Climbing and the Olympics

Posted on 08. Aug, 2012 by in News

Monday I finished my Calculus II class, which has kept me inside the last 3 weekends, but I am looking forward to getting back outside this weekend. I was ruminating on some thoughts as I’ve followed along with the Olympics and it was hard for me not to ponder what it would be like if climbing were to actually be an Olympic sport. This year, as the events get underway in London, England, many climbers are talking about how wonderful it would be to have climbing as an Olympic sport. It’s interesting to address some of the obvious questions that possibility brings.

First of all, it’s hardly clear that climbing (as a sport) would benefit by being in the Olympics. It’s easy to want to fantasize about seeing Chris Sharma or Alex Puccio on the podium with a gold medal dangling from their neck, tears in their eyes, and our national anthem playing. That kind of fairy tale is often created by the media to sell advertising, and it hardly tells the whole picture.

While I feel an emotional desire to see that image myself, and would find much inspiration from it, here are several rational concerns that arise from having climbing in the Olympics.

Drugs: A number of online articles suggest that more than 10% of Olympic athletes are cheating, by evasively using banned substances. Many are familiar with the controversy surrounding Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis in regards to substance abuse, and once so called “heroes” like Marion Jones, who was stripped of her medals. She had been taking illegal drugs as far back as 2000, although had vehemently denied it for years. For every step it seems the IOC takes in detecting drugs, some athlete finds another loophole around it. This has marred not only Olympic sports, but the professional sports world as well. Performance enhancing drugs and the negative press that goes along with it plagues nearly every modern day sport that tests for the drugs. Thankfully, so far, climbing has avoided such pervasive drug use. Is it because it is less competitive? Because there is less money involved? Because it is a life-style sport? Whatever the reason, with Olympic attention, climbing will almost certainly go the way of other sports. Top athletes will take drugs, and they will cheat to win a gold medal if they can. There is little evidence to suggest otherwise. I prefer to keep climbing clean, and if that means one person doesn’t get to win a gold medal or some retail store sell as many chalk bags, so be it.

Environment Climbing is different from almost every other sport in the Olympics in that it is best executed outside, away from standardized equipment. The greatest achievements of our sport have never been in the gym. I can’t name one problem indoors that Daniel Woods, Paul Robinson, Nalle Hukkataival or Dave Graham has done in the last 3 years but their outside first ascents are entrenched deeply in the iconography of our sport. Livin’ Large, Jade, The Game, The Island. And the places names are even more iconic. Rocklands, Chaos Canyon, Red Rocks, Fontainebleau. And these climbs are still there, sitting in the woods for everyone to admire, be inspired by and enjoy. One of the most beautiful aspects of climbing is that as climbers we spend most of our time outside, in incredibly scenic places, enjoying nature and climbing challenges that are permanently (mostly) set in stone, forever. Now the reason I bring all this up is that bringing climbing to the masses could have a very negative effect on the areas where we go climbing. Is Lincoln Lake, Hueco Tanks, or HP40 ready for 1,000 people show up, because they saw Alex Puccio on the cover of a Wheaties box? Is that what we want? Is that what will happen when money hungry people push harder and harder for climbing to be in the Olympics? When the outdoor world is viewed soley as an apparatus for competition or money making, it’s concerning that more people will have a lasting negative impact on the beauty of the areas we love and cherish. It will also draw people who don’t necessarily even like climbing, they just happen to be good at it and they like winning. It’s hard to imagine this would change our sport for the better.

Climbing in its infancy Is climbing even ready to be put on such a huge stage? The US currently has no climbing team that trains consistently, no coach, and no unified facility to train at. Many of the best climbers smoke pot and some do other drugs. We still have not developed a satisfactory way that is truly fair and balanced to determine a winner at climbing competitions. Most climbers are poor public speakers, and have difficulty holding down menial labor jobs which require little effort. How is this motley crew expected to stand up on a world stage in a professional manor as a representative of something much larger than the athletes themselves? This remains an unanswered question. Certainly someone like Sasha Diguilian would unquestionably handle themselves with dignity and grace. I am confident she would be an outstanding representative for the sport (as she has demonstrated to be over the last few years). But I would argue that she is the minority. I would like to see climbers be more capable in this regard, but there is little evidence to suggest climbing is ready for such a spotlight.

Preservation: How important is it to us (as climbers) that we preserve what it is that we are doing? Does it matter? Should we push things as far forward and as quickly as possible simply in order to push things forward, even if there is a sort of mindlessness to it? Having grown up playing baseball as part of a very competitive and good team (I was the only member of the team who didn’t go on to play college baseball, and that was by choice) I have seen first hand the negative effects such competition has on parents, children and baseball. My parents were wonderfully supportive, but many of my friends parents were demanding, condescending and worked hard to unintentionally drive their child away from the sport. It certainly wasn’t a good thing, for baseball or the children. Climbing, with an increased focus on competition, would certainly go the same way.

