A Guide to Sport Climbing Scoring & Strategy
In Lead,
scoring is done according to the height reached by each climber, and this height is represented by the last hold reached. It’s pretty simple: each hold gives you a certain amount a progressive points:

1st hold = 1
2nd hold = 2
3rd hold = 3

The higher the number is, the higher this climber reached. Because holds aren’t always linearly arranged, routesetters sit down with the judge and a route map (a printed picture of the route) to allocate points to each hold depending on the sequencing they imagined while creating the route.

If a climber reaches the last hold that is marked with a “TOP” sign, and clips the last quickdraw of the route, then their points will be marked with TOP instead of numbers, which is the ultimate result one can get.

There are two other subtleties that can be seen in a result sheet:

‘+’ indicates that the climber made use of the hold they are holding, without grabbing the next one. This is to separate the performance of someone who just holds a hold for a second and falls, and someone who grabs a hold and moves their body around with it.

Although time technically doesn’t count in lead climbing, there is a limited time to climb, which is 6 minutes. Climbers are timed for that reason, but also in the case of two climbers who fall at the same exact spot, in which case, they will be separated by the time it took for them to reach that hold before they fell.
Kyra lead climbing
Kyra stretching for a move on the bouldering wall
In bouldering,
each problem typically has between 5 and 10 movements. Compared to lead, not every hold counts. Only two holds count and are marked with one of two signs:

TOP, which is the last hold of the boulder and has to be held with both hands in a controlled position for a few seconds to count.

ZONE, which is a hold in the middle of the problem, determined by the routesetters, that gives points if held with at least one hand and is used to move your body with it (i.e. if you put your hand on it and freeze, it’s not enough; same if you are grabbing in a falling momentum).

Bouldering scoring has four considerations, in order of importance.

Number of tops (t) reached
Number of zones (z) reached
Number of tries to reach the tops
Number of tries to reach the zones

So, for a score of “3t 4z 5 8” this shows the climber reached 3 tops and 4 zones and tried 5 times to reach the top and 8 times for zones. Then, zones are valued second, but you also want to do that in the least amount of accumulated tries.

In qualifying rounds, climbers have five boulder problems to attempt, so the best result is: 5t 5z 5 5 (meaning you sent every problem on your first go). In semifinals and finals, climbers go on four problems, so the best result is: 4t 4z 4 4.
In both lead and bouldering,
if climbers are tied in a round, they will be separated by their results from the previous round. So, even if technically after each round, “everything restarts at zero,” it’s often good to be ranked the highest in each round.
In speed,
qualifiers and finals scoring and ranking work differently. In qualifiers, you’ll see two times next to each other on the result sheet, which are the times of both runs of the climber on the route. One will be highlighted, which is the best time of the two. Climbers are ranked based on that best time. Obviously, the fastest climber is ranked first, and the slowest climber is ranked last.

In finals, climbers are dueling, meaning they race. No secret there: you want to win all your duels to win the competition! For the record, even if you lose your duel, you want to be fast because your time will help rank you and the other “losers.”
Kyra speed climbing
Kyra waiting for results
The combined scoring
is a multiplication of the ranking in each discipline.

First, the climbers compete in speed and receive a ranking for that discipline. Then, they compete in bouldering and get a ranking for that discipline, which is then multiplied with their speed rank. That gives an intermediate scoring, which is multiplied by their lead ranking.

Here’s an example: If you ranked 10th in speed, 5th in bouldering and 3rd in lead, your final ranking points will be 150 because 10 x 5 = 50, multiplied by 3 = 150. That is better than 1st in speed, 10th in bouldering and 20th in lead which gives you 200 (1 x 10 x 20), although the second example looked better after bouldering (10 points vs. 50 points).

Of course, being the best in each discipline is a guarantee to be the winner, but in reality, it’s very unlikely to be the best in each. Because the combined is very new and designed mostly for the Olympics, climbers are coming originally from single disciplines, which are their specialty and where they excel. Nonetheless, some climbers are strong in multiple disciplines.
“The way the format works at the Olympics, it really favors being really good in one discipline. Because the final rankings are multiplied together, having a first place is very beneficial. For example, if I’m a speed specialist and I get 1st but 20 and 20 in the other disciplines, it gives me 400 points, which is pretty low in the grand scheme of things and would probably still make finals. That way you have the best specialist of each discipline that makes finals, which I think is very important because representation of all 3 disciplines is crucial if we want all three disciplines separated eventually at the Olympics.” -Kyra Condie, Mountain Hardwear climber
Kyra waving at camera
pack your bags
we’re rooting for
kyra condie!