Hello again PG community!
I am writing this month from an Airbnb in downtown London. We just finished wrapping up the European tour of the World Cup Series and are preparing to head to China next week. Should be exciting!
Over the past month, I have had the opportunity to witness firsthand the first-ever use of the new Olympic format for competitive climbing. This format will be in place in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, and also next year at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. The format takes the 3 disciplines of speed, bouldering, and lead, and combines them into a single ‘combined’ event. I got to watch the combined event being tested for the first time at the 2017 Youth World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria.
Before we get into that, however, it’s time to address the elephant in the room. How was the Olympic format decided, you may be wondering? Great question!
Back in 2013, climbing applied (and was initially rejected) to be a new sport in the 2020 Olympic Games. Then, following a revamp of the Olympic sport selection procedure, climbing petitioned again for the 2020 Games. Before climbing was approved, however, a compromise was made to include all 3 disciplines of sport climbing – speed, bouldering, & lead – as a single combined event.
- As far as I can tell, the main reasons for this decision were as follows:
- There was not enough room in the Olympic schedule to accommodate all 3 disciplines separately,
the disciplines collectively represented the Olympic motto, (“Faster, higher, stronger” = speed, lead, & bouldering) and
- it would be far easier for future Olympic Games (2024 and beyond) to already have all 3 disciplines in the Olympics to transition to separate medal events as well as an overall medal category.
Luckily, it worked! After a successful proposal put together by the Japanese Mountaineering Association and positive feedback from the 2014 Youth Olympic Sports Lab, sport climbing was officially approved as a new Olympic sport on August 4th, 2016. One year later, it was also added to the 2018 Youth Olympics agenda. Now, for the first time in our sport’s history, young climbers could fulfill the dream of every athlete on the planet: Representing their country at an Olympic Games.
As expected, climbing in the Olympics was not exactly met with wholehearted support from the climbing community itself. Among other flaws, critics of the inclusion point out that this artificial ‘combined’ discipline is hardly in line with how the sport is practiced both indoors and outdoors at the recreational or even professional level. Many also fear that it could lead to “regulation, officialdom and the commercial exploitation” of the sport at large. However, I firmly believe that climbing’s inclusion in the Olympics will make the sport more accessible to people around the globe, as well as offer resources, opportunities, and financial support to athletes of all abilities to help them stay involved in the sport.
Fast-forward to this year’s Youth World Championships in Innsbruck this year. In the past, I had represented the US National Team in this event until my final year of youth eligibility in 2013. This time around, I was there solely in a supportive capacity. I was also traveling with US teammate Kai Lightner for the past month, and was especially excited to cheer him on.
Over the course of 12 days, the young athletes pushed themselves to the brink in all 3 disciplines of climbing. After individual discipline events had concluded, the first-ever test of the Olympic format was then put into action. The top athletes from each category were put into a single combined final that consisted of 2 speed climbs, 4 boulder problems, and 1 lead climb. To determine a winner, the ranks of each discipline were multiplied together, and the athlete with the lowest combined score at the end would be declared the champion.
Example: Climber A vs. Climber B.
Climber A’s results: 1st in speed, 5th in bouldering, 6th in lead.
Climber B’s results: 4th in speed, 3rd in bouldering, 2nd in lead.
Climber A’s combined score: 1 x 5 x 6 = 30
Climber B’s combined score: 4 x 3 x 2 = 24
Climber B has a lower combined score, so he/she wins!
As a spectator and athlete, watching the combined finals were thrilling to say the least. Each round provided opportunities for certain athletes to stand out, while rewarding athletes who had the best overall performance among all 3 disciplines. In addition, the top 13 athletes in the 16 – 17 year-old category would qualify directly for the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires. Exciting stuff!
As thrilling as the combined event was to watch, it was also clear there are some tweaks that could be ironed out. Many athletes were exhausted after competing for 10 days already in the other individual disciplines, and the scoring was sometimes difficult to follow along with as a spectator. However, the event was a huge success for the sport as a whole, and we do have time to make adjustments to the format before it’s presented on the Olympic stage.
When all was said and done, the US walked away with 14 medals! Only Russia and Japan were more dominant, claiming 15 and 24 medals, respectively. I was especially proud of Kai’s performances throughout the competition, as he made finals in all 4 events and won bronze in both lead and combined!
Speaking as a climber who loves competing in all 3 disciplines, I am very excited to push myself in the combined Olympic format. Multi-disciplinary approaches have always motivated me to the best all-around athlete I can be. Fortunately, I got an opportunity almost immediately to test my skill set.
Following Innsbruck, I traveled to Stuttgart, Germany, and Edinburgh, Scotland to compete in the Adidas Rockstars (bouldering) and the next event in the World Cup Series (lead and speed). It felt great to challenge myself in this ‘combined format’ of sorts, knowing that I still have plenty to learn and improve upon for the coming years. In Edinburgh, I was fortunate enough to qualify for my first-ever World Cup final in speed, where I finished a personal best of 12th! Definitely encouraging for the future.
Next up, I’ll be competing in the final two lead and speed events of the World Cup season in China. Both events will be broadcast live on the IFSC YouTube channel, be sure to stay tuned to catch all the action!
– Josh Levin
Check out Josh’s other blog posts: