Onward and upward for sport climbing

The first-ever World Beach Games, held in Doha in October 2019, shined a spotlight on sport climbing, which will make its Olympic Games debut at Tokyo 2020. The competition on the programme will feature a combination of three disciplines: speed, bouldering and lead. Switzerland’s Petra Klingler, the 2016 world bouldering champion, tells us more.

4 min By olympic-importer
Onward and upward for sport climbing
(Picture by ANOC)
At the inaugural World Beach Games in Doha, Miho Nonaka and Kai Harada of Japan won the two gold medals up for grabs in the sport climbing bouldering events, underlining the extent of Japan’s ambitions ahead of the discipline’s debut appearance on the Olympic programme at the 2020 Games. “They’re good, that’s for sure,” says Switzerland’s Petra Klingler, who took silver in Doha. “But they’re not unbeatable. The pressure will be on them; we’ll be the ones chasing them down.“

The Olympic dream

Sport climbing’s maiden Olympic Games appearance in Tokyo will see two gold medals awarded (one for men and one for women), and the competition will have a somewhat novel format: 20 athletes will compete in an event that combines the three traditional climbing disciplines: speed, bouldering and lead. Klingler booked her place at the Games at the 2019 World Championships.   
“It’s amazing, and it gives me time to recover after a stressful season,” she explained. “It’s crazy that I’ll be able to take part in the Games. It wasn’t even so much as a dream back when I started climbing with my parents and grandparents. Then I heard about it, and it became a goal. It’s amazing.”


The International Federation of Sport Climbing decided to stage a combined competition featuring three disciplines. “It suits me perfectly,” said Klinger. “I’ve always practised the three disciplines, even though I’m strongest in bouldering. I even climb on ice in winter.”
In Tokyo, at the climbing venue in Aomi, the athletes will compete in the three disciplines – speed, bouldering and lead – one after the other in that order, as Christophe Billon, a technical delegate for the Doha 2019 Beach Games and the Olympic Games 2020, explains:   
-Speed: The speed routes are always the same in all competitions. The walls are 15m high and set at an angle of 5°, and contain some 20 holds. The world record for the discipline is 5.48 seconds for men and 6.99 seconds for women. Climbers tackle the wall two at a time.   
-Bouldering: The walls are relatively small and have landing mats at the bottom. The course consists of three “boulders” in the final (four in the qualifying rounds), and the walls are set at angles of up to 30°. The aim is to reach the summit in as few attempts as possible. The climbers have a maximum of four minutes to complete the climb (five minutes in the qualifying rounds), and do not get to see the route beforehand. Each athlete has to work out how best to climb to the top.   
-Lead: The wall is 15m high with overhangs measuring 9 to 10m, and the routes are designed to present athletes with a range of difficulties. The climbers have just one attempt to reach the summit, and the aim is to go as high as possible. In the event of a tie, the winner is the climber with the fastest time.
-The final rankings will be determined by multiplying the placing in each discipline (e.g. first place in speed, third in bouldering and fifth in lead means 1x3x5 = 15 points), so the athletes with the lowest scores win the medals.

Priority given to the Games

For Klingler, the Olympic adventure is now the number one priority, even though she also embarked on a professional career away from sport in 2019. “I was hired by an airline and have joined their marketing team,” explains Klinger, who graduated with a sports and psychology degree from the University of Bern. “But they fully understand that I have sporting commitments, and they’re going to help me base my working hours around training. After the Games, I’ll be able to devote more time to my job. It’s important for me to have this double project – it helps me clear my mind a bit.”

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