The modern Olympics have been running now for well over 100 years with a total of 28 sports regular being included. This global sporting phenomenon, the brain child of Pierre de Coubertin, has grown from the routes it set in Athens in 1896 into the mega event we see held every 2 years – depending upon your Winter or Summer persuasion. With Climbing as a recreational sport dating back to 1854 why has climbing never been included in the Games until now. Well actually it has, in 1924, ’32 and ’36 the Olympic Alpinism Gold medal was awarded to those who “demonstrated extraordinary feats of alpinism” but in 1946 the IOC agreed to stop this award. But with the relatively recreational capacity to summit peaks in the later part of the 20th century, the Olympics and Climbing or more specifically Mountaineering parted ways.
Indoor climbing is more specifically what is bidding for inclusion in the Tokyo 2020 games. This variant of mountaineering has been in existence since the 1960s but has only really seen larger prominence in the last 20years. So, why now? Are we ready?
To be eligible for inclusion in the Olympics the sport must be governed by one international sport federation, so for us the UIAA is this beast and similar to the BMC in the UK these guys have been focused on participation in the outdoors, safety and education it wasn’t until the early ‘90s that the first World cup was held. It wasn’t until 2006 that the International Federation of Sport Climbing was born and finally we had a voice. But again, are we ready? In the UK do we have the logistics and support structure to create Olympic athletes, the popping up of Performance academies in Sheffield and Edinburgh suggest a movement in the right direction. But should we see a parallel with the UIAA and the IFSC to the BMC and …..?
So why Sport Climbing? Simply, it is the best balance. It has the longest history of competitive participation. It is a spectacle and easy for non-climbers to get wrapped up in. Definite and objective winners can be determined.
So why Speed Climbing? Well it’s a bit gimmicky maybe but it’s not hard to understand. Like the 100 metre sprint is to running/jogging, why not have a version of climbing that builds a bit of hype. In reality how many people do you know that sprint, and now how many do you know that jog?
So why Bouldering? Well let’s face it, it’s awesome! But more objectively it’s easy to understand and has the largest base of participation. Being the most accessible form of climbing. There’s also the “Do this sport, get the chiselled physique” mentality that appeals to modern mind-sets; now as climbers we understand it’s not that easy/simple but who are we kidding, non-climbers are slow, right?!
But why is no-one talking about ice climbing/dry tooling? There are no restrictions to the amount of sports that can participate in the Winter Games, so why not focus there? Would the amount of equipment and perceived danger make it a red herring of a show case for climbing?
But to have an overall Olympic champion who was good at all three of these disciplines, I pose the all important, and slightly loaded question, would you consider this person a true Gold medalist, the most elite climber in the world? I will jump to an assumption and say most people will say no and here in lies the problem – divided we fall. There are not allot of top climbers that excel at all three of these types of climbing, so will the medalists actually be the best climber or just the most balanced? But, in my eyes, bluntly, who cares, this single event could throw our sport from the niche to the mainstream. So really these athletes are just the first generation of global ambassadors for Climbing and with the likes of Molly Thompson-Smith in our corner, I say we are in good hands.
Jez Tapping – Constant Climbing