With sport climbing having made its debut at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, there’s a spotlight on our sport like never before. It’s an exciting time for climbing, but the combined format and Olympic scoring system caused some confusion during the games amongst climbers and non climbers alike. The climbing events at Tokyo 2020 saw a relatively new scoring system and competition format. So how exactly are the climbing events in the Olympics scored and what is the combined format?
The combined Olympic climbing format
Unlike international climbing competitions thus far, the Olympic format saw 40 athletes compete over three disciplines for a single set of medals in a novel, combined format. Three disciplines: lead climbing, bouldering and speed climbing were combined, with athletes competing across the three for one gold, silver and bronze medal. This format had been the source of some controversy leading up to the Olympics, as climbers now have to compete across three broadly different styles of climbing and some have questioned if the combined format favours the strongest all-round climber. In the Paris 2024, speed climbing will be split from the other two, becoming it’s own event and offering it’s own set of medals.
What are the three climbing disciplines at the Olympics?
When people think of climbing, they may first think of a climber attached to a rope, scaling a tall face with a belayer below them. This is lead climbing, just one discipline that made its debut at Tokyo 2020. Lead Climbing tests athletes' endurance as they attempt to climb as high as they can on a wall in 6 minutes. The higher they reach, the higher they score.
Bouldering competitions are fought out on shorter, powerful routes above safety matting. Athletes tackle a number of boulders with the aim being to get to the top of as many as possible in as few attempts as they can in four minutes. In bouldering, attempts, and holds called zones come into play to influence the final score.
Competitors have been testing their speed on the same standardised speed climbing wall since 2007, but it’s only recently that the sport has grown in recognition.
Speed climbing sees two climbers race side by side on a 15m standardised route, with the aim being to complete a run in the quickest possible time.
In the Tokyo 2020 games, athletes competed in each of these disciplines. Their scores in each were combined to make one overall score which determined their overall placing. This made for some interesting moments, with many spectators getting tripped up in the quick calculations needed to keep up with the rankings!
How is climbing scored in the Olympics?
Six men and six women make it through to an Olympic Sport Climbing final. The finalists are decided by qualification round, in which 20 men and 20 women climb to make the cut, with no semi-final as we’re used to seeing in international climbing competitions. Scores are decided by a multiplied score of climbers’’ scores in each discipline and the lowest score wins the gold medal.
How is lead climbing scored in the Olympics?
Lead climbing is scored in a point system, where each hold an athlete reaches and uses in control on the wall gains them a point. The climber who climbs the highest wins the highest score which is then multiplied by their scores in the two other disciplines.
How is bouldering scored in the Olympics?
Bouldering is scored using a combination of tops and zones to determine rank. Athletes each get four minutes to reach the top of four boulders (three in the final), with the number of attempts influencing their final score. The aim is to top the boulder in as few attempts as possible, with athletes looking to ‘flash’ the problem, meaning climb it on their first attempt. The top is only given for reaching and holding the top hold in a controlled way with both hands.
What is a zone in bouldering?
In the bouldering competition, climbers can also help their score by using the ‘zone’ hold of a boulder problem. The zone will usually be part way up the climb, and athletes have to use it in a controlled way. The final leaderboard is determined in order of tops, attempts, and zones.
How is speed climbing scored in the Olympics?
In the speed climbing qualifiers, athletes get two attempts to climb their personal best on the speed wall. The fastest time is taken forwards and this will determine rank. The finals are head to head races, with the fastest time progressing to the next round.
To progress to the Olympic finals, climbers have to perform their speed, bouldering and lead climbing qualification to get their final score. In sport climbing, the lower the score the better.