Competition climbing
Highest governing bodyIFSC
NicknamesSport climbing
First played1985 (Lead), 1998 (Bouldering, Speed)
TypeIndividual sport
EquipmentShoes, chalk, harness, rope, quickdraws
VenueIndoor climbing wall
OlympicSince 2020
World Games2005–present

Competition climbing is a form of regulated rock climbing competition held indoors on purpose-built artificial climbing walls (earlier versions were held on external natural rock surfaces). The three competition climbing disciplines are lead climbing, bouldering, and speed climbing. The result of multiple disciplines can be used in a "combined" format to determine an all-round winner (or the "combined" winner). Competition climbing is sometimes called "sport climbing", which is the name given to pre-bolted lead climbing.[1]

In competition lead climbing, competitors start at the bottom of a pre-bolted sport climbing route and lead-climb to touch or secure the highest climbing hold possible within a set time limit on a single attempt, making sure to clip the rope into pre-placed quickdraws while ascending. In competition bouldering, competitors climb short bouldering problems without a rope, with an emphasis on the number of problems completed, and the attempts necessary to do so. In competition speed climbing, competitors race-off in pairs on a standardised 'speed climbing wall' using a top rope on an auto belay, in the shortest time possible.

The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) regulates and organizes the international competition climbing events, including the biennial IFSC Climbing World Championships, and the annual IFSC Climbing World Cup that is held as a series of events during the year. Competition climbing was featured at the Summer Olympics for the first time in 2020, in a once-off single combined format per gender, with the results based on a combination of lead climbing, bouldering, and speed climbing performances. The format for climbing at the 2024 Olympics has speed climbing as a standalone event, although lead and boulder are still a combined event.


See also: History of rock climbing

Competition climbing dates from the arrival of sport climbing in the mid-1980s, which is a type of rock climbing where the climbing protection is pre-bolted into the climbing route, so the climber does not have to worry about their safety while ascending. Some were reticent about the ethics of competitive climbing, and in early 1985, several leading climbers signed the Manifeste des 19 [fr], rejecting the concept. However, later in 1985, the first internationally recognized competition climbing event was held at Sportroccia, which later became the annual Rock Master competition. These were annual lead climbing competitions held outdoors on natural rock surfaces and their first winners were Stefan Glowacz, Patrick Edlinger and Catherine Destivelle.[2][3][4]

In 1988–89, the French Federation and Paul Brasset convinced the UIAA to regulate and administer competition climbing; it was agreed that events would be held on indoor artificial climbing walls.[2][3] In 1989, the first UIAA Climbing World Cup was held over seven events around the world.[4] In 1991, the first biennial UIAA World Climbing Championships was held in Frankfurt.[2][3] In 1992, the first UIAA Climbing World Youth Championships was held in Basel.[2][3] In 1998, bouldering and speed climbing were added alongside lead climbing for UIAA competition climbing events.[2][3][4] In 2005, competition climbing was added to the World Games.[2][3] In 2006-07, the UIAA ceded governance of competition climbing to a newly formed International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) that the International Olympic Committee provisionally recognised.[2][3]

In August 2016, the IOC announced that competition climbing would be a sport in the 2020 Summer Olympics, but that lead, boulder, and speed would be combined into a single medal event; this caused upset however it allowed the maximum number of disciplines to feature at the Olympics.[5][6] During August 3–6, 2021, Alberto Ginés López and Janja Garnbret won the first-ever men's and women's Olympic climbing gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics, in the newly created combined event consisting of all three disciplines.[3][7]

After the Tokyo Olympics, it was announced that the 2024 Paris Olympics would only combine lead climbing and bouldering into a single medal event, with speed climbing as a standalone medal event.[8]


Competition lead climbing

See also: Lead climbing

Janja Garnbret, lead climbing with quickdraw clipped in, at the 2016 IFSC Climbing World Championships

In competition lead climbing, the competitors have 6 minutes to climb a 15-metre (49 ft) challenging, and usually significantly overhanging, pre-bolted sport climbing route (with pre-placed quickdraws for their protection), which was constructed by a route setter.[9][10] For the safety of the competitors, they must also clip their safety rope into the various quickdraws (that are attached to the bolts) while they ascend the route; failing to clip into a quickdraw terminates their climb at that position.[9][10]

In the wider sport of rock climbing, pre-bolted lead climbing routes are known as sport climbs (in contrast to traditional climbing, where the climber places the protection equipment), confusingly however, "competition climbing" is sometimes also called "sport climbing", even though it also has bouldering and speed climbing.[1][10]

