Climbing Preview

Climbing will make its Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games. Climbing takes the challenge of scaling steep ascents to a whole new level. Using a range of hand and foot holds of different shapes and sizes, climbers put their skills and strength into practice on a vertical wall. The wall may feature varying angles of either positive (known in climbing as a slab) or negative (steep, overhanging) sections. Athletes will compete in the combined format that will feature all three climbing disciplines — bouldering, lead and speed. Each climber will compete in all three disciplines, and the final rankings will be determined by multiplying the placement in each discipline, with the athletes achieving the lowest scores winning medals.

In some disciplines, climbers attach safety ropes; however, no other equipment is permitted, and competitors must climb using only their bare hands and climbing shoes. The sport requires strength, flexibility and skill, together with careful advance planning. The first medalists will all possess this unique combination of physical and mental capability and decisiveness.

Speed climbing pits two climbers against each other in head-to-head competition. Both climbers are secured to safety ropes and attempt to scale a 15-meter wall, set at an angle of 95 degrees, faster than their opponent on identical routes. Winning times for the men’s and women’s events tend to be around six to eight seconds. A false start results in instant disqualification.

In bouldering, athletes climb as many fixed routes, commonly referred to as “problems,” as they can on a 4.5-meter wall equipped with safety mats. The routes vary in difficulty and climbers are not permitted to practice climbing them in advance. When a climber grabs the final hold at the top of a route with both hands, they are deemed to have completed it. Climbers tackle the wall without safety ropes and if they fall during their attempt, they can try a route again during their allotted four minutes. The walls used for bouldering present a range of challenges, with overhangs and some holds so small that they can only be held by the fingertips. Climbers must plan each move carefully, thinking about which hand and foot to place in the next holds, while constantly being aware of the time limit. 

Lead involves athletes attempting to climb as high as they can on a wall measuring more than 15 meters in height within six minutes. The climbers use safety ropes and clip the rope to quickdraws (equipment that allows the rope to run freely while leading) along the route. When a climber attaches their rope to the top quickdraw, they have completed the climb. If a climber falls, the height (hold number) attained is recorded. There are no re-climbs. If two or more athletes complete the climb or reach exactly the same height, the fastest to do so is declared the winner. 

To prevent athletes from gaining an advantage by watching others scaling the bouldering and lead climbing walls before them, each climber is kept away from the climbing wall in “isolation” before their turn and given just a few minutes to examine the wall and routes prior to starting.

Updated on June 11, 2021. For more information, contact the sport press officer here.

• Each National Olympic Committee could send a maximum of four athletes — two men and two women — to climbing’s debut at the Games. Team USA is one of just three countries to send the maximum four athletes, along with France and host country Japan.

• At 17, Colin Duffy is the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic climbing team and one of the youngest members of the U.S. Olympic Team, period. He will look to become the youngest medalist from the Games as well.


• The individual disciplines on display in Olympic climbing are all familiar ones to climbers and fans but traditionally have not been grouped together in one competition. But climbers have been able to get some experience at all three as the International Federation of Sport Climbing began holding combined events in 2018. As the three disciplines all involve different specialties and skills, whoever can prove the most versatile will likely have the most success.

 

A full team of two women and two men will represent Team USA as climbing makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo.

 

• Nathaniel Coleman, 24, got his start at an indoor climbing gym at age 9. After some early challenges, he emerged as one of the best in the country in bouldering, having won consecutive U.S. bouldering titles from 2015-18 before finishing second in 2019 and winning again in 2020. Along the way, Coleman also began to thrive in lead and speed disciplines, leading to his berth on the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team.

Coleman is a member of the national team and has represented the U.S. at world cup competitions since 2015. His best finishes include a fifth-place performance at the 2015 IFSC World Youth Championships in Arco, Italy, as well as second-place finishes at the 2015 IFSC Bouldering World Cups in Toronto and Vail, Colorado, and an eighth-place finish at the 2019 Bouldering World Cup in Vail. Coleman qualified for Tokyo at the 2019 IFSC Combined Qualifier in Toulouse, France.


• Kyra Condie, 25, discovered the sport of climbing at a birthday party in 2009 at her local climbing gym in Minnesota. Condie made Youth Bouldering Nationals her first year competing, but she was dealing with back pain later diagnosed as adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. She had 10 vertebrae together, T2-T12, correcting most of her curvature. It was only two years later that she became youth national champion and went on to win four more youth national titles.

 

The Olympic Games were always a dream of Condie’s, who grew up watching every edition with her mom. In 2019, Condie came in seventh place at the IFSC Combined Qualifier in Toulouse, France, officially earning her invitation to the Tokyo Games.

 

• Colin Duffy, 17, clinched his spot on the Olympic Team at the 2020 IFSC Pan-American Championships in Los Angeles in March 2020. He started climbing when he was just 5 years old at ABC Kids Climbing in Boulder, Colorado, where he still trains today alongside his Olympic teammate, Brooke Raboutou.

 

Duffy is a 10-time youth national champion and also holds two youth world championships in lead. The soon-to-be high school senior had originally targeted Paris 2024 for his Olympic debut, but began to think of Tokyo as a possibility once he qualified for the Pan-American Championships.


• Brooke Raboutou, 20, has accomplished a list of significant achievements for a climber her age. Raboutou has grown up with world-class climbing genetics under the tutelage of world champion climbing parents Robyn Erbesfield and Didier Raboutou while splitting her time between Colorado and France. At the age of 11, she became the youngest person in the world to climb a 5.14b, a climbing grade typically navigated by only elite and experienced climbers.

 

In August 2019, Raboutou became the first U.S. climber to qualify for Tokyo, securing her spot at the 2019 IFSC Combined World Championships in Hachioji, Japan. She made her senior world championships debut in 2019.

• Aug. 3, 2021: The Olympic competition begins with men’s qualifying action

• Aug. 4, 2021: The women’s competition gets underway

• Aug. 5, 2021: Men’s finals

• Aug. 6, 2021: Women’s finals