Sport climbing at the Olympics: What are bouldering, lead and speed climbing?

Everything you need to know about climbing at Tokyo 2020, from medal hopes to how the sport works.

Sport climbing Olympics guide

Sport climbing is ready to see its name in lights for the first time at the Olympic Games as it makes its debut at Tokyo Olympics 2020.

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The sport has a cult following around the world due to a sharp rise in popularity among amateurs taking it up at their local leisure facilities.

According to a recent study, around one million people take to a climbing wall every year in the UK, with 100,000 dedicated regulars, and expect those figures to shoot up further once the Olympics effect kicks in.

There’s plenty to know about the three disciplines of climbing that will be assessed in the Olympics, and we’re here to help you every step (or hold) of the way.

RadioTimes.com brings you up to speed with everything you need to know about climbing at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo in the summer of 2021. Plus find out what else is on at the Games with our guide to the Olympics on TV today.

When is sport climbing at the Olympics?

Sport climbing begins on Tuesday 3rd August with the men’s combined finals wrapping up on Thursday 5th and the women’s drawing to a close on Friday 6th.

Check out our guide on how to watch Olympics 2020 or see Olympics on TV today for more details, timings, and exclusive expert analysis from some of the biggest names in world sport over the coming weeks.

Sir Chris Hoy, Beth Tweddle, Rebecca Adlington, Matthew Pinsent and Dame Jess Ennis-Hill are among the stars we have to being their esteemed opinions, so don’t miss what they have to say.

Find out how you can watch the Tokyo 2020 Olympics closing ceremony.

What are the three types of sport climbing?

There are just two gold medals on offer in the climbing events at the Olympics. Individuals – in Men’s and Women’s categories – will partake in three types of climbing, with the scores combined to form a final total.

The competition is made up of a qualification round followed by the finals round. Both rounds are identical, though of course the lowest-scoring athletes in qualification won’t reach the finals.

To be crowned champion, climbers must be well-rounded and adaptable to the three styles. They are:

Bouldering

How many walls can you solve with four minutes per problem? We didn’t wake up this morning expecting to compare climbing with crosswords, but here we are. Bouldering is a patience puzzle, a mental game, as much as it is physical.

The wall is just 4m high but competitors must weave their way to the top, navigating the best possible route in the process. This style of climbing offers true problem-solving conundrums, with climbers taking different routes and using different strategies.

Lead climbing

How high can you go in six minutes? Climbers must scale a 15m vertical wall with progressively more awkward layouts to navigate. There’s also a minimum of 7m overhang to contend with so this isn’t quite as simple as going ‘up’.

Athletes are ranked by their highest controlled hold, meaning athletes can’t simply touch a hold, they must display control and relative stability in clinging to that hold for their height to be marked. If more than one athlete reaches the top, the quickest time wins.

Speed climbing

How fast can you climb? This is the simplest form of climbing to explain. Two competitors are faced with a standardised 15m wall and must get to the top first. It’s that easy (to talk about).

The route is always the same and can be practiced way in advance of the Olympics. This is an explosive, dynamic form of climbing that is usually over in seconds. The world record is just 5.48 seconds. Yes, 5.48 seconds to climb the height equivalent to three average UK street lights.

Which Team GB athletes will compete in Olympic climbing?

Shauna Coxsey is Team GB’s only sport climbing athlete at the Games. The 28-year-old has won every British Bouldering Championship she has entered and took two consecutive gold medals from the Climbing World Cup in 2016 and 2017.

Her most recent outings on the world stage came in 2019 at the Climbing World Championships. She received a bronze medal for the combined event – similar to the Olympic format – and a bronze for bouldering.

She is tipped to go well in the combined Olympic event, with bouldering and lead climbers expected to be favoured ahead of natural sport climbers due to their transferable skills.

Read more – check out our comprehensive guides to the Olympic sports: Boxing | Diving | Judo | Rowing | Sailing | Tennis | Volleyball | Weightlifting

Radio Times Olympics Special issue is on sale now.

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