Everything You Need to Know about Rock Climbing and the Olympics – What is this new Olympic sport? How did it get there? What’s Next?

August 10, 2021 5 min read

Everything You Need to Know about Rock Climbing and the Olympics – What is this new Olympic sport? How did it get there? What’s Next?

Rock climbing is equal parts challenging and exhilarating; it’s a total body and mind encompassing sport that’s enjoyed by millions of professional and amateur climbers the world over. Just one look at a rock climbing wall and you will see why so many people are interested in learning how to rock climb. But climbing also requires a great deal of grit, skill, balance, hand-eye coordination, determination, and astute mental focus to reach your goals. With so much going for it, it’s a wonder that rock climbing, also referred to as sport climbing, was only recently added to the list of Olympic sporting events for 2020. 

While you might not have your sights set on reaching the Olympic stage yourself, with enough practice and the right rock-climbing apparel at your disposal, you might just one day make the jump from indoor sport climbing & bouldering and maybe even one day climb outdoors on real rock!

What Is Olympic Sport Climbing?

Avid professional and recreational climbers know that climbing is a physically and mentally demanding sport that requires a lot of training hours, skill, and flexibility to perfect. As a result, there’s a vast lexicon of climbing lingo and disciplines associated with this sport that’s centered around upward mobility and the challenge to “top out” (reach the final hold of the route).  Olympic climbers from around the world had the opportunity to compete in three disciplinary events in an effort to make their countries proud.

The format of Sport Climbing in the Olympics,given the limited parameters of the Olympics stadium, controversially consisted of one combined event with three disciplines: lead climbing, speed climbing and bouldering. 

It was considered controversial to combine these three disciplines because it’s not common for rock climbers (the athletes) to climb all three styles. They typically specialize in only one. If we consider the same combined ask in a different sport for example, a long-distance swimmer isn’t likely to also train and participate in the butterfly or synchronized swimming. But since climbing was brand new to the Olympics, the committee decided to combine all three designations as a public introduction to the overall sport.

The competitions began with Speed Climbing, followed by Bouldering and concluding with Lead.

Speed Climbing

During this event, two participants competed in a race against the clock and each other. Using the utmost agility, strength, planning, and decision-making skills, the objective of speed climbing is to see which climber can reach the very top of the 15-metre indoor climbing wall in the least amount of time.


Bouldering is all about problem-solving, and usually involves big, balancy moves. Taking place on short-distance indoor climbing walls, it completely omits the use of harnesses, safety apparatuses, and ropes. Climbers rely primarily on their strength, balance, surefootedness, and pre-planning/problem-solving capabilities to reach the top of the route, or “problem” as it’s known within the climbing community. 

A great deal of skill is involved in bouldering as athletes only have a few seconds to examine the boulder and then quickly determine the best climbing route to reach the top of the bouldering problem with both hands and in as few attempts as possible.

Lead Climbing

Olympic lead climbing sees the climbers harnessed to a rope, which they connect to quickdraws which are fastened to the wall, as they make their way up a 15-metre Olympic-regulated wall. They each have six minutes to make it to the top of the route or as far as they possibly can.  Climbers who fall have their hold numbers (the point at which they fell) recorded to be included in their final score. Re-climbing isn’t permitted during the Olympics, they only have one chance at the lead route. If more than one climber reaches the top during the six-minute period, the climber with the fastest time gets the better score. 

How to Determine Who Wins the Medals

Once all three designations have been completed, the points earned from all three disciplines are tallied in order to determine the Gold, Silver and Bronze winners. So, with a combined competition such as the one featured in the Olympics, it’s not necessarily the climber who reached the top of the lead wall that wins, if they did poorly in Speed and Bouldering then their score might not be enough.

How Did Sport Climbing Reach the Olympics?

Why did it take so long for the Olympic committee to finally include sport climbing in its repertoire?

Over time, climbing has evolved gradually from an alpine necessity to an athletic, competitive sport. The evolution into a competitive sport showcases the speed, agility, flexibility, mental focus, and decision-making skills of climbers. It didn’t really take hold as an official sport until sometime in the 1980s when rock climbing first became popular. Eventually, indoor climbing gyms were introduced. 

While other world-famous rock climbing competitions such the World Games have been around for a long time, the Olympics is considered to be one of the most prestigious international sporting events known to humankind. It’s a chance for competitors representing countries all over the world to showcase their superior athleticism and be rewarded for it. 

In recent years, sport climbing has gained immense popularity in the sports world with ESPN broadcasting the World Cup climbing events, not to mention the well-known documentary on the subject, “Free Solo.” 

The world slowly started paying more attention to a sport that had already gained a large following for decades. So, it was only a matter of time before the Olympic committee took notice. 

With the relentless hard work and determination by key members of the climbing community, the Olympic committee finally understood the importance of this growing sport and how it could help infuse a sense of excitement and bring youth interest back to the aging Olympic Games.  And so, Sport Climbing made it’s Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020!

What’s Next for Olympic Sport Climbing in Paris 2024?

Now that the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are officially over, professional climbers are excitedly and anxiously looking forward to the future of sport climbing in this significant sporting event. To the average person, the 2024 Paris Olympics may seem very far off, but for athletes, the next three years are absolutely crucial to honing their skills and getting competition-ready. 

In Paris 2024, two competitions will crown their own Olympic champion in sport climbing. One will be a combined competition of bouldering and lead events, and the second one will only feature a speed event. 

Although sport climbing is already officially recognized by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), it’s not included as an event in the Paralympics. The hope is that after being featured in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the IPC will review the sport and create new parameters for it to be included. 

How Can You Show Your Country Pride as We Prepare for Paris 2024?

Just like the athletes that proudly showcased their climbing prowess and passion in front of a global audience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Crimpin wants to make the sport of rock climbing more accessible and fun for climbers everywhere. 

Whether you’re just starting out or are an experienced climber, the Crimpin Climb the World Collection features comfortable, breathable, quick drying rock-climbing clothing with a globalist view that represents the fact that this is a sport that’s beloved around the world. Check out our designshere andcontact us to learn more. 

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