It’s hard to think about surfing when it’s December. But competitive climbing is an indoor sport in which athletes climb walls covered with “rocks” made of hard, molded resin.
There will be three types of competitive climbing in the Summer Olympics. In speed climbing, two athletes race up a 15-meter wall (almost 50 feet) as quickly as they can. Don’t worry! They have safety ropes that keep them from falling.
Bouldering is when the athletes move across routes laid out on much lower walls.
Finally, lead climbing is when athletes with safety ropes try to see how high they can climb a super-difficult course in six minutes.
Nick Gava, the gym director of the Earth Treks climbing center in Arlington, Virginia, thinks the speed climbing will make the biggest splash in the Summer Games. Gava says the sport is “like sprinting . . . vertically.”
While the Olympics will throw a huge international spotlight on the sport, most climbers will not become Olympians. According to Gava, climbers enjoy the mental and community aspects of climbing.
Gava says climbing is a great way to deal with stress because climbing requires “complete focus.” You can’t worry about other things when you are climbing.
The sport also helps people face their fears and learn to trust others. In most climbs, the climber is working with someone else on the end of the safety rope.
As Gava likes to say, “Climbing can create good people.”
That includes kids. David Rosman is a freshman at Washington-Liberty High School in Arlington, who has been climbing for three years. He recently gave up soccer to concentrate on competitive climbing. (David still runs track for Washington-Liberty.)
David, who is 14, was introduced to the sport when he attended the Maryland Renaissance Festival and spent much of the day on a climbing wall there. He found Earth Treks, not far from his home, and soon he was a regular visitor.
While he competes in bouldering and lead climbing, David says he enjoys the climbing community.
“I’ve met a lot of good friends through climbing,” he says. “Climbers are friendly.”
Still, David is excited the sport will be in the Olympics.
“Some kids say it’s not a sport,” he says. “I’ve tried lots of sports, and none are as hard as climbing. But that’s why I like it. I like the challenge.”