logo with 5 colored rings for 2020 olympic games
(Photo/Tokyo 2020 Games)

First Olympic Sport Climbing Champions: Slovenian, Spaniard Take Gold

The Olympic Games are finally upon us — and for the first time, sport climbing is included. Here’s all you need to know about climbing in the Olympic games ahead of Tokyo 2021.

Editor’s Note: We’ve updated our original Olympic climbing coverage with results. 

If the 2020 Olympic Games had happened, it would have been the first time that climbing and a host of other sports would have been included. But alas, we all know what happened: the IOC postponed the 32nd running of the summer Olympic games due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

But good things come to those who wait. The summer Olympics will still be a year of firsts, and they’ll still be held in Tokyo, Japan, from July 23 to August 8, 2021 (sans spectators).

The Olympic Games are fast approaching. And for those who love rock climbing, it’s a new chance to enjoy the sport as it enters the world stage. Here’s what you need to know about climbing in the Olympics.

Results: Sport Climbing at the Olympics

Men’s Sport Climbing Results

Spaniard Alberto Gines Lopez reigned victorious on August 5 at the men’s combined final. Lopez finished first in speed climbing, fourth in lead, and seventh in bouldering for a combined score of 28 points.

Nathaniel Coleman, a 24-year-old U.S. climber, finished in a very close second with a combined 30 points (ranked first in the bouldering final, fifth in lead, and sixth in speed). And that leaves the first-place lead discipline climber, Jakob Schubert, who placed third overall with a score of 35 points.

  • Overall Gold: Alberto Gines Lopez, Spain
  • Overall Silver: Nathaniel Coleman, USA
  • Overall Bronze: Jakob Schubert, Austria

Women’s Sport Climbing Results

A favorite in the world sport climbing arena (and our pick for gold), Slovenian climber Janja Garnbret won the lead wall competition yesterday, leading to an overall victory and becoming the first women’s Olympic sport climbing champion.

Garnbret took first in bouldering and lead climbing, and fifth in the speed discipline (for a score of 5 points), pulling miles ahead of the other seven climbers who made it to finals and beating the silver finisher by 40 points.

Two climbers from Japan claimed the remaining podium spots: Miho Nonaka (45 points) and Akiyo Noguchi (64 points) took silver and bronze, respectively.

  • Overall Gold: Janja Garnbret, Slovenia
  • Overall Silver: Miho Nonaka, Japan
  • Overall Bronze: Akiyo Noguchi, Japan

Olympic Climbing: Rules, Scoring, and More

Jain Kim climbing in the IFSC finals

Rock climbing has surged recently as a professional sport and reaches a new peak at the Olympics. This year, athletes will compete in three disciplines that comprise sport climbing: lead climbing, speed climbing, and bouldering.

Like the IFSC World Championships and Bouldering World Cups, athletes are graded on their performance in each discipline. The medalists will be the three climbers that perform best across the three disciplines.

Climbing in the Olympics will begin on August 3 and run through August 6. The first 2 days will be for qualifiers, with the last 2 days reserved for the finals. It can get complicated to understand, so here’s how the scoring will work — overall, and for each discipline.

Isolation

Before we get into the specifics of each discipline, it’s worth noting that for bouldering and lead climbing, all climbers start in isolation. That means they cannot watch other climbers attempt the route before they climb it.

The reason for isolation is that watching another climber on a route gives the observer extremely valuable information about the route. Climbers call information about a route “beta.” Having any beta before climbing a route can provide a clue that tips the scale of the climb. Thus, isolation keeps the playing field level, regardless of a climber’s place in the queue.

Speed climbing, on the other hand, takes place on a standardized route. All climbers have access to the route and are familiar with it, so isolation is unnecessary.

Olympic Lead Climbing

The lead climbing competition is held on 15m walls with a 6m overhang. Before the competition, all the athletes get 6 minutes of observation to study the routes. Then, each climber gets one attempt. There is a time limit of 6 minutes per attempt.

The climber that reaches the highest hold on the wall is awarded the top rank. The holds are numbered and function as points in a system. For example, the 20th hold on the wall would equal 20 points. When an athlete falls, they are recorded on which hold they fell (giving them a score).

Spain's Ramon Julian in a tank shirt lead climbing on an overhanging route at a world cup
Spain’s Ramon Julian lead climbing at the IFSC World Cup, 2014; (photo/Marco Govel)

If two climbers fall at the same spot, the higher ranking goes to the climber that climbed above the hold. For example, a climber that reached hold 30 and was climbing toward hold 31, rather than a climber who reached hold 30 and immediately fell, would be given a higher score (written as 30+).

Olympic Bouldering

In bouldering, athletes compete to finish as many problems as they can in as short a time as possible. The qualification round has a total of four problems (different problems for men and women) with a time allotment of up to 5 minutes. The finals round has three boulder problems.

Each boulder problem has starting holds, zone holds, and a top hold. A zone hold is a way to measure climbers that reach a midpoint in the problem, but not the top. (Climbers who reach zone holds get partial credit.)

Topping a boulder problem means an athlete reaches the top hold, places two hands on the top hold, and maintains control. To “flash” a boulder is to top it on a first attempt.