I have and will continue to advocate that the leaders of our sport find new and inventive ways to go bouldering, create beta, give names, create media, find boulders, etc. But just because we can think of something (like putting climbing in the Olypmics) doesn’t mean we should do it, or that it would benefit the sport. The law of unintended consequences doesn’t stop us from doing new things and it shouldn’t. But it should give us the foresight to give things a second thought, even if it strips Adam Ondra of the gold medal he probably deserves. Thoughts?

41 Responses to “Climbing and the Olympics”

  1. Sakari

    08. Aug, 2012

    Good piece of writing right there. Its true, I dont remember a single problem Nalle has done in the gyms in Helsinki nor do i remember a comp problem from any climber.

    yes it would vring more money towards climbing bu what i know so far that money would goto the gyms and porfessionals, and i think they are doing fine at the moment already. I still enjoy my climbing even if i have to work to go on trips. Its not like that money would go into our pockets (talking about the 99% who arent pro’s).

    And that is a good point u raised with the drugs, it seems there are so many people getting caught with doping, maybe climbers wouldnt do it at the start but i guess many would have to stop smoking pot :)

    Wonder how many points would give for a gold medal? 😀

  2. B3

    08. Aug, 2012

    I guess when Jens says there is a “new world record” there might actually be a real world record

  3. Peter Beal

    08. Aug, 2012

    A great post and a few questions. Which drugs do you think would enhance climbing performance and are there climbers currently using them? Do you really think Olympic competition would alter the outdoor experience? Would it be regarded as a different sport?

    Re:US climbing team, I think the current era of not-read-for-prime-time climbers is passing away so concerns about professionalism may be less of an issue. However competitiveness is a genuine issue which does not jibe well with the natural experience you write about.

    I wrote about this as well, if anyone is interested, though I took more of an optimistic angle:

  4. Crafty

    08. Aug, 2012

    Jamie- good post. I’d like to point out (as you implied) that many of the points under the heading “Climbing is in it’s infancy” seem to apply more to U.S. climbers. I feel that, as a whole, the comp climbing scene in Europe is more well-developed, polished, and professional that comps that are often held in the U.S. I also feel that some of the more successful European climbers would likely be better public speakers and ambassadors, overall, than many of the star American climbers. That being said, I’d argue that some of our guys from the U.S. are a little more entertaining in general that the World Cup folks.

  5. B3

    08. Aug, 2012

    Peter, I have no evidence that any top climber is using or has used performance enhancing drugs, although I do know of climbers who have used steroids. After talking to a number of personal trainers and doing my own research on the internet, it seems like human growth hormone, steroids, and testosterone all would help performance. Perhaps blood doping for sport climbing.
    People were critical of the guidebook to the Park because they said it brought so much more attention and so many people showed up. I think the Olympics would have a much more dramatic effect, because outside climbing is still the focus of our sport and I think will always be.
    Again, knowing what the standard for professionalism in baseball is, for example, I would say that climbers are not even close. During the season i was expected to be shaven, not go out at night, not chase girls, maintain a clean and pressed uniform and have a clean-cut hair cut. There are so few climbers that do even one of those things. Yes, climbing still has a long way to go. Again, there is drug use among some of the top athletes are drug users (weed, and some cocaine) and if climbing wants to be more mainstream that needs to get cut out.

  6. B3

    08. Aug, 2012

    Keep in mind that what steroids do are enable the athlete to do consecutive days of intense training. It is the ability to recover so quickly that would make it beneficial to climbing.

  7. Matt

    09. Aug, 2012

    Very nice article. I agree with most of the points. I think drugs will only be brought to light with the IOC always double and triple checking. Climbings at a point where most of us just don’t really care about doping. Whens the last time you heard of someone invalidating an ascent because of alleged drug use? The exposure of climbing, I don’t really feel will have a big impact on natural areas. If I’m sitting on a couch and see people climbing, I’m not going to say “Hey, I want to try that! I’m hiking up to upper chaos tomorrow!” (From pennsylvania mind you.) Granted, I do think a very small percentage of people would say, “hey, rocklands looks really nice” and book a vacation there. I think there will be minimal impact that (along the lines of what we already see now in places like yosemite.) For preservation, the rock isn’t going anywhere. Rock climbing will always be there. The only way it wouldn’t is if every boulder/cliff in the world turned into a national park with climbing forbidden.

    But, on top of those issues, (and this goes along the lines of infancy especially concerning competitions) World Cup format is boring to the general public and difficult to follow… I’ve read numerous threads and talked to many people who disagree based on there own preference. They think if they enjoy it, so will 3 billion other people tuning in, 2.99 billion of whom have never climbed in their life.

