Climbing, a natural instinct and reflex, that was once confined to outdoor spaces such as rocks, boulders, mountains eventually paved the way for sport climbing where man-made routes and obstacles mimicked the out-in-the-open challenges.

Today sport climbing is a growing professional sport and has finally made it to the mecca of sports, the Olympic games after its announcement in 2016. At the Summer Olympics 2020, the two-contender game is to be based on three disciplines: Speed, Bouldering, and Lead.

While in Speed climbing, the two climbers trudge on a fixed route with the help of a top rope on a 15 m wall, in Bouldering, athletes climb various routes on a 4.5 m wall without the support of a top rope. Lead climbing is a height competition within a definite time frame during which climbers attach a safety rope and climb a fixed course on a wall exceeding 12 m. It focuses on the difficulty of a route.

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Tokyo Olympics

Who are the players?

Tokyo Olympics starting July 23 will see 20 male and 20 female climbers contending for the big title in the sport climbing championship to be held from August 2 onward. In this list of athletes, while the USA, Japan and France are represented by four climbers each, three climbers represent the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) and one climber has earned his way through from Kazakhstan.

Other countries participating in the title include Poland, Slovenia, Italy, Germany, Canada, Austria, Australia, the Czech Republic amongst others. However, India lacks representation in the debuting games.

A file photo of sport climbing event being held at the 2018 Asian Games
A file photo of sport climbing event being held at the 2018 Asian GamesReuters

India's efforts to promote sport climbing 

In India, sport climbing or competitive climbing was introduced in the year 1996 and since then, the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) has held various championships to find skilled climbers and train them for national and international events. In 2020, the annual sport climbing event celebrated its silver jubilee. Internationally, the competitive sport is governed by the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) founded in Frankfurt in 2007.

According to Aditya Pande, a climber from Uttaranchal, who wrote about sport climbing for a platform called 4play, "IMF in collaboration with the Dept. of Sports & Youth Services, the Government of Odisha has built a High-Performance Center for Sport Climbing at Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar. Kalinga Stadium is India's premier facility which adheres to rules and standards prescribed by the IFSC."

In January 2020, the 25th IMF National Sport Climbing Championship was held in this stadium. Some of the noted, shining professional sport climbers from India include names such as Maibam Chingkheinganba from Manipur, Prateeksha Arun and Bharat Pereira from Bengaluru. While Prateeksha is a national player, both Bharat and Maibam represented India at the Asian Youth Championship in 2015 where sport climbing made its entry for the first time.

However, according to Inspire Crew, India's struggle in the budding field of sport climbing can be attributed to a lack of attention, training, and infrastructure.

"All Indian climbers put together, are still behind compared to other countries. The reasons vary from state to state; lack of exposure, training, infrastructure are some of the common ones. Sports organizations don't foresee any returns on investing in this sport. No funds, no climbing walls, no challenging training, resulting in lack of popularity and interest to learn," Clea Amelia, a climber from the south zone had told Inspire Crew in the September 2020 article.

Ski mountaineering added to Winter Olympics 2026

After Sport Climbing's induction, Ski mountaineering has also been approved to be included in the 2026 Olympic Winter Games to be held in Italy. Proposed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board at its meeting in June, the 138th IOC session unanimously approved the proposal on July 20.

According to Reuters, the sport, which combines ascents and descents of mountain trails on or while carrying skis, will have five events at the Olympics. With a total number of 48 athletes (24 women and 24 men) at the Games, the events will be sprints, individuals and one mixed-gender relay. The IOC cited the sport's popularity in Italy and its rapid expansion in the United States and Canada among other countries.