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
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).”