    How does one convey a subjective sport to new viewers? How do you make someone doing the same thing over and over again interesting? Speed climbing is currently the only legitimate contender for the Olympics. Then there is also the issue of setting. How do you choose the setters? How can one set “fair” routes? I can see it now, someone gets paid off to set certain routes to screw over various competitors or share beta for “onsight” climbs. Before even thinking about the Olympics, these issues need to be addressed.

    For comparison sake swimming, racing against a clock. Track racing against a clock or fighting for the best mark (furthest throw, highest jump.) Archery is the highest score. And when you get to the subjective sports like diving and gymnastics, you’re being judged by 8 other people. Climbing isn’t how pretty you can climb and as mentioned, only speed climbing fits the current mold of an olympic sport.

    (I do have a solution for the format but thats for another post)

  8. Matt

    09. Aug, 2012

    Also, how did your Calc II go? I suck at integrals of trig functions and never did too well after that point haha.

  9. Ian

    09. Aug, 2012

    Surely the huge group of American viewers that are new to climbing, and most likely have little experience exploring the woods, when seeing climbing on walls and holds in the Olympics would not be drawn to all of the sudden go hike around boulder fields, but to go check out nearby indoor climbing gyms which are exactly like what they saw and (hopefully) liked on tv. This would result in more money flowing into the industry, and hopefully more expansion of climbing gyms and thus exposing more and more people to climbing in general. I have less faith in the adventurous spirit of mainstream america than you do I guess.

  10. spicelab

    09. Aug, 2012

    Another issue is that no matter how good the routesetters, the routes/boulders on any given day will inherently favour certain climbers over others.

    This is by no means unique to climbing – e.g. hilly vs flat marathon or road cycling courses – but it’s more significant and unpredictable in its consequences.

    It’s already an issue with coaches and pushy parents complaining that routes were “unfair” due to being reachy, bunched etc. With an Olympic profile, it would be very difficult to satisfy everyone that it was a level playing field and that the best athlete won on the day. I would envisage major bitching and protests.

  11. mall

    09. Aug, 2012

    I’ll give my view on each point you brought up.

    1. Drugs. A real concern. Though if the sport grows we will face the issue anyway, with or without the Olympics. Seems to me it IS growing, by leaps and bounds. Both recreationally and competitively. The earliest it can appear in the Olympics is 2020, eight years from now. I think we better have a decent drug-detection program in place, no matter what. btw, it would not surprise me if that 10% figure is way low.

    2. Environment. Olympics climbing will almost certainly take part on indoor walls. So perhaps this will draw a lot more attention to indoor climbing, which is easy, convenient and controlled. Are throngs of people going to take the multi-hour trips to outdoor crags, buying harnesses, belaying devices, ropes, etc? I am doubtful. It’s too much to do. If they do, though, I bet some darn good climbers come out of this group.

    3. Climbing in its infancy. Competitions have been held for decades, at the local, national and international level. World Cup is televised over the web around the world. There are scores of seasoned professional climbers, who take part in these comps.

    I think you overstate the importance of public speaking. It has never been a requirement for success in any sport I can think of. I also have usually been impressed hearing interviews with top climbers.

    While the U.S. may not have a national facility or coach, other nations do. And perhaps the Olympics will give the U.S. the motivation to create a better national program. Then, maybe, we can compete on a more even keel with nations like Austria (population 8-9 million), and Slovenia (population 2 million).

    4. Preservation. I don’t see why joining the Olympics is mindless. If it happens, it will take a decade or so of work, thought, planning, discussion. Adam Ondra will probably be too old by then: a new generation of Ashima-type climbers may have taken over.

    Overall, I see far more potential upside than downside. I also believe there may be ways to handle the downsides.

    The bigger question for me is what format the Olympics would use. Bouldering? Sport climbing? I hope not speed!

  12. Paully

    09. Aug, 2012

    @Matt – I completely disagree with the premise that Olympic climbing would increase the number of gym climbers while creating only a nominal increase in outdoor climbers. I think it’s safe to say that a very high percentage of indoor climbers a) transition to outdoor climbing at some point after exhausting their appetite for gyms or b) want to climb outside, but climb inside first to gain experience and whet their appetite for climbing. So it’s hard for me to imagine that a huge influx of climbers of any time will only marginally affect outdoor traffic.

    As I see it, there are two competing forces as far as outdoor degradation is concerned. There is the increase in traffic vs. The benefits of more people and more organization. An increase in traffic invariably degrades the natural area and causes other issues such as broken holds, more people who are new to climbing ethics, increased traffic on routes (which causes polished routes, chalk caking, shoe rubber on the wall, etc.). These types of problems create access issues and damage the climbing community in general. However, there are benefits to a more populous sport. First, it gives climbing more clout and more potential to make an impact economically (by visiting areas, etc.) which allows for more of a voice in access issues. Also, more people leads to more organization (or at least the need for it) and therefore gives a more official structure to climbing, which at least partially combats the issues Jamie is talking about. Of course, there are TONS of issues with more organization. What happens if cliffs are seen as a way to make money and what was previously public land is bought to make money off of the climbing community? What happens safety-wise if climbing equipment is expected to be cheaper and cheaper to accommodate the diversity of economic backgrounds a bigger sport creates? These are the types of questions we SHOULD debate while the sport is small, so that if the sport becomes big, they don’t blow up in our faces.

