2020 Tokyo Olympics: Everything to Know About New Sports Climbing Event

by Amy Myers

Athletes of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will reach new heights this summer with the newest addition to the competitions, sport climbing. Climbing of all types has been popular for centuries, but it’s never been as closely regulated and celebrated as a sport as it has within the past 10 or 20 years. Now that indoor climbing gyms are sprouting all over the world, there’s no telling who will take home the first gold medal.

With a new sport comes new rules and jargon to master. For Outsiders that aren’t yet familiar with the joys of jugs and naturals, grab a bag of chalk and dust up your knowledge with our cheat sheet below. For a quick rundown, check out this video from NBC News.

First and foremost, sport climbing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics involves three types of recreational climbing: speed climbing, lead climbing and bouldering. Final scoring involves multiplying the athlete’s place in each of the three activities. For instance, if the climber places 2nd in speed climbing, 5th in lead climbing and 1st in bouldering, their final score is 15. The athlete with the lowest score will take home the gold medal.

Sport Climbing Basics in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Speed climbing is climbing a route in less than 10 seconds. The route is always the same and involves a mix of bigger pieces with deep, generous grips (called “jugs”) and small, jagged pieces (called “naturals”) on a 15-meter wall. Climbers are tied to a top-belay rope, which means the slack gets taken from the top of the rock wall. The first climber to hit the buzzer at the top of the wall advances to the next round until one winner remains.

Meanwhile, lead climbing involves more contemplation. Instead of a top-belay system where the rope stems from the top of the wall, it starts at the bottom with the climber. Athletes have to climb up the new route of about 40-60 holds on the 15-20 meter wall while carrying several carabiners clipped to webbing (called “quickdraws”) on their harness.

Once at a bolt in the wall, the climber must clip the rope to the bolt using the quickdraw. This prevents the climber from falling a great distance if they do let go of a piece. Climbers receive one point for every handhold they successfully grab. Like speed climbing, once you fall, your turn is up. However, you will not immediately be disqualified. Whoever obtains the most points advances to the next round.

Finally, bouldering is a form of climbing on a shorter wall, usually 3-5 meters, without a rope. Boulder “problems” (not typically known as routes), while much closer together, rely more heavily on the climber’s strength than the previous two types. Think of running a marathon versus a 100-meter sprint. Holds on a bouldering problem tend to involve more creative footing, forcing climbers to contort in gravity-defying ways. To move to the next round, climbers must complete the problem with two, stable hands on the finishing piece.