If lockdown has you climbing up the walls – it’s now an official Olympic sport!

If “dyno” and “scorpion” don’t mean much to you, think Spiderman and problem solving skills rolled into one.

Rock climbing has been increasing in popularity since it was announced as an Olympic sport in 2016. It’s no wonder there are now nearly 200,000 people going to climbing centres in Australia thanks to a boom in the building of new facilities. Prospective athletes rejoiced at the sports inclusion in the Olympics, but not everyone was happy with the chosen format. 


Usually, SCA (Sport Climbing Australia) and IFSC (International Federation of Sport Climbing) competitions categorise the events of lead, speed and bouldering as seperate titles, meaning you can specialise in one event. The Olympic format, being best across all three categories, makes medal chances harder and athletes would have spent a lot of time trying to get better at their least favourable event. 


I’ve been involved in these competitions before, not only as a coach for the junior squad at a local gym, but as a competitor in state lead and bouldering and national bouldering and held the role of head judge at the 2017 National lead titles. 


I was lucky enough to meet our Olympic athlete Oceana and her family back when she was around nine years old. Her family has always been very supportive of the climbing community and you would always find her parents and siblings volunteering at competition after competition. 

That’s what’s so special about this sport, it’s the large community that is always encouraging and cheering for one another, even when you’re in direct competition for first place.


So what is lead, speed and bouldering? 


In speed it’s as it sounds – you race up a 15m wall as fast as you can. The course is the same (changes every few years) so the athletes know it really well. A small slip is all it takes to set you back and add seconds to your time. 


Bouldering is slightly different in its Olympic format. Competitors get 5 minutes to attempt each climb and get a score from their attempts to reach the zone hold (aka bonus) and reaching the top. 


Lead climbing involves taking a rope up with you as you go. The higher you go, the better the score. Competitors have 6 minutes to get as high as they can or complete the climb. 


What are some of the climbing injuries we might see? 


The dreaded ‘popping a pulley’ can occur when a climber moves sideways off a really small hold that’s only big enough for the pads of their fingers. The pulley is a ligament in the finger that holds down the tendon on the inside of the finger, so when it bends, the tendon stays stuck down to the bone. The ‘popping’ of the pulley can be a partial or complete rupture of one of these ligaments, meaning that when the finger bends, the tendon comes away from the bone and will form a bow (like a bow and arrow). Climbers will usually have to undergo rest and recovery for a complete rupture, however you will often see taping in X or H shapes on their joints to prevent further or initial damage. 


For an Olympic breakdown by climber Sasha DiGiulian, view their video here

Interested in the jargon used? Check out this video from the South African competitors.


About the author

Kelsey Thomas is a myotherapist who has years of dance training, tennis and competitive rock climbing under her belt, providing an understanding of the demands the body can be put through, the movements required to succeed and the difficult task of taking time away from the sport you love when injured.

Kelsey employs a hands-on approach when treating muscular pains and joint dysfunction, complementing treatment outcomes with modalities such as cupping, dry needling, trigger point therapy, and taping.

Kelsey believes we never stop learning and is currently studying physiotherapy.