At the end of the round, climbers are ranked based on most boulders topped, most zone holds reached, and fewest total attempts. Their score (and chances of getting on the podium) increases if they top or flash a problem.

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Olympic Speed Climbing

The aim of speed climbing is to scale a 15m wall (same as lead climbing) as quickly as possible. Athletes go head to head on identical routes in two “lanes.” Each athlete gets two attempts to record their fastest possible time.

speed climbing simulation on a dark screen
A speed climbing simulation; (photo/Tokyo Olympic Games)

Eight athletes will compete in the finals. Here, speed climbing is a single-elimination tournament-style event. Athletes are initially ranked 1-8 based on qualification results. Then, climbers face off in quarterfinal matchups.

The winners of the quarterfinals advance to the semifinals, while the losers face off for rankings #5-8. The climbers repeat the speed wall process in the semifinals, with the winners advancing to the final (the losers face off for #3 and #4 rankings).

The winner of the final race wins the speed discipline. The slower climber places second in the discipline.

Overall Scoring: How Climbers Get on the Podium

In essence, each of the three disciplines is one stage of the competition. And to win at the Olympics, a climber needs to do well in all of them.

Climbers will earn a ranking in each discipline through their competition, with first place being 1, second being 2, and so on. Scorekeepers will then multiply the results of all three disciplines together, with the lowest score overall winning.

If there’s an exact points tie, the athlete that placed better in two out of three disciplines is ranked higher. If you still have questions, check out this explainer from the Olympic Games.

Watch Climbing at the Olympics

Olympic Climbing: Team USA Athletes to Watch

deep water kyra condie
Kyra Condie deep water soloing.

For the Olympic qualifiers, each country was allowed to have a maximum of two women and two men, totaling four athletes. Only the U.S., France, and Japan reached the max total of four athletes competing. Twenty athletes per gender (40 total) will participate in the qualifications, with the ranked top eight advancing to the finals.

Here are the U.S. climbers competing in the Olympics:

Kyra Condie

Age: 25

Bio: Started climbing when she was a teen; four-time Youth Bouldering National Champion; qualified for the Olympics at the 2019 IFSC Combined Qualifier in France.

Climbing specialty: bouldering, lead climbing

Nathaniel Coleman

Age: 24

Bio: Started climbing at age 9; won consecutive U.S. bouldering titles from 2015-2018 before finishing second in 2019 and winning again in 2020; qualified for Tokyo at the 2019 IFSC Combined Qualifier in France.

Climbing specialty: bouldering

Brooke Raboutou

Age: 20

Bio: Born to two climbing parent icons (four-time World Cup Champion Robyn Erbesfield and Didier Raboutou), Raboutou has been climbing since she was a child. She became the youngest person in the world to climb a 5.14b at age 11. Raboutou was the first U.S. climber to qualify for the Olympic Games.

Climbing specialty: lead climbing, bouldering

UK climber bouldering on the fourth competition route at the 2019 European Championships
UK climber Nathan Phillips.

Colin Duffy

Age: 17

Bio: Ten-time Youth National Champion; qualified for the Olympic Team in March 2020 with a surprising performance at the Pan-American Championships in L.A. Fun fact: both Colin Duffy and Brooke Raboutou are from Boulder, Colorado, and train at the same gym.

Climbing specialty: bouldering, lead climbing

View the full USA Olympic athlete team roster.

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International Olympic Climbers to Watch

It’s not just the USA team you should keep your eye on, either — there are also plenty of serious climbers from abroad who are contenders for the Olympic podium. Here are the ones to watch.

Adam Ondra

If there is a favorite in the men’s field, it is Adam Ondra. Widely regarded as the best overall climber in the world, he’s the person to beat.

Team: Czech Republic

Age: 28

Bio: Started climbing at age 6; first person to climb 9b+ and 9c, which includes his first ascent of “Silence,” a 5.15d, in 2017; seven-time World Cup gold medalist. Ondra was one of the first athletes to qualify for the Olympics at the 2019 IFSC Combined Qualifier in France. He has won both lead and bouldering World Cup Championships, and he is frequently lauded as one of the best climbers in the world.

Climbing specialty: lead climbing, bouldering

adam ondra
Adam Ondra; (photo/Black Diamond)

Janja Garnbret

The women’s favorite, Janja Garnbret will also be tough to beat.

Team: Slovenia

Age: 22

Bio: Six-time World Championship gold medalist; won every single event over the course of the 2019 Bouldering World Cup; qualified for the Olympics by winning gold in the combined final of the 2019 IFSC Climbing World Championships.

Climbing specialty: lead climbing, bouldering

Akiyo Noguchi

Team: Japan

Age: 32

Bio: Won Japan’s Bouldering Cup nine consecutive times; three-time combine World Cup title winner; placed second overall in the 2019 IFSC Climbing World Championships, securing her ticket to Tokyo.

Climbing specialty: bouldering

Alex Megos

Team: Germany

Age: 27

Bio: Like Ondra, Megos has also climbed the hardest grades in the world, including 5.15c and 5.15d; he was the first climber to onsight 9a+; holds multiple Youth World Cup titles; bronze and silver medalist for Lead World Championships in 2018 and 2019.

