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Barbie May Have Medaled in Sport Climbing At The Olympics, But She Failed Her Belay Test 

Mattel launched Sport Climbing Barbie in commemoration of the 2020 Tokyo Games. Barbie just might want to check her knot before heading to the rocks.

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I enjoyed the Olympic climbing events this summer, and I’ve since managed to snag a few collectible pins and patches. But today, I saw a different commemorative item: Sport Climbing Barbie!!? 

The Mattel Barbie doll has reappeared in a new form, in celebration of the 2020 Tokyo Games. Now she’s a gold-medalist climber. How did she even manage her Olympic journey? Curious, I reviewed her background, which reads like something out of the X Files.


She first dropped to earth back in 1959, in a ball of plasma, already as a 16 year old girl. Then she laid waste to body image issues for young girls for over 60 years. Barbie is either a shapeshifter, or could be an upgrade of the T-1000 or TX model, yet managing to keep her youthful appearance. Upgrades over the years include finally receiving fully articulated joints in wrists, knees, and elbows. She can rotate most joints a scary 360 degrees for impossible moves and a greater advantage in climbing. 

An earlier climber equipped version of Barbie was found on eBay recently, packaged as “Hiking-Camping” Barbie, from about 15 years ago. She had some carabiners, a backpack, helmet, and the same lousy harness. 

Your new Tokyo Games climbing Barbie comes with a yellow shirt and pink team shorts, plus a long-sleeved sweatshirt with the 2020 Tokyo games logo on it. She has a harness, three quickdraws, a bucket-sized chalk bag, bowling shoes meant for climbing, and a short loop of rope tied through the middle of an ATC device. Plus a gold medal, of course. Backside of the box says: “Barbie empowers girls to participate in sports while capturing the sport of friendship, solidarity, and play.” 

The author helped Barbie out with her knot. Still, she’ll need to work on that.

The scary part is what you see in the photo on the front of the box. There is an open-gate carabiner on one quickdraw connected to only the waist tie-in point on the harness. The other carabiner of that quickdraw is clipped to that short loop of rope that they have tied through the belay device. That short do-nothing loop is then tied in some unknown fashion to another loop of rope that runs up, out of the picture. I can only assume that is the climbing rope she is on. Something is very, very wrong about the harness, the rope loop, and the use of quickdraws as tie-in connectors.

My concern is that, knowing the strong influence that Barbie has on girls, some may rush off to the gym next week to “be like Barbie,” with a rope loop and a belay device ready to use as shown. To be safe, a few corrections and alterations are needed before this goes as a gift to my niece. It’s too bad that nobody at Mattel thought to consult a real climber to get the accessories correct. 

And a corrected ATC set-up… although she still needs locking carabiners.

Still, I was up for the challenge. To help Barbie out, I tossed out that short loop of cord, and then replaced it with a proper line, tying it with a Figure 8 knot and Double Grapevine safety knot. Unfortunately the cord was so thick the knot ended up at chest-level on Barbie, with the backup knot knocking against her giraffe-sized neck. I also got a line to fit through the ATC so that a correct belay sample is now shown.Let’s start with that harness. It has the same faulty design as that of  “Hiking Barbie” years ago: The belay loop is sewn in wrong. Instead of facing outward, going around the leg-loop connection and the top waist tie-in point, this loop is behind, against the main waist belt. I actually had a harness years ago that had been incorrectly sewn up that way. Only an inch or so of belay loop rises above the waist level or tie in loop, making it difficult for Barbie to tie in. 

For now, this Barbie is going back in the box. She’s gotta practice more on her knots and gear use before she even gets belay certified on MY wall, that’s for sure, let alone be an Olympic competitor.

Mark Petnuch has been a rope gun, route setter and wall safety officer at Camp Woodchuck since 1982.

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