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What you need to know about climbing at the Olympic Games

Canada's Allanah Yip and Sean McColl will compete

Climbing makes its Olympic debut at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. The format, sport climbing, combines three climbing disciplines into one giant event: speed, bouldering, and lead. Although climbers were mostly not thrilled about the combination, it is the first step. And an exciting one. Here is what you need to know about the Olympic event. 

There are 20 men and 20 women competing at the Olympic Games, with no more than two from any one country. 

The competition begins Tuesday, Aug. 3, and runs to Aug. 6 at the newly constructed Aomi Urban Sports Park. 

The three disciplines

You could think of sport climbing as a kind of triathlon of sorts. Each participant will tackle the three disciplines in order: speed climbing, bouldering, and then lead climbing. This is new for everyone, so all of the athletes are on equal footing. 

Speed: This newer discipline sees climbers attached to an auto-belay type harness and the idea is to fly up the 15-metre wall as fast as possible with the concern for life and limb taken away by the harness. It’s pretty spectacular to see. The holds are the same, the wall is at 95 degrees. The first person to make it to the top and hit the buzzer wins. 

Bouldering: With bouldering, climbers make their way up a route on the official 4.5-metre bouldering wall, without a harness. The idea is to complete the route within four minutes, placing both hands on the final hold to signal completion. Each route is different, holds could be huge or as small as a fingertip and the climbers won’t see it until they get there. It requires both incredible physical and mental skills.

Lead: Here climbers make their way up a massive 15-metre wall as far as they can in six minutes while using lead rope and attaching the rope to quickdraws along the route. There is one shot, no second chances. If two climbers make it up to the same point, the fastest climber is declared the winner. 

The Canadians

North Vancouver, BC climbers and friends Sean McColl and Alannah Yip will represent Canada at the competition. Both are veteran World Cup competitors. McColl has had more success on the international stage earning 34 World Cup medals and qualifying for the Games quite early when he finished 10th at the 2019 IFSC World Championships. McColl remains the only athlete post a top-eight World Cup finish in each of the three climbing disciplines. He has a shot to medal at the Games, but his speed climbing will need to be better. 

Yip did not qualify at Worlds but punched her ticket at the 2020 Pan American Championships. Bouldering is her strength, and in 2017 she became the first Canadian woman to advance to a World Cup final. 

The Competition

Women: It is somewhat a race for the Silver and Bronze medals at the Olympic Games with world champion and Slovenian climbing phenom Janja Garnbret blazing an incredible trail ahead of her competition. She is a six-time world champion, won every World Cup event, and could probably challenge for the men’s title. She is that dominant. That being said, climbing is fickle, and one slip up could topple even this star. Behind Garnbret, veteran British climber Shauna Coxsey is a podium favourite. Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi is always a threat. 

Men: Renowned climber Adam Ondra, of the Czech Republic, is back, and once again a threat to win. Although one of the world’s best climbers, the format might not be to Ondra’s advantage. Japan boasts two of the top athletes in the men’s competition in world champion Tomoa Narasaki and young upstart Kai Harada. Kazakhstan’s Rishat Khaibullin could also land on the podium. The men’s side could provide more surprises than the women’s with many climbers having a shot at the podium. 

Lead photo Alannah Yip courtesy Olympics.ca.

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