  13. Tim

    09. Aug, 2012

    It’s always interesting to see peoples’ opinions on this.

    Certainly interesting to read the commentary on drugs (“I prefer to keep climbing clean”) and then the subsequent post (“although I do know of climbers who have used steroids”) which suggests that this is a forlorn hope.

    I think the most valid concern is Access related but I wonder whether climbng as an olympic sport would actually change this much. More and more I see people taking up climbing without any intention of going beyond their local gym.

  14. B3

    09. Aug, 2012

    great points everyone. mostly I simply wanted to raise some questions.

    “These are the types of questions we SHOULD debate while the sport is small, so that if the sport becomes big, they don’t blow up in our faces.”

    I really like this line from Paully, which i think summarizes what I feel is the take home of the post, that there will be issues that arise that maybe detrimental to the sport.

    I didn’t write that climbing in the Olympics is mindless, I wrote that pushing things forward simply to push them forward can be mindless.

  15. rylan

    09. Aug, 2012

    I am interested with who would compete. If climbing were in the Olympics this summer, would Sharma or Graham participate? Perhaps Chris would but I doubt Dave would. Look at the marquee names absent from recent World Cups. I can’t think of another sport where the top athletes choose not to participate in major events (major league baseball players do not compete, but I don’t think they are legally allowed to).

    Perhaps if climbing were treated like gymnastics, with multiple events and a cumulative score, it would be easier to judge Bouldering, route climbing, speed climbing, campusing, dynos…it would be intriguing to see Ondra, Woods, Landman, et al measured across the board in terms of athletic ability and performance.

    As for environment impact, do surfing competitions increase traffic to prominent surf spots? I know nothing in this field but that seems like a similar comparison and perhaps someone else here knows.

    For the most part I enjoy the personal satisfaction that climbing gives me and couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks. However, I am fascinated by the possibility of catching climbing clips on Sports Center and seeing the athletic performance of top climbers compared to top athletes in other fields. Is Daniel Woods as good at what he does than Wayne Gretzky was at what he did?

  16. joeyjoejoe

    10. Aug, 2012

    To all of you suggesting that an influx of new climbers at our well-loved crags would be a bad thing: you can stop climbing there, yourselves, if you are so concerned for their preservation. I mean, really! Why do you think that new climbers would be any less respectful of the land than you are? Seems like an incredibly arrogant position to take.

    I welcome anyone who is interested in picking up this sport I love so much. I’ll gladly share my knowledge of the ethics of the sport with new climbers, just as experienced climbers were so generous with me when I was just starting.

    If you’d rather climb all by yourself, build a wall in your basement and don’t inflict yourself on the rest of us.

  17. B3

    10. Aug, 2012

    @joey I’m not telling anyone to not go climbing. You completely misread the point. I’m saying that if climbing were suddenly very popular, I think there is a very real issue of too many people trying to use a finite resource (my first example of how that is a negative thing would be the number of people on the earth) I don’t think new climbers are less respectful, I think people who are drawn to the sport by the possibility that they could win a gold medal or that there was money to be one might be more concerned about the medal or the money than then the rocks they climb on. How is that an “incredibly arrogant” position to take?

  18. B3

    10. Aug, 2012

    @Rylan I like the idea of multidiscipline climbing event where individual awards are also awarded. Nice.

  19. B3

    10. Aug, 2012

    @Rylan I still think route setting is the problem, not the solution. Perhaps they are all allowed to train on the same 5 problems in the V11-V`13 range and then are judged on grace, control, ease with which they climb the problem. Routesetting probably has little place in competitive sport if we really want to push things forwardly.

  20. peter beal

    10. Aug, 2012

    Not that it matters, but in my post on the same topic, written about a week earlier, I wrote “In my view the only category that has any chance will be bouldering, and that is only if there is a drift towards gymnastics. That is to say, there will be a pre-arranged set of skills that will be tested across a range of problems in both men’s and women’s divisions. The parallels with gymnastics are obvious and the visuals are similar, making for an easier introduction into the Olympic environment.”

    Good to see nobody is reading my blog anymore :)

    Anyway, I am going to propose that climbing as an Olympic sport will have a negligible impact on the outdoor sport. The two will be very different, just as it currently is. The primary benefit that I see is that climbers will be forced to train at an Olympic level to get decent results and some of this will drive really interesting things in the outdoor arena.