The climber is allowed one single attempt at the route.[9][10] Their score on the route is determined by the highest artificial hold number that they "controlled" before falling (i.e. all the artificial holds on the wall are numbered, starting with 1 at the bottom); if in addition, they had "used" that hold to make a controlled movement for the next hold before falling, a "+" is added to their score.[10] For example, falling while secured on hold 34, while reaching for hold 35, earns a score of "34+".[9]

Between rounds, the competitors are collectively given 6 minutes to inspect — but not attempt or practice — the next route.[9][10] After the brief inspection, they are kept in an isolation area to prevent them from observing other competitors on the route and collecting its beta (which would help them to flash the route); they are thus effectively lead climbing the artificial route as an onsight, which is the most difficult way to ascend a new route.[9]

Competition bouldering

See also: Bouldering

Kilian Fischhuber "tops" on a boulder problem in the 2010 IFSC Climbing World Cup

In competition bouldering, the competitors have to "solve" multiple short 4.5-metre (15 ft) bouldering problems over a set time period, with the fewest falls.[9][10] In contrast to lead climbing, these boulder problems are more complex, but each boulder problem can be attempted multiple times – with repeated falls – within a certain time limit (usually 5 minutes in qualifiers and 4 minutes in finals).[9][10] As in all bouldering, the competitors do not use a rope or any climbing protection, but crash pads that are laid across the ground for safety.[9]

Each individual boulder problem has an official start position with proscribed positions for all four of the competitor's limbs at the base of the problem.[9] The competitor is judged to have completed the boulder problem when they have placed their two hands on the explicitly marked "top" hold and held it long enough to receive confirmation from the judge.[10] In addition to the top hold, "zone holds" are located at the mid-point of the problem, which if secured, earn a half point, in lieu of failing to earn a full point by "topping".[9][10]

As with competition lead climbing, the competitors cannot see each other's attempts which would help them to learn route's beta.[9] The climber's score is determined by the overall number of routes "topped", the most "zone holds" reached, and the number of attempts needed.[9][10] Where two climbers have the same score (i.e. "tops" plus "zones"), the number of "tops" takes precedence, and where they are still level, the fewest attempts takes precedence.[10]

Competition speed climbing

See also: Speed climbing

Marcin Dzieński (Lane A) beats Vladislav Deulin (Lane B) in the bronze medal elimination at the 2020 IFSC European Championships

In competition speed climbing, the competitors must ascend a 15-metre (49 ft), slightly overhanging, standardised climbing wall, where, unlike leading climbing or bouldering, the holds are always the exact same size and placed in the exact same location.[9][10] As the emphasis is on speed, the climbers do not have the time to clip into quickdraws (as per competition lead climbing) and instead use an auto-belay top rope for climbing protection.[9][10]

In qualification, competitors race in pairs in Lane A and Lane B, however, they are not racing against each other, but against the clock.[9][10] Each competitor during qualification races twice — once in each Lane — and the eight fastest competitors, using their best time, reach the finals.[9] In the finals, competitors race against each other in elimination rounds, with the winner, regardless of time, advancing until the ultimate winner is decided.[9][10]

Notable competitions


The most important competition climbing events are administered by the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC):[2][11]


In August 2016, it was announced that climbing would be included for the first time in the 2020 Olympics.[2][6] At the 2020 Olympics, competition climbers competed in a unique once-off combined format, where their lead, bouldering, and speed climbing rankings were added to determine a single medal event.[12][7][6] The 2020 winners of this single combined format were Alberto Ginés López for men, and Janja Garnbret for women.

For the 2024 Olympics, the format is changed to be closer to the IFSC format, with speed climbing separated into a standalone event, although lead climbing and bouldering are still a combined event (i.e. unlike the IFSC-format, there will not be standalone lead and bouldering medal events).[12]

Notable competition climbers

Main article: Ranking of career IFSC victories by climber

As of 2023, the most successful overall male competition climber in history is Austrian climber Jakob Schubert, followed by Czech climber Adam Ondra, and French climber François Legrand. Legrand is the most successful lead competition climber, Austrian climber Kilian Fischhuber is the most successful bouldering competition climber, and Chinese climber Zhong Qixin is the most successful speed competition climber.

As of 2023, the most successful overall female competition climber in history is Slovenian climber Janja Garnbret, followed by French climber Sandrine Levet, and Austrian climber Angela Eiter. Garnbret is also the most successful lead competition climber, Levet also is the most successful bouldering competition climber, and Russian climber Tatiana Ruyga is the most successful speed competition climber.

