Kyra Condie has been competing since she started climbing and is now an athlete representative on the USA Climbing Board of Directors. She started competing because she was always a competitive person, but now she loves “meeting people from around the world who have the same passion and drive that you do.” She also loves the opportunity to travel and the constant motivation to get better. “Not only because you want results,” she says, “but because you see what other climbers are capable of, even more than when you’re just in the gym.” With the help of Condie, below is a framework of everything you need to know about competition climbing, from the categories and types of comps to the expansion of paraclimbing and qualifying for the Olympics.
For American competition climbing, it’s USA Climbing. On the USAC website, they write, “We promote three competition disciplines, bouldering, sport and speed climbing, through our series. USA Climbing: Adaptive; USA Climbing: Bouldering; USA Climbing: Collegiate; USA Climbing: Speed; USA Climbing: Sport”
In August 2016, the International Olympic committee announced that climbing would be part of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Forty professional climbers (20 men, 20 women) would compete over four days, and medals would be given out based on each person’s combined performance in all three disciplines (boulder, sport, speed). No country is guaranteed a spot, and each country would only be allowed four athletes total (2 men, 2 women). “This is a hard balance for the U.S. team because we want each other to do well, but we also want to do our best,” Condie says. “That means when one person qualifies, it’s harder for the rest of us!” For Americans, there are three chances to qualify: the World Championships (top 7); the Toulouse Combined Invitational (top 6); and the Pan-American Championships (winner).
While the World Championships and the Pan-American (Continental) Championships have clear-cut requirements to compete there, the Toulouse IFSC Combined Qualifier is a new event created specifically as a qualifier for the Olympics. To get an invite to Toulouse, you need to be in the top 20 competitors from the combined World Cup Season, which takes your best two results from a Bouldering World Cup, best two from a Lead World Cup, and best two from a Speed World Cup. In order to be eligible, you had to compete in at least two of each.
“It’s hard to put into words what it means to me that climbing is in the Olympics,” Condie says. “I never had an Olympic dream because climbing was never in it to begin with, but having that possibility was a huge motivator for me. I already had goals for world competitions, but this added a whole new aspect.” Despite knowing immediately that she wanted to compete, it took her a while to tell people about her goal. “There was some stigma in my climbing community about competition climbers in general, so I kept my goals to myself,” she says. “Now I’m super proud of the work I’ve put in the last few years and am really excited at my chance of qualifying.”
In June 2019, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted to provisionally include climbing in the 2024 Paris Olympics. The format will shift to feature a combined bouldering and lead event, as well as a separate speed climbing event, with a total number of 248 athletes. The provisional inclusion means that the IOC will observe the sport and how it does from now until December 2020 (which will include the Tokyo Olympics), and make a decision then as to whether the IOC will confirm it as a part of the Paris Games.
The composition of the U.S. Overall National Team is based on benchmark performances at a Combined Invitational, each single discipline National Championship (Phase 1), and major IFSC international competitions (Phase 2). In order to be eligible for the U.S. Overall National Team, a competitor must participate either in the Combined Invitational, or all three of the Open National Championships (Bouldering, Sport, Speed), unless receiving an injury exemption. The U.S. Overall National Team shall be constituted twice annually, once after the four (4) major National competitions and once before the IFSC World Championship competition.
Not being on the national team doesn’t mean you can’t compete in international competitions, but members of the U.S. team do get some perks. In addition to agreeing to a code of conduct at the events, team members get uniforms and apparel, as well as their major expenses covered for many of the international competitions throughout the year.