  21. peter beal

    10. Aug, 2012

  22. mall

    10. Aug, 2012

    Sorry, Jamie, I think Joey nailed it. Here’s what you wrote: “Now the reason I bring all this up is that bringing climbing to the masses could have a very negative effect on the areas where we go climbing”

  23. B3

    10. Aug, 2012

    @mall Huh? Yeah thats what I wrote. Exactly. And then Joey said I was very arrogant for suggesting that bringing the masses to climbing could potentially have a negative effect on the environment. How does that make sense?

    How does bringing the masses (say 50,000) people to HP40 not have a negative effect on such a small resource? And how is it arrogant to suggest that it might?

  24. The Blockhead Lord

    10. Aug, 2012

    Regarding the issue of environmental impact:

    Is there an data to support the idea that being included in the Olympics results in a spike in a sport’s popularity? I can imagine it might, but I doubt it would be so big as to create a substantial new problem in terms of overcrowding and impact.

    I think climbing is now mainstream enough, with gyms in nearly every small city nationwide, that the Olympics wouldn’t be putting it in front of many people who haven’t already been exposed to it.

    Not to mention the fact that comp climbing isn’t that sexy to most observers, especially those who don’t already climb.

    And finally, I think that Olympic climbing would be more likely to drive kids towards gyms than crags, since it will be showcasing the athleticism of climbing on plastic, rather than the sublime communion with nature that attracts many of us to the pursuit.

    All of which adds up to not that big of a problem, from the enviro impact perspective.

    Of course, I could be 100% wrong. Just another perspective on that particular point. And, personally, I just don’t see the other three points as real issues to lose sleep over. So I say, sure, go to the Olympics, and just hope that I can still go out and climb at my favorite crags without being molested by ‘roid raging, gold-medal grabbing n00b psychos.

  25. mike

    10. Aug, 2012

    I’m pretty surprised at how negative people seem to view the idea of an Olympic-level climbing competition. Compared to many of the sports that are currently in the Olympics and televised (for example, synchronized swimming), climbing could easily become a more entertaining spectator sport.

    That said, lets look at these points one at a time . . .

    1) Drugs. Yes, lots of climbers do drugs. Lots of snowboarders and freestyle skiers smoke pot and enjoy recreation drugs as well, but those sports are in the Olympics. Much like any other sport, people expecting to compete at that level might need to make some sacrifices around drug-testing time if they were to enter the Olympics. In terms of performance enhancing drugs . . . I don’t know how clean climbing is right now, honestly. Does the IOC test for performance enhancing drugs as is? I don’t think USA Climbing tests at all either, and it is very possible that some top climbers are already using something to gain an edge.

    2) Environment – yeah, indoor climbing and outdoor climbing are different games. The Olympic sport established would be indoor climbing, which would have to follow a similar format as the World Cup. And like most World Cups, smart setting makes each problem a different style – a hard slab, a powerful overhang, a technical route, a jump-start . . . set it so that no one single movement style dominates the competition, but a climber with a wide range of skills is required to demonstrate the wide range of abilities they do (or don’t) have.

    An exact standardization of competition is not required, because while the 400 meter freestyle is the exact same each Olympics, the runs for skiing and snowboarding change w/ the mountain the competition is held on, and this hasn’t been an issue. In fact, this would be a precedent for why a changing playing field (as in climbing) is acceptable.

    3) I don’t feel climbing is in it’s infancy, but it sounds more like the issue is that U.S. climbers act too much like infants. Yes, if we want American climbers to represent well in the Olympics, they would need to step the maturity game up. The drug use aspect was addressed in point #1, but I would also hope that given the opportunity to become more “professional” as rock climbing athletes by winning Olympic medals would get American climbers to push their own professionalism.

    Competition climbing is an established scene in Europe; many of the countries take their national teams much more seriously than the U.S. does, and I imagine the inclusion into the Olympics would push the U.S. to create a much more legitimate U.S. team. It sounds like the problem is a concern that US climbers would not carry themselves well on an Olympic stage, but we do have many climbers from many other countries that I imagine would do well.

    4) Impact. I see the biggest impact is that climbing could suddenly be introduced to new populations in the world.

    John Long’s argument sounds pretty spot on – climbing in the Olympics (and when I think of Olympic Climbing, I imagine that it would be similar to World Cup Format Bouldering or Lead) would greatly benefit the indoor climbing industry – shoe companies, harness companies, indoor climbing gyms (and in turn their employees, instructors, and coaches), but would not severely impact the outdoor climbing scene, especially the “adventure” climbing scene.

