Indoor Rock Climbing Makes Olympic Bid

Indoor climbing may be poised to become the newest sport at the 2020 Olympic Games, but it must first beat out some serious competition. 

A team of observers from the International Olympic Committee will attend the World Climbing Championship in Paris September 12-16 to see how the sport matches up to other Olympic bidders, including squash, karate, wakeboarding and roller blading. Only one sport will be added to the Olympic program.

For anyone in the climbing world, the choice might seem like a no-brainer. Rock climbing requires extensive training and can be just as demanding as other Olympic events. Top climbers often start serious training from a young age. (See the Sender Films documentary Obe & Ashima, about the close relationship between 9-year-old junior rock climbing national champion Ashima Shiraishi and her coach Obe Carrion.) 

At the World Championships, committee members will watch more than 500 athletes from 60 countries compete in bouldering, speed and lead climbing. Attendance is projected to be more than 15,000 spectators, making it one of the largest climbing events in the history of the sport. 

The first officially sanctioned climbing competitions began in the 1960s in the former Soviet Union. In the 1980s, European countries hosted competitions focused on difficulty, culminating in the first climbing World Cup in Leeds, England in 1989. Almost a decade later, the sport was included in the World Games in Duisburg in 2007 and again in the World Games in Kaoshiung in 2009.

Rock climbing has been on the IOC's radar for a while. In 2007, it was recognized as an official sport and became a member of the SportAccord Convention. If it becomes an Olympic event, it will draw competitors from around the world. People in more than 80 countries across five continents now participate in rock climbing. In 2011, top awards in the world championship women's bouldering event went to participants from Austria, the United States, Germany, Ukraine, Russia and Japan. Climbers from China, Spain and Korea also placed in other events.