Last May, in a secret ballot in St. Petersburg, Russia, sport climbing got axed out of consideration for the 2020 Olympics. Baseball, wrestling and squash proceeded along with all their agitating believers, and in September an IOC session in Buenos Aires slammed wrestling into the sole open slot. Climbing had been one of eight sports short-listed for inclusion. At least we didn’t lose to wushu, another contender, since I don’t even know what it is.
What you may not know is that climbing HAS been to the Olympics, and it will again. Ha! Soon.
In 2006 Emily Harrington, who won the Serre Chevalier Masters Championship that year, served as a USA Athlete Representative for a sport-climbing event during the Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy. Also invited were Vadim Vinokur and, from Canada, Mike Doyle.
This February, up to seven North Americans are off to Sochi for ice climbing—in a “cultural demonstration,” whatever that may be.
The N.A. invitees are: Kendra Stritch, a Minnesotan living in Calgary, Alberta; Marc Beverly, Albuquerque (American team organizer); and Aaron Montgomery, Broomfield, Colorado; with Jen Olson and Sarah Hueniken of Canmore, Alberta; Gordon McArthur of Canbrook, British Columbia; and Nathan Kutcher of Saint Catharines, Ontario, for Canada.
The UIAA website reads, "[A]thletes from UIAA member federations will participate in the two-week-long festival in Sochi that occurs at the same time as the Winter Olympics."
Urs Stoecker, the UIAA Ice Climbing president, adjusted this year’s competition calendar “to ensure that athletes would be able to participate in the Sochi Winter Olympics festivities in Russia between 7-23 February 2014.” The site gives the UIAA’s vision that Sochi could help pave the way toward Olympic inclusion.
Granted, no one seems quite to know what the ice climbers will be doing, at least yet.
Kendra Stritch produces at least some information. “We will be doing lead and speed demonstrations,” she says, “and also teaching clinics on their ice wall for a few days.” Lead and speed are the two competition formats.
From Aaron Montgomery: “To my understanding, they are going to build a structure and the athletes will basically be required to climb on it (not a bad requirement) and to demo the sport by showing people the ins and outs of it. I do not think there will be any organized competition.”
Jen Olson, though, finds it hard to imagine there wouldn’t be. “The Russians dominate,” she says good-humoredly. “They’re really good at the sport. They’re going to want to show everyone that!”
I once participated in a demonstration event on a rock-climbing wall at the Atlanta Super Show, billed as the world's biggest sporting-goods trade fair. For a daily fee some four or five of us women wore Danskin clothing and climbed and belayed the same 5.10 route, all day every day. Other than that we hung around a lot, chatted, took turns fetching lunch.
That, though, was no Olympics. Being next door to the Games is a lot different from being next door to a motorboat display, beside which girls in bikinis stood stock-still for hours, which looked like far harder work than ours.
The Olympics may give ice/mixed climbing—especially today’s athletic, colorful sport—a visibility it’s never had before. Creative coursesetters long ago shucked the idea of simulating nature, and now launch the adept climbers up artificial walls to wrench and jump around on hanging cylinders and geometric figures as well as icicles.
Marc Beverly makes a good case for the sport’s potential broad appeal and ability to keep spectators “on the edge of their seats.”
“The difficulty competition does not allow for a long decision process, it forces the climbers to move. The falls are sometimes impressive and unexpected … Speed is exciting as it is a head-to-head competition (sudden death style).”
Vadim Vinokur recalls that Turin was “pretty unstructured,” with bouldering walls erected in a local gym “so that people could watch us session.”
“It was good fun,” he recalls, “just to hang out and climb with my friends from other national teams. We stayed at a hotel apart from the Olympic athletes but in the same town. I ran into Shaun White before his first Olympic gold. They also arranged tickets for us to watch men's half-pipe finals. All in all, it was a good experience …. picking up some Olympic exposure for climbers and for the sport.”
I have known people who got to go to the Olympics as athletes, translators, as film crew; one was a horse trainer, another the Canadian speed-skating team doctor. Ten snow-sport athletes from my area are currently vying to get to Sochi. Who wouldn’t want to go to any Olympics?
Marc Beverly says, “Representing the USA in Sochi is a huge deal to me. I'm standing on my mentors’ shoulders, [those of] Jeff Lowe and Craig Luebben, and get to pass the torch on to the next generation to represent at the Olympics in the future. It's a very exciting time for ice climbing.”
Hope springs eternal for some climbing, any climbing, someday to become part of the Olympics. Gord McArthur has said in an interview that ice climbing could be considered as a medal sport, "perhaps even as early as 2018, in Korea." Why the heck not?
Meanwhile, get psyched for the season. This year’s ice comp at the December 13 to 15 Bozeman Ice Festival is the North American Championship, with dreams of morphing into a World Cup next year. World Cup events will follow in South Korea, Romania, Switzerland, France, Italy and Ufa, Russia. North American ice festivals are thriving. Ice fests began in 1984 with the Valdez Ice Festival, at which all 50 attendees stayed at Andy Embick’s (brave soul) house. The Ouray Ice Festival, brainchild of Jeff Lowe, has exploded, drawing some 3,000 attendees, even as the area ice park has recharged the town of Ouray the way mountain biking did for Moab. Other friendly, fun, exciting, beer- and hot-chocolate-offering festivals are festooned across the United States and Canada. See our list and info below.
If we have neglected any events, please fill in below, in the comments field. Are you going to any? Which ones and why are they your picks?
Portland Alpine Festival, OR, 11/11/2013 - 11/16/2013, http://portlandalpinefest.org/
Arc'teryx Bozeman Ice Festival, MT, 12/11/2013 - 12/15/2013, http://www.bozemanicefest.com/
Sandstone Ice Festival, MN, 12/13/2013 - 12/16/2013, http://www.sandstoneicefest.com/
Ouray Ice Festival, CO, 01/09/2014 - 01/12/2014, http://ourayicepark.com/ice-festival/
MCA (Mountaineering Club of Alaska) Ice Festival, AK, 01/09/2014 - 01/12/2014, http://www.mtnclubak.org/index.cfm/What-We-Do/MCA-Training/MCA-Ice-Climbing-Festival
Ice Magic Festival, Banff, AB, CAN, 01/16/2014 - 01/26/2014, http://www.banfflakelouise.com/Area-Events/Festivals/Winter/SnowDays/Ice-Magic-Festival
Adirondack International Mountaineering Festival 2014, NY, 01/18/2014 - 01/20/2014
Smuggs Ice Bash, Smuggler's Notch, VT, 01/24/2014 - 01/26/2014, http://www.smuggsicebash.com/
Michigan Ice Fest, MI, 01/30/2014 - 02/02/2014, http://www.michiganicefest.com/
Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest, NH, 01/31/2014 - 02/02/2014, http://www.mwv-icefest.com/
MEC Canmore Ice Festival, Banff, AB, CAN, 01/31/2014 - 02/02/2014, http://events.mec.ca/event/9634/mec-ice-climbing-festival
Cody Ice Climbing Festival, WY, Presidents' Day Weekend, http://www.southforkice.com/
Lake City Ice Festival, CO, 2/8/2014, 01/24/2014 - 01/26/2014, http://www.lakecityiceclimbs.com/icefestival.html; https://www.facebook.com/lakecityiceclimbs
Nordegg's Tri Ice A Thon, Nordegg, AB, CAN, 02/22/2014 - 02/24/2014, http://www.coe.ca/icefest; http://events.mec.ca/node/2319
Nipigon Ice Fest, Nipigon, ON, CAN, 02/28/14 - 03/02/2014, http://www.nipigonicefest.com/