    Think of all the countries that are currently NOT represented in climbing in any noticable way. Imagine an influx of climbing gyms in countries with large populations and very few rock climbers. The inclusion of climbing into the Olympics and increasing its popularity could have a much greater impact on diversifying the sport – and I bet there are some very genetically gifted rock climbers who have never been given the opportunity, and more climbing gyms in Africa, India, the Middle East, Asia, and South America could create an awesome impact on the sport.

    Similarly, in terms of developing outdoor climbing, increasing the popularity of the sport on a global stage could empower local populations to develop their own areas. It seems that many of the major climbing areas in the world come as a result of traveling climbers from 1st world countries exploring – many more areas could be developed and made accessible if local populations were into climbing – and I don’t see it as a bad thing if more areas are discovered by the local population of those areas.

  26. joeyjoejoe

    10. Aug, 2012

    When you watch water polo in the Olympics, do you run out and join a water polo team? Nah. Sure, watching climbing as an Olympic sport will inspire many to try the sport, but you’re not going to ever have 50,000 people at Horse Pens. All of Yosemite (1200 square miles!) doesn’t see that many people a day. Yankee Stadium seats around 50,000 people.

    My point was not directly solely at you, but at anyone who thinks that new climbers, whether by shear numbers or directly unethical behavior at the crag, would adversely affect our climbing areas. That view is arrogant because it assumes that other people are less responsible than you are. Just because there are more people at a crag doesn’t mean that its resources will be taxed more. It only takes a couple of jerks to put graffiti on a rock wall, or leave trash on trails. I prefer to think that, in a sport like climbing where preservation of land is paramount, more people would equal more hands to manage trails, clean trash, etc.

    Imagine if there were 50,000 other Jamie Emersons across the country who were new to climbing. Would they have a negative effect on our climbing resources? If so, how?

  27. AB

    10. Aug, 2012

    I like this post, Jamie.

    I was thinking about this last night, watching the diving competitions. It’s funny because, as kids, my sisters and I would dive into a pool and rate each other. Then, in high school, my friends and I would do bigger flips, jump from higher roofs, etc., trying to outdo each other by diving into pools or lakes or whatever.

    The Olympics are basically what that thing is, taken to the absolute extreme … The stuff the Olympic divers do, however, is so perfected and honed that it’s almost impossible to relate it to that shit all kids do when they goof around and try to outdo each other–even though their on the same spectrum and technically the same thing.

    If climbing gets to be THAT geeked out because it’s the olympics and kids start training 60 hours/week in the gym from age 3 to 15–along with all of the other bad shit that goes along with it … I have to wonder: will it really affect how most of us interact with the rock/sport?

    I think that there’s room for both visions and approaches.

    anyway, thanks for the interesting post. Glad to see something thoughtful written on the subject.

  28. rylan

    10. Aug, 2012

    @peterbeal What is an Olympic level of training for climbing? How is it different than World Cup level training that many European climbers (Patxi, Ramonet, etc.) already partake in?

    I do not believe that climbing being in the Olympics will force climbers to train any differently than they already do. The Olympics are every four years; climbing is every day. Do you think someone like Daniel or Paul or Nalle would really alter their entire lifestyle to prepare for a two week long event that happens every four years? Or would they compete, say “that was cool” and promptly jet off to Madagascar or some other exotic place to establish world class climbs in an as-yet-unheard-of boulder field or cliff?

    Other athletes are bound by activities that exist only in a competitive realm, therefore they prepare themselves extensively for the few competitions that will earn them world records and the fortune and glory that no doubt follows. Climbing is different. Weight lifters do not scour the globe for unlifted weights to challenge themselves with…Michael Phelps does not travel non-stop in search of a more aesthetically pleasing pool in which to swim…To me that is the essential aspect of climbing that can never be expressed in any kind of competition; the never ending search for something harder, better, and prettier. Fred Nicole’s vision for new boulders and ability to maintain motivation for however long it is he’s been climbing is more impressive than some kid flashing a forty-foot 5.14 comp route, no matter how cool Danielson’s set is…

    Those are my views as a climber, though. I suppose spectators don’t give a crap about harmonizing with nature and all that junk.

  29. peter beal

    11. Aug, 2012

    Hi Rylan,
    The two climbers you mentioned are a few who actually do train at the Olympic level but the vast majority, and especially Americans, do not. Daniel, Paul, and Nalle might very well not make the cut in the first place but if their sponsors were cool with that, great. On the other hand they might not be. I saw a FB post from Carlo Traversi mentioning that two months climbing on real rock did not help much for the Rockstars comp and I imagine that is typical for most.

    My main point is that properly trained climbers may upend current standards of what is hard in the outside realm. Climbing has always regarded itself as “different” because of aesthetics or nature or adventure or whatever and those are views with which I agree. However climbing has also always respected difficulty and various forms of competition, whether explicit or implicit. Indeed for the most part Nicole, like Dave Graham, has garnered respect for combining awesome strength with an eye for aesthetic lines.

