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The First Draft of Climbing in the Olympics – Innsbruck, 2018

Held in the OlympiaWorld stadium, in Innsbruck, Austria, the 2018 World Championships was the best preview thus far of Tokyo 2020, when climbing will debut in the Olympics.

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The dust is now settled on the 2018 Climbing World Championships, the first draft of climbing in the Olympics.

A few questions have been answered, and a few were generated as a result. As to the former: Are we ready? Is the combined format a disaster? Kind of and No, in that order.

The event was held in the gigantic OlympiaWorld stadium, in the heart of Innsbruck, Austria—elevation 1,883 feet and a place where you can order a beer and they don’t ask what kind.

Previously the venue for three Olympic events, 1964, 1976, and 2012 (Youth Olympics), the venue was impressive, the show felt organized, and with some fine tuning, the sport will be ready to debut.

Without question, the number of “big media” players there with 100k plus cameras is a testament to the fact that the world is paying attention to climbing. The press box was jammed with representatives from all types of international media.

Janja Garnbret, 19, of Slovenia, took home the gold in the combined format. Here she is getting swarmed by national and international media. Photo: Photo: Courtesy of Austrian Climbing Presse.

The combined format, requiring climbers to compete in bouldering, speed and lead, is what we will see in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, and also in the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires at the close of the 2018 season.

For the 2020 Olympics, no medals will be awarded in each discipline (sport, lead and bouldering), but rather a combined score for all three, as in a decathlon. Voluminous controversy was generated when the IFSC and Olympic committee announced this format, akin to a collective head drop. Ondra was an early, and strong, critic, as were many top climbers. Reason being, the combined format is new to modern competitors, with many of the complaints being that top-end boulders or sport climbers can’t cut it on speed, which is true, that it will favor boulders and lead climbers to the demise of speed climbers, also true, and that the required time necessary to train speed—often considered not “real climbing”—would detract from more worthy pursuits. Perhaps true, at least in terms of time needed to train speed.

Ondra in spandex. Bet you didn’t expect that one. Ondra was good, but not quite good enough to win speed. However, that he has been training speed is obvious. Expect his speed times to drop over the next year or so. Photo: Eddie Fowke – IFSC.

It was also a worry that the speed section of the combined format will be a junk show for the audience, or competitors, such as Jan Hojer, Adam Ondra or Jacob Schubert, among others, in the sense that it will be like watching Roger Federer play badminton. As for longer times, it did happen. The respective combined top-three combined finalists were on average 2.5 – 3 seconds slower than top speed specialists, such as Reza Alipour or Bassa Mawem. And yet, I can assure you that the thought,“Geesh, who are these chuffers!!” never once crossed the audience’s mind. Clearly, everyone has been training speed.

In the most noble sense of the world, it was a riveting comp, competitive to the very end, and a tad disappointing for the North American team, but that’s another discussion.

For the full story and complete analysis of the 2018 World Championships in Innsbruck, see Gym Climber #2, forthcoming.

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Kai Harada of Japan Crowned Bouldering World Champion 2018