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Sports Authority

Fischer: Restructure Olympic rock climbing

| Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Olympics have long served as home to some of the most inspirational and unifying sporting events in history. This is why when they decided to create an event for the only sport that I had a legitimate working knowledge of for the upcoming the 2020 games in Tokyo, I was relatively excited. I would get to see some of my favorite indoor climbers compete with their peers from around the world on a massive scale compared to what I was used to. The recognition brought a level of legitimacy to the argument that raged on at my high school that it is a “real” sport and therefore deserved funding. It was not until I looked at the format of the event that I was thoroughly disappointed. There are a diverse range of styles and disciplines in rock climbing, yet there will only be one set of medals handed out. 

There is some very basic knowledge needed to understand the sport. First, there are two overarching approaches to the sport — indoor and outdoor. Outdoor climbers are relatively disinterested in competing in a venue such as the Olympics and focus greatly on setting first accents and links of natural walls. The world of indoor climbing is a different form of competition: it has less to do with what you do and more to do with when and how fast you do it. 

Indoor climbing is the form of the sport that can be judged objectively and conveniently enough to appear in the Olympics. Indoor climbing first developed as a way to train for the variety of different types of outdoor climbing one might encounter and, consequently, differences in disciplines within climbing developed. The first type of climbing the upcoming games will feature is bouldering: a four-meter-high wall that will be judged on speed of completion. Bouldering developed as a way to take the hardest parts of a wall and drill them without ropes or a partner. A climber who focuses most of his or her time on bouldering will most likely also focus on building upper-arm strength. The second discipline of climbing is lead climbing. This form of climbing requires endurance, pacing and thought. There are many ways to climb a wall and lead climbing causes a climber to consider all these ways while creating their path up a wall with a rope and harness. This section will be judged on who completes the wall or which climber is highest at the point of falling. The last discipline of climbing is speed climbing. This discipline is largely criticized in the rock climbing community and is relatively new to the sport. It considers many of the same things as bouldering and lead climbing but is judged purely on the speed with which a climber ascends the wall. 

Climbing in any one of these disciplines requires focus and dedication. They are very different in nature. Combining them into one event and averaging scores is insulting to the athletes. It would be similar to ask a runner to train to compete in a marathon, a mile and a 200-yard sprint at the Olympics. Many climbers train in all of these disciplines, but they usually focus on one. Though the recognition from the Olympic community has minutely helped rock climbing, there are real concerns about the structure of the event in the 2020 games and what it means for the heart of the sport.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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