The Road to Olympic Glory
The Olympics have always been the pinnacle of sporting achievement and in the world of climbing, the stakes couldn’t be higher. With the inclusion of climbing as an official event in the 2024 Olympics, aspiring climbers around the world are scrambling to find their way to the summit of qualification.
This time around, there will be two Olympic climbing events. Speed will stand alone, and lead/bouldering will be a combined discipline.
As climbers battle gravity and their own sweaty palms, they’re not just vying for victory. As future Olympians, they’re pioneering a new era for our beloved sport.
Adam Ondra (Czechia)
What’s happening in Bern?
First and foremost, the upcoming event in Bern is like the grand ball of climbing competitions. It’s the IFSC World Championships, held every second year, where climbers from far and wide gather to showcase their skills. It’s also their first chance to qualify for Paris 2024.
Think of the World Championships as a golden ticket to the coveted Olympic stage. Climbers will compete in the single bouldering and lead disciplines. Athletes who place high enough across both disciplines will move on to the combined lead/bouldering finals. There are six places (or quotas) up for grabs, with three climbers per gender securing their place. Most countries will send their entire team to this event. It’s where Olympian dreams are forged with every finger grip and foothold.
This event will be held from the 1st until the 12th of August. The IFSC will be streaming all the action on their YouTube channel, which you can follow here.
Check out the IFSC World Championships Bern 2023 trailer here.
The Qualification Process.
Most of what we’re sharing below is about lead/bouldering qualification. We’ll touch on the qualification process for speed climbers later on.
There are forty quotas (or places) up for grabs. That’s twenty quotas per gender, determined across three major events — the IFSC World Championships, the IFSC Continental Qualifiers and the Olympic Qualifier Series.
There are a few nitty-gritty details but ultimately, each country can have a total of four competitors (two male and two female) overall. France is guaranteed one male and one female quota as the host country. There are also two quotas set aside under the Universality Principle — we’ll come back to this.
This means there are thirty-six places determined through qualification events. The IFSC World Championship in Bern is first up. The three strongest men and three strongest women will earn their place on the Olympic stage. Keep in mind that each country can only have a total of two men and two women qualify, so their quotas might be filled here (we’re looking at you, Japan).
Next is the IFSC Continental Qualifiers. From the towering peaks of the Americas to the sweeping crags of Europe, Asia and beyond, continents collide as climbers vie for the title of champion. There are five designated ‘continents’ — Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania and Pan America — with the best male and female athlete from each region going through to the Olympics. That’s ten quotas available, two per continent.
The Oceania continent is home to Australia, New Zealand and the island networks of Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. This qualifier isn’t just about conquering towering walls; it’s about representing our nation on an international platform. It’s also the best chance for our homegrown superstars to qualify. This event will take place in late November, with further details to be confirmed.
Finally, we have the Olympic Qualifier Series. Athletes will be invited to this Series if they perform well in the 2023 IFSC season. For those athletes invited, it’ll be their last chance to prove they’ve got what it takes to crimp, smear and dyno with the best. There’s twenty places (ten per gender) for stealing. It’s the final showdown. If countries have not yet reached their athlete quota, they will be desperate to leave a mark here.
What on earth is the Universality Principle?
In essence, this Principle ensures Olympic representation from as many countries as possible. Even if an athlete or country does not meet the standard qualification criteria, they may still be eligible to compete in the Olympics. All of this will be determined by the International Olympic Committee — in some instances, they will allocate these two quotas to the Olympic Qualifier Series.
Keep your eyes glued to the wall, because there are some climbers you don’t want to miss. Local legend Oceana Mackenzie (Australia) will be bidding for a place in her second Olympics, while the rest of her field remains red-hot. Reigning Olympic champion Janja Garnbret (Slovenia) will be searching for a second medal, in the midst of America’s Natalia Grossman and Brooke Rabatou reaching peak form. Also watch out for Oriane Bertone (France), Hannah Meul (Germany) and Miho Nonaka (Japan) in the women’s division. It seems like anything is possible with a little bit of chalk and a whole lot of determination.
In the men’s division, host nation France now boasts a new generation of climbers led by the likes of Medji Schalk. It’s still hard to look past the legendary Adam Ondra (Czechia). Japanese powerhouses Tomoa Narasaki and Sorato Anraku have also been performing strongly in the lead-up to Olympic qualification.
Miho Nonaka (Japan)
Need for Speed.
The qualification process for speed climbers is similar, but with quotas dialled down. There will still be three major qualifying events — the IFSC World Championships, the IFSC Continental Qualifiers and the Olympic Qualifier Series — but only twenty-eight Olympic tickets on the table.
Game Day Details.
In the lightning-fast world of speed climbing, it’s all about the stopwatch. Athletes will race each other up the standardised route, and the clock will decide their fate. The faster they blast through the course, the higher their score.
As usual, all lead/bouldering routes will be onsight attempts, meaning that the athletes will have no prior knowledge of the climb.
The combined lead/bouldering discipline will score slightly differently this Olympics. There will be four boulders worth twenty-five points each. Climbers will earn five points for the first zone, ten points for the second zone and the full twenty-five points for a top. They will lose one point for every failed attempt on each boulder.
On the lead route, topping out will total one hundred points. This time around, the bottom section of the route will be worth no points, with increasing points available as the climber ascends. By the last few metres of the route, each hold will be worth five points. This ‘loading’ of scores rewards those with the endurance and mental fortitude to make it that far.
Janja Garnbret (Slovenia)
As the dust settles and the chalk clears, this qualification process will determine the athletes taking stage in Paris 2024. They’ll be entering the ultimate showdown of strength, skill and pure audacity — the event that separates rock gods from mere mortals.