What is ‘Sport Climbing’?
Since the creation of the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC), competitive climbing, called Sport Climbing, includes several disciplines:

  • Lead
  • Bouldering
  • Speed
  • Paraclimbing

The IFSC Combined format is a new format designed to take into consideration the three major disciplines of Speed, Bouldering, and Lead. Although the disciplines are different, they have few things in common: the routes are set on man-made walls and the name of the game is climbing up.
Josh Larson looking at gym climbing holds in dramatic lighting
Kyra bouldering during a gym session
“It would be left vague if it was just called ‘climbing.’ And if you called it ‘rock climbing,’ that would be incorrect because you’re climbing on artificial holds and walls. The best way to think of it as is: ‘the sport of climbing.’” -Josh Larson, USA Climbing Team Head Coach
Speed Climbing
Speed Climbing requires explosivity, velocity, coordination and precision.

The speed wall consists of a 15-meter-high wall with a small overhang of 5° and two identical parallel routes that are standardized and graded at 5.10+. The Speed Route has been the same for the last 14 years, which allows to keep track of World Records, which are currently low 5 seconds for men and high 6s for women. Climbers are kept safe while they climb thanks to an auto-belay system clipped to their harness and attached at the top of the wall.

In the qualification round, each climber runs two laps on the speed route and receives a rank based on their best time. In the finals round, two athletes race next to each other, and whoever wins moves on to the next round.

Although it’s less mainstream than the other disciplines, Speed Climbing isn’t new, in fact, its history predates competition climbing’s. Like competition climbing, it started on the rock and has now moved to an artificial wall. Although the extent of the practice is different, it is still practiced outside, as well. The best example of this is in Yosemite, where climbers have been fighting for years to get the fastest ascent of El Capitan and other iconic routes. Just as in competition, it requires practicing the route many times to perfect technique, timing, energy management, etc.
“In Speed, you can climb the same wall in Chicago as you do in Moscow.” -Kyra Condie, Mountain Hardwear climber & USA Climbing Team member
“Before the speed route was a determined preset route, it was kind of a freestyle route at every competition. But since it became a standardized route, it’s now more like the 100-meter dash that you can have world records on.” -Josh Larson, USA Climbing Team Head Coach
Kyra bouldering in competition, reaching for the next big hold
Bouldering style comes in all different forms, depending on the holds used and the creativity of the routesetter that sets the “problem” (i.e. bouldering routes). Because of the lower height of the wall, as opposed to a lead or speed wall, and the lower amount of movements, the difficulty of bouldering lies in the intensity and/or the complexity of the problems proposed.

The bouldering wall stands 4-meter tall and can accommodate several problems next to each other. Climbers are not tied to a rope, but there are big pads below them to soften their fall. Boulders are different between each round of competition and both the problems and wall construction, angle, etc. are different between each competition.

In each competition, there is a set amount of boulders (between 3 or 5) and time limit (4 or 5 min) that climbers have to climb depending on the round they’re competing in. Climbers start in a specific position by putting both hands and feet on holds marked with tape and a ‘START’ sign and attempt to reach the hold marked ‘TOP,’ the last hold of the boulder, which has to be held with both hands in a controlled position for a few seconds to count. The ‘ZONE,’ which is a marked hold in the middle of the problem, determined by the routesetters, awards points if a climber moves their body with at least one hand touching it. If you put your hand on it and freeze, it doesn’t count. The same is true if you’re grabbing in a falling momentum.

The goal is to reach the top of as many routes as possible, and if not, as many zones as possible, in the least amount of tries. Climbers can not watch each other climb.
Lead climbing requires endurance, resistance, time management and a very good understanding of the movement proposed.

The lead wall is around 15 meters tall and is usually a mix of slightly overhanging face and very steep terrain. Climbers have only one try to climb the routes proposed. Climbers are tied to a rope, clipping along the way into quickdraws bolted to the wall that are spaced up the route. Once they fall, they are lowered down, and the highest hold they reach determines their score. The goal is to go as high as possible within 6 minutes.
Want to know how these three disciplines
come together and how a climber wins?

Kyra lead climbing in the gym
pack your bags
we’re rooting for
kyra condie!