    To future eyes, the “soul climber” approach may start looking a lot like Yosemite in the 1980s where the perception was that climbers were sitting around getting high and talking about what they would do while the rest of the world actually was doing it.

  30. Paully

    11. Aug, 2012

    @Joeyjoejoe – You totally miss the relevant points. The first point isn’t that new climbers are intrinsically worse people, it’s that MORE climbers (even if they all act responsibly) is inherently worse for any natural environment. If 120 people per day are trying a problem, it creates 6 times the trail wear, 6 times the chalk, 6 times the chance of a hold breaking, and 6 times the polish as when only 20 people per day try that same problem. The issue is that the rock isn’t a renewable resource. While you can always renovate an old track

  31. Paully

    11. Aug, 2012

    football field, there is no possible way to renovate a boulder problem (save glue, etc.). ALL natural areas are better off with no people. However, there is a balance that can be achieved when a small, respectful group of people climb at an area. This is thrown out of whack when thousands of people are at that same area. If you want to see this on a non-climbing level, look around you. There are far too many people – and therefore consumers – and far too few natural resources on this planet.

    The second point is that since NOT all climbers are respectful, and since it only takes one person to ruin an area (you yourself agree to that), it’s more likely for degradation to occur if the sport expands. Think about it this way: is it more likely that there’s one bad person in a group of 1000 or 50000?

    Couple the above points with the arguably suspect motives mentioned by Jamie, and you have a real problem.

    Is it important thing to share climbing with new-comers? Absolutely! I don’t think anyone argues with you there. But there are many problems that arise from too many climbers. Do you object to everyone being a climber?

    Our sport has lots of problems we need to address before it undergoes a controlled growth brought on by the olympics (if thats even possible). There needs to be more infrastructure and organization and there are other issues as well.

    I find your post insultingly simplistic in your treatment of other opinions.

  32. Paully

    11. Aug, 2012

    ^Having said that, there are arguments to be made for climbing as an Olympic sport. Again, we need to have meaningful discussions to resolve a lot of the issues facing climbing.

  33. ktmt

    12. Aug, 2012

    I totally come down on the side that climbing in the Olympics will likely affect indoor (gym) climbing, but have minimal effect on outdoor climbing. The error made in the arguments and concerns about Olympic climbing’s negative impact comes from viewing competitive climbing on plastic and climbing outdoors as the same thing. Yes, yes, they are both fundamentally climbing, and climbers like Daniel Woods and Ramon Puigblanque show there is cross over between the disciplines at a high level. But as climbing competition becomes more regulated and the format further refined and narrowed, I believe we’ll see considerable divergence between it and the outdoor game.

    Take a look at mogul skiing in the winter Olympics. Three or four decades ago, freestyle bump skiers were the Dave Grahams and Fred Nicholes who threw themselves down naturally-produced, steep runs covered in bumps. They busted aerials as they could and punched it for the bottom using natural talent and instinct. Today’s mogul competitors barely look like they’re doing the same sport, the runs are so formulaic and the placement of jumps so regulated. It’s hard to even relate, even if you’re a serious recreational skier who likes to ski the bumps. That’s the direction competition climbing is already going, and will continue to go if/when climbing enters the Olympics. Those who are inspired watching it will go to the gym looking for the same controlled environment they see on t.v. A few may eventually trickle out onto real rock, but they’ll be no different in spirit, and their numbers no greater than the climbers who find a love in being outside climbing on real stone today.

  34. joeyjoejoe

    13. Aug, 2012

    Paully, I’m glad you were insulted by my comment; it was meant to be insulting. See one of my first points: if having climbers at the crag is bad for the crag, you should stay home, yourself. You can’t have it both ways. Either everyone gets to climb, or nobody gets to climb.

    It is disgusting to me that any of us would NOT want climbing to become an Olympic sport simply because it would bring more people into the sport. This elitist garbage is one of the few things about climbing that has always rubbed me the wrong way. (Or is it the opposite of elitism – are you worried that climbers are too lazy to organize effectively?)

    “Do you object to everyone being a climber?”

    No, I absolutely do not object. I don’t understand why you think it is your place to worry about how many participants the sport of climbing can comfortably bear. People have been climbing on rocks for a really long time (and wind and rain have been wearing on rock much longer), and having a few more people working your proj is not going to hasten the end of rock climbing as we know it.

    I understand, you love climbing and you want to protect it. But keeping it secret in the hopes that all the riff-raff won’t crowd your crag is an extremely selfish position to take.

    “Again, we need to have meaningful discussions to resolve a lot of the issues facing climbing.”

    What are all these issues?

