Ever since 2016, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to include climbing in the 2020 Olympics the format has been a hotly debated subject. The IOC is combining the three main forms of competitive climbing—speed, boulder, and sport—into one event and only offering one set of medals.
I’ve covered the format before, interviewing chief executive officer of USA Climbing, Marc Norman for the specifics. Now that we’ve gotten the first round of Olympic qualifiers and the second round is rapidly approaching, I’ve put together a quick recap of that format, a list of the current qualified Olympians, and what we can expect to see in the next few months.
The 2020 Olympic format requires every climber to compete in all three disciplines—this means climbers who specialize in just one are at a disadvantage (ex: Adam Ondra). Twenty men and twenty women will be in the event and each country gets a max of two spots per gender. All the athletes will go through one qualifying round, then the top six for each gender will move onto the finals. According to the International Federation of Sport Climbing’s (IFSC) website, the order will be speed first, then bouldering, and lead last for both rounds.
Speed climbing is the most controversial of the three disciplines. The competitors basically do a 15-meter vertical sprint going head-to-head on a standardized wall. The winner of the pairing moves to the next round and the loser gets knocked out. In an article for Outside Online, professional climber Sasha DiGiulian wrote, “speed climbing has very little to do with more conventional rock climbing, beyond the fact that it involves a person vertically scaling a wall.” At the same time, speed climbing is fast paced and easier to follow for non-climbers.
For the bouldering, both genders get three unique and challenging boulder problems (all four meters high) to attempt. Each climber has four minutes for each problem and will be scored on how high they get or how many tries it takes to complete.
The lead climbing will happen on one route per gender over 15-meters high. Each climber will have six minutes to get as high as they can without falling.
The Climbers Going to the Olympics So Far
The first Olympic qualifying event (the Combined World Championship) happened this August in Hachioji, Japan where the seven highest-placed athletes of each gender earned invitations to the Olympics. After taking into account the two athletes per country per gender restriction (Japan had four athletes in each gender in the top seven), this is the list of athletes who have secured their place for the 2020 Olympics.
Women’s Qualified Athletes
- Janja Garnbret (SLO)
- Akiyo Noguchi (JPN)
- Shauna Coxsey (GBR)
- Aleksandra Miroslaw (POL)
- Miho Nonaka (JPN)
- Petra Klingler (SUI)
- Brooke Raboutou (USA)
Men’s Qualified Athletes
- Tomoa Narasaki (JPN)
- Jakob Schubert (AUT)
- Rishat Khaibullin (KAZ)
- Kai Harada (JPN)
- Mickael Mawem (FRA)
- Alexander Megos (GER)
- Ludovico Fossali (ITA)
The next qualifying event is the IFSC Climbing Combined Qualifier in Tournefeuille-Toulouse, France from 28 November to 1 December 2019. For this event, the top twenty athletes from the world cup series will be invited to compete and the six highest-placing climbers will go to the Olympics.
Five more spots will then go to the first-place winners from five continental championships held between February and May 2020.
Finally, one spot per gender will be awarded through the tripartite commission—a group of committees decide on a nation to give an invitation to based on special circumstances. The last spot for both male and female go to the host nation (Japan). However, since Japan already has two qualifiers for both genders, that spot might go to the next qualifying competitor from the Combined World Championship. [I’m honestly not sure about this one]
The 2024 Olympics
In June 2019, the IOC unanimously voted to include climbing in the Paris 2024 summer Olympics. The provisional decision includes an additional set of medals per gender so speed climbing will be a separate event, while lead and bouldering will stay combined. The number of athletes will also increase from 40 to 72 total climbers. This arrangement is still unconfirmed and the final decision will be made in December 2020, after Tokyo 2020.