Climbing specialty: lead climbing

British climber Shauna Coxsey lead climbing outside
Shauna Coxsey lead climbing outdoors.

Shauna Coxsey

Team: Great Britain

Age: 23

Bio: Began climbing at age 4; has 11 gold medals and 12 silver medals from Bouldering World Cups; set a British women’s speed climbing record of 9.141 seconds in 2019; qualified for Tokyo after making the finals at the 2019 IFSC Climbing World Championships.

Climbing specialty: bouldering

Tomoa Narasaki

Team: Japan

Age: 25

Bio: 2017 World Cup winner; 2019 Bouldering and Combined World Cup champion gold medalist; qualified for Tokyo after winning gold overall in the 2019 IFSC Climbing World Championships; holds a Japanese record for speed climbing with a time of 5.73 seconds.

Climbing specialty: bouldering

Miho Nonaka

Team: Japan

Age: 24

Bio: Won bronze at the 2015 Bouldering World Cup, silver at the 2016 Bouldering World Cup, and won the 2018 Bouldering World Cup overall title; three-time World Cup gold medalist.

Climbing specialty: bouldering

Jessica Pilz

Team: Austria

Age: 24

Bio: Six youth climbing championship titles to her name; won the 2018 Lead Climbing World Championships; qualified for the Olympics at the 2019 World Championships.

Climbing specialty: lead climbing

Petra Klinger

Team: Switzerland

Age: 29

Bio: Won gold at 2015 Bouldering World Cup; gold medalist at 2016 IFSC World Championships; eight-time Ice Climbing World Cup medalist; qualified for the Olympics during the 2019 IFSC Climbing World Championships, finishing eighth.

Climbing specialty: bouldering, lead, speed, and ice climbing

two male climbers speed climbing up vertical wall at 2015 championships
Speed climbing final at the 2015 Ukraine National Climbing Championship; (photo/Alex Brylov via Shutterstock)

Jakob Schubert

Team: Austria

Age: 30

Bio: Three-time world champion; seven-time Bouldering World cup winner (top three); qualified for Tokyo after placing second overall in the 2019 IFSC Climbing World Championships.

Climbing specialty: lead climbing, bouldering

Laura Rogora

Team: Italy

Age: 20

Bio: At age 14, she became the second-youngest climber to complete a 9a (5.15); at age 19, became the second woman in the world to climb a route graded 9b; qualified for Tokyo at the 2019 IFSC Combined Qualifier in France.

Climbing specialty: lead climbing

YuFei Pan

Team: China

Age: 21

Bio: 2017 Bouldering World Cup finalist; 2019 Lead World Cup silver medalist; qualified for Tokyo at the 2019 IFSC Combined Qualifier in France, ranking sixth overall for men.

Climbing specialty: bouldering

french athlete climbing bouldering IFSC Poland 2019
Mickael Mawem bouldering in 2019; (photo/gubernat via Shutterstock)

Bassa Mawem and Mickael Mawem

Team: France

Ages: 36 and 30, respectively

Bios: Two brothers, Bassa and Mickael Mawem, both climb for the France national climbing team. Mickael qualified for the Olympics first at the 2019 Climbing World Cup; Bassa qualified at the IFSC Olympic qualifiers tournament in France. Bassa holds a silver medal from the 2018 World Championships; Mickael won gold at the same world championships.

Climbing Specialties: speed and bouldering; bouldering

View the full roster of climbers in the Olympics. 

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The Olympic Games: Schedule and How to Watch

Olympic Games Climbing Schedule:

  • Men’s Sport Climbing qualifications: August 3
  • Women’s Sport Climbing qualification: August 4
  • Men’s Sport Climbing finals: August 5
  • Women’s Sport Climbing finals: August 6

More Olympic Games schedule highlights:

  • Men’s Road Cycling: July 24
  • Women’s Road Cycling: July 25
  • Men’s Mountain Bike: July 26
  • Women’s Mountain Bike: July 27
  • Cycling time trials (men’s and women’s): July 28
  • Cycling BMX (men’s and women’s): July 29-August 1
  • Surfing qualifications: July 25-27*
  • Surfing finals: July 28*
  • Men’s Triathlon: July 26
  • Women’s Triathlon: July 27
  • Men’s Marathon Swimming: August 5
  • Women’s Marathon Swimming: August 4
  • Paralympic Track Cycling: August 25-28
  • Paralympic Triathlon: August 28-29
  • Paralympic Road Cycling: August 31-Sept. 1
  • Paralympic Swimming: August 25-Sept. 1

*4-day window with alternate dates based on conditions

Find the 2021 Olympics on NBC on cable, and Amazon, Apple, or Roku TV. Or, watch live and recorded Olympic competitions online.

Watch the Olympics

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Mary Murphy
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Mary is based out of GearJunkie's Denver, CO office. She has a degree in English and Journalism, and been writing professionally for over five years. Her outdoor interests span from running to sport climbing, from landscape photography to skiing to pack-paddleboarding. If she's not writing, you can most likely find her at the top of a fourteener, or in a local bakery.