  35. Sarah

    13. Aug, 2012

    Hi Jamie,

    Prior to reading this, I was already aware that you were not in favor of climbing becoming an Olympic sport. However, I am glad that I read this because I think that you brought up some very valid points…

    I recently graduated with a degree in Sport Management and spent a lot of time learning about the Olympic movement as part of my education. I also currently work for a National Governing Body (NGB) for the U.S. Olympic Committee. Prior to working for this organization, I felt similarly regarding whether or not climbing should be an Olympic sport. I thought that if climbing became an Olympic sport, competition setting styles would continue to move away from traditional climbing movements and become, in the majority, “party tricks”–intended for the audience’s pleasure. For this reason, as well as others, I did not think that climbing would benefit from becoming an Olympic sport.

    But the more time that I spend working as part of the Olympic movement, the more I question my original opinion on this matter…

    For athletes competing in Olympic sports, the Olympics is the very pinnacle of their athletic career. It is what they are all striving for, but very few actually achieve. Working for a NGB and spending time at the Olympic trials, I have experienced first-hand the passion and extreme determination that each athlete puts into achieving their goal and the heartbreak when they fall short. The emotion is tangible. Incredible.

    I want this to be something that climbers to have the opportunity to experience as well.

    Having said this, I think you have made some great points that need to be considered–very thought-provoking. This issue is definitely muddled by the distinction between climbing outdoors on real rock (my personal preference) vs. competition climbing, and those who are able to find a balance between the two. Drug-use is a very valid point; extreme competition drives extreme practices. USADA, unfortunately, can’t catch it all, much less prevent it from happening. As for whether or not climbers would be able to compose themselves professionally, two words–Ryan Lochte.

    That’s my two cents, thanks for giving me something to think about.

  36. Paully

    13. Aug, 2012

    Joeyjoejoe – AGAIN, you’re missing the point. It’s great that you like new people in the sport. I think we all can appreciate the energy they bring and the fact that they are just as moral as long-time climbers.

    However, your post fails to address any of the issues raised by other people. The traffic that areas can tolerate is not an all-or-nothing issue with respect to the proportion of the population that these areas can handle. There is a delicate balance that can be reached by having a small number of dedicated, responsible climbers. This balance is thrown totally out of whack by large numbers of climbers. Analogously, it’s great when lots of people show up to a birthday party. But when 7 billion people show up, the scene becomes over-crowded and can’t be enjoyed.

    I personally think my position is the opposite of selfish. What is selfish about preserving an area so that generations of climbers after me (without gold medal aspirations) can enjoy it too?

    There are so many issues in climbing that most people either ignore or refuse to address. In no particular order:
    1) Lack of ethnic diversity
    2) Lack of ingenuity in the outdoor retail marketplace
    3) Lack of development by female climbers
    4) Drug use (both recreational or performance-enhancing, as mentioned in this post)
    5) Lack of education by most professional climbers
    6) Lack of organization on the part of professional climbers (partially addressed by PCI)
    7) Shameless self-promotion as a means to sponsorship
    8) Promotion of the idea that sponsorship is an end goal
    9) Lack of appreciation for land owners
    10) Poor attitude towards giving back to areas on the part of many professional (and recreational) climbers
    11) Extreme dieting measures

    ^ and that’s just what I came up with in two minutes

  37. toothbrush

    14. Aug, 2012

    My daughter is 10 and started on the local gym climbing team last year. The concept of climbing going Olympic lights up every kids eyes on that team. If Europe manages to drive competitive climbing the way it has I don’t see any valid reason not to support Olympic climbing (indoor).

    We must’nt over exaggerated the significance of our sport (“activity”, whatever). If someone will sit and watch pingpong or weight lifting once every 8 years I don’t see why they wouldn’t tune into climbing, even if just for the eye candy.

    I personally see no downside to going Olympic. Whether climbing goes Olympic or not; competitive edge will always exist, as will cheaters, and lets hope the additional attention only strengthens the natural aspect of climbing. By and large, we must admit the more popular outdoor climbing becomes, the more impact we have on the environment. Climbing indoors competitively will only lessen our environmental impact…hopefully.

  38. asdfas

    31. Aug, 2012

    really nice topic

  39. Stuart Berg

    18. Sep, 2012

    I see that it could only do good .Climbing has come on enormously over last 40 years that i have been climbing.To put it on that scale of stage would probebly see it expand for decades to come,especially in the finances ploughed into it.Well thats my guess.good article and points raised.Great.

  40. Greg of Font

    03. Oct, 2012

    i’m sorry for my poor english.
    First, Jamie, your Website is realy one of the best i have seen ! Respect !
    This article is really good and ask the right questions.
    I managed a french webzine about Fontainebleau and his protection and i ‘m very afraid to the futur.
    I’ll do soon an article about the french protection of naturals climbing place on french climbing magazines.
    I’ll quote this article.

  41. B3

    03. Oct, 2012

    Greg, thanks so much for the comment! Great to know there are so many interested people out there, in American as well as France!

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