The Olympic Climbing Format

The Olympic Climbing Format

A Conversation with Butora Ambassador Marisa Romero

Climbing is going into the 2020 Olympics! While this is a huge accomplishment for the sport, not everyone is thrilled about the format. The combined format of Speed, Sport and Bouldering will force athletes competing in the games to participate – and excel in – each type of climbing, after many climbers have spent their lives specializing in only one of these formats.

To the average climber this may not seem like a big deal, but to the specialist, a serious challenge has been presented. I believe that this may end up being a necessary change for the growth of the sport of climbing, and I am excited to see who steps up to the challenge.

An Argument for Speed Climbing

Though many climbers oppose the idea of speed being a part of the scoring, I urge readers to look at the bigger picture. Speed exhibits the excitement and pure athleticism that rock climbers have developed over years of pushing their mind and body to the limit. Rock climbing is becoming more of a “sport, ” and undeniably, speed climbing is more like other pre-existing Olympic sports, so it is not a big surprise that the Olympic committee decided to include it. To me, speed may be the simple way to bridge the gap of our complicated grading system that changes from country to country based on a group of climber’s subjective opinion, the level of danger and the period in which it was established. Speed is the easiest for viewers to follow along and get psyched on climbing. Two people are racing – and the winner is determined by the universal language of how many seconds it takes to get to the top.

Lead Climbing

Lead climbing shows the elegance and beauty of the sport. Climbers can understand the pace, movement, power, endurance and concentration that it takes to send. However, for someone that does not climb, the majority viewers, I can already foresee the long talk I am going to have with them to facilitate understanding why the winner decided to stop right in the middle of the route, stick his heel above his waist, and shake his hands around.

Marissa Romero bouldering


Bouldering captures feats of strength and precision. Again, climbers will have an appreciation for the power, ability to deconstruct movement, and the piecing together of the puzzle from the ground, required to flash a boulder. Aunt Sally is probably just going to wonder why the climber keeps letting go and falling on to the mat, or why the USA is not dominating in this sport.

The Growth of the Sport

As climbing has grown, the competitions have become less and less predictable. It is exciting to see a format that will shake things up and force the people that have become comfortable to step up to a new challenge. That is part of the natural evolution of a growing sport.

Climbing has entered the mainstream, things are already changing, and as always change is difficult at first. It is no longer enough to crawl out from under a boulder and climb V14 to win a championship. The winner must be the fittest, the smartest, the hardest working, the most prepared, and have a little luck on their side. The future is asking us to be more. To be the best will require more than being a specialist. In the 2020 Olympics, the young athletes that are willing to work for it, and are not afraid of a new challenge will rise to the top. I know I am excited to see who it will be.

Marisa Romero is a Butora Athlete from Dallas Texas. If you are interested in finding out more about what Marisa is up to, check  her out on Instagram @marisaromeroo. Also, check out her video on how she finds the beauty in climbing: