Climbing, also known as “sport climbing,” will make its Olympic debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games with individual events for men and women (20 athletes each).

Sport climbing is contested on indoor rock walls. The inaugural Olympic competition will feature a format that combines three disciplines: lead, speed and bouldering. The three disciplines, usually contested separately, use different skills and tactics. Traditionally, most climbers have specialized in only one (or occasionally two) of the disciplines.

Here’s an overview of the three disciplines:

  • Lead: The oldest discipline in sport climbing, competitive lead events were first contested in the mid-1980s. In this discipline, climbers attach themselves to the wall using a harness. The winner is the athlete who reaches the top of the course fastest or – in the event that no athlete reaches the top – climbs higher than his or her competitors climb before falling.
  • Speed: Athletes race head-to-head against their opponents in a knockout-style competition. As the name of the discipline implies, the winner is the athlete who climbs to the top in the fastest time. Speed courses are standardized, which means everything from the height of the wall (15 meters) to the exact position of the holds is identical from one venue to the next.
  • Bouldering: Competing without harnesses, athletes complete a series of short climbs (known as “problems”) in a fixed amount of time. The winner is the climber who completes the most problems. In the event of a tie, climbers are further classified by the number of attempts they took and number of ‘zones’ they reached.

The following scoring system is expected to be used in determining the final standings at the Olympics. Each athlete’s score will be calculated by multiplying his/her placement in each event. The winner is the climber with the lowest total score. For example, in the following scenario, athlete B would win based on his/her placements in bouldering (2nd), speed (5th), and lead (1st):

Boulder   Speed   Lead   Total
Athlete A      1    x           3   x          4   =       12
Athlete B      2    x           5   x          1   =       10
Athlete C      3    x          10   x          2   =       60

More information:

Tokyo 2020 – Climbing

USA Climbing

International Federation of Sport Climbing