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Climbing is an Olympic Sport. Now What?

Now that climbing has been viewed by millions, what are the ramifications? How did it stack up against other sports?

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Remember a few years ago, when it was first announced that climbing was going to the Olympics? Well, let me remind you–a shitstorm ensued. More than a few top climbers expressed dismay, publicly, which is telling … A few prominent community members said competition climbing wasn’t real climbing, which, by extension, implied that comp climbers weren’t real climbers. 

True, there’s a long and rich history of outdoor, as opposed to indoor, climbing, but can you imagine a trail runner saying the 100-meter sprinter Usain Bolt isn’t a “real” runner? No, that would be ridiculous. 

The dust has settled. We now have some answers. 

Competition climbers have always been climbers, of course, but because of the exposure of climbing in Tokyo to millions of eyeballs, when the American public thinks of a climber, it might just be of Nathaniel Coleman or Brooke Raboutou, and not Alex Honnold or Lynn Hill. 

In Europe, the culture of competition climbing is more mature, and hence the divide between those on plastic or real rock isn’t as intense. We can thank the Olympics for potentially healing a divide in the climbing community, about who is and who isn’t a real climber, or what counts as real climbing. Hopefully, as a result, the tent gets wider for others who are already, or surely will soon, enter our sport. One study by the Sports Fitness & Industry Association shows that participation can rise by around 5-12% after a sport appears in the summer Olympics, and so, in the middle of what is already a massive growth spurt–fed largely by the proliferation of climbing gyms across the country in the past five years–we are going to have another. Consider this screen shot from Google Trends that lists the uptick in the world plugging in “sport climbing” into their search bars over the past 7 days. That spike, towards the end, is Aug 3. That’s today.

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–Francis Sanzaro is the Editor-in-Chief of Gym Climber and Ascent. Find him HERE for now.