As of 2023, Garnbret is the most dominant competition climber, male or female, of all time.[13][14]

Notable non-competition climbers

As competition climbing developed in the 1980s, some of the leading sport climbers largely ignored it to focus on setting new grade milestones in sport climbing. German climber Wolfgang Güllich, the strongest sport climber of that era, avoided the climbing competition circuit throughout his career saying: "competitions are good for earning money, I see it as nothing more".[15] In 1990, British leading climber Jerry Moffatt retired early from a promising competition climbing career saying: "I no longer had energy the energy to keep it all up. I wanted to get myself back again. I wanted to see my friends. I wanted to climb for myself. I wanted to do first ascents. Most of all I wanted to have fun".[16][17] In 2001, American climber Chris Sharma, the strongest sport climber of his era, also retired early from competition climbing saying: "Personally, that's not ever really been my deal. I mean, competitions are fun, but 15 minutes after the competition they take the holds off. It's way more important for me to put up new routes and develop my vision in rock climbing. Create a legacy, create something lasting. No one remembers who won the freakin' World Cup in 1997, but people know who put up Action Directe".[18]

Since 2010, it has become increasingly rarer for leading male and female rock climbers, in both sport climbing and bouldering, not to begin their careers as successful competition climbers. Exceptions still exist, including leading French sport climber Seb Bouin, who wanted to instead focus on finding "mega lines" (a reference to Sharma's "King Lines") on outdoor crags, which he described as his sole motivation.[19]

In film

See also


  1. ^ a b "What Is Sport Climbing? – Everything You Need To Know". Climber. 6 April 2021. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "A History of Climbing Competitions Since 1985". Gripped Magazine. 15 July 2019. Retrieved 24 February 2023.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "History of Competition Climbing". International Federation of Sport Climbing. Retrieved 24 February 2023.
  4. ^ a b c Dunne, Toby (17 August 2021). "A brief history of competition climbing". British Mountaineering Council. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  5. ^ "Olympic Games Tokyo 2020". International Federation of Sport Climbing. 2020.
  6. ^ a b c Burgman, John (22 February 2020). "Olympic Climbing 101: Everything You Need to Know About Competition Climbing at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics". Outside. Retrieved 23 July 2023.
  7. ^ a b "Rock climbing will be a 2020 Olympic sport. Here's what to expect". National Geographic. Archived from the original on Aug 10, 2019.
  8. ^ Burgman, John (2 August 2022). "3 billion people tuned in to competition climbing in Tokyo a year ago. Climbing can't ever be the same". Rock & Ice. Retrieved 28 July 2023.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Goodman, Eric (21 March 2021). "Sport Climbing 101: Rules". NBC News. Retrieved 26 February 2023.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Walker, Noah (26 July 2021). "Olympic Competition Climbing: Explained". Gripped Magazine. Retrieved 26 February 2023.
  11. ^ White, John (2014). "Chapter 12: Competition Climbing". The Indoor Climbing Manual. Bloomsbury Sport. pp. 166–173. ISBN 978-1408186626.
  12. ^ a b Walker, Noah (23 December 2021). "The Paris Olympics – A New Scoring System". Gripped. Retrieved 12 July 2022.
  13. ^ Clarke, Owen (2 May 2022). "Janja Garnbret, The Greatest Competitive Climber of All Time". Climbing. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  14. ^ Walker, Noah (6 September 2021). "Garnbret Becomes the Greatest Of All Time". Gripped Magazine. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  15. ^ Wald, Beth (November 2018). "Interview with Wolfgang Gullich (June 1987)". Vantage Point: 50 Years of the Best Climbing Stories Ever Told. Falcon Guides. pp. 76–84. ISBN 978-1493034772. Retrieved 22 June 2022.
  16. ^ Moffatt, Jerry (12 August 2020). "The Winning Mind". Outside. Retrieved 18 January 2022.
  17. ^ Larrsen, Jens (23 February 2010). "Book Review: Jerry Moffat - Revelation". Retrieved 16 January 2022.
  18. ^ Achey, Jeff (November 2018). "Half Life: Chris Sharma Interview (February 2011, Issue 292)". Vantage Point: 50 Years of the Best Climbing Stories Ever Told. Falcon Guides Publishing. p. 202. ISBN 978-1493034772. Retrieved 18 June 2022.
  19. ^ Barns, Dave (29 January 2020). "Nobody's Wing Man: Seb Bouin – The Story so Far Feature". UK Climbing. Retrieved 19 November 2022.
  20. ^ Burgman, John (20 January 2022). ""The Wall: Climb For Gold" New Film Reveals The Vulnerable Side of Climbing's Olympians". Climbing. Retrieved 2 October 2023.
  21. ^ Walker, Noah (25 January 2022). "Why You Should Watch 'The Wall: Climb for Gold'". Gripped Magazine. Retrieved 2 October 2023.

Further reading