, bouldering and speed.
The lead is the same as what climbers face when facing the rock on the outside. Climbers have six minutes to climb a wall of about 15 meters with a variety of holds. The one who climbs the most wins. Relationships break down over time.
In bouldering, climbers have four minutes to complete each of the four “problems” on 4.5-metre walls. Problems include overhangs, wedges and holds that are barely big enough for fingers to grasp. Some problems involve a “dyno”—jumping into the next grip in one dynamic movement—and sometimes going upside down is the best approach.
Climbers get as many attempts as they want within the time limit and get credit for completing a boulder by securing the top grip with both hands in a controlled manner. There are also zone holds in the middle of the wall where climbers can earn partial credits.
It was not right to incorporate speed discipline within the climbing community.
The Tokyo Games would have two medalists – one for each gender – and the International Olympic Committee wanted to show a range of climbing skills, so it included speed in the overall competition.
Lead climbing and bouldering are more tailored to the outside facing climbers. Speed climbing is a much more specialized discipline, with climbers running head to head over a 15-meter wall with standardized holds. As one climber said, adding speed is like asking a distance runner to compete in a sprint event.
There will be a separate medal competition at the Speed 2024 Paris Games.
“Speed climbing is very different from the other two disciplines,” said Meg Coyne, national team manager and assistant coach at USA Climbing. “First, it’s rehearsed. Second, all modalities, habits, and techniques are effectively reversed. For athletes to perform well at speed, they need to train for something Which is completely out of their habits for other subjects.
Scoring is determined by multiplying each climber’s location in the three disciplines. The lowest score wins.
If a climber is first in a lead, second in bouldering, and 10th in speed, their score will be 20 (1X2X10=20). Winning a discipline will put a climber in a good position to fight for a medal.
Adam Ondra has been called the world’s best climber and has tackled some of the toughest outdoor routes around the world. The 28-year-old Czech, known for wallowing, isn’t as strong in quick climbs but is at risk of winning both the lead and the bouldering.
Like Ondra, Janja Garnbreit has completed outdoor routes most climbers wouldn’t even consider attempting.
The 22-year-old from Slovenia has won six World Championships and is the only climber to go through an undefeated World Cup season in 2019, winning six events. He is excellent in lead and bowling.
The United States joined France and hosted Japan as the only country to qualify for a full team of four climbers.
Nathaniel Coleman is like the de facto captain of the American team, a cool climber who leads by example. The 24-year-old from Salt Lake City is widely regarded as one of the best American boulders, but has developed into a super all-around climber.
Colin Duffy will be one of the youngest athletes at the Tokyo Olympics. The 17-year-old from Broomfield, Colorado, is a skilled problem solver—he loves puzzles—and qualified for the Olympics as a sophomore in high school.
Duffy has grown up climbing with Brooke Raboutou and now the two friends are moving to Tokyo together. The 20-year-old from Boulder comes from a mountaineering family and has become adept at all three disciplines.
Kyra Condi, who fused 10 vertebrae at the age of 13 to correct scoliosis, has become one of the best climbers in the world. The 25-year-old from Shoreview, Minnesota, doesn’t have the same mobility as other climbers, but makes up for it with problem solving.
More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics