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USA Climbing Responds to Pandemic

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Empty calendars, ripped-up training plans.

When can climbers compete again?

That’s the question on many of gym climbers’ minds. And it’s near-impossible to answer at the moment, but when the day comes, USA Climbing (USAC) intends to be ready. 

Just as the International Federation of Sport Climbing assigned a COVID-19 task force and looked to other organizations, including the World Health Organization, for guidance, USAC has diligently sought local and national guidance to plan ways to deal with the pandemic safely. 

“I don’t think the risks of virus transmission can be completely eliminated in our sport,” says Marc Norman, C.E.O. of USAC. “We can’t sanitize holds. So we’ve been looking at what we can do to minimize spread. And we’ve been coming up with protocols that we should require for next year.”

Gym Climber reached out to USAC to find out what those plans are, when they might be implemented and anything else USAC is doing.

Responding to the Pandemic

As of now, most of the 2020 competitive season has been canceled. The big exception is the Open Sport and Speed National Championships, still slated to take place in the late summer or early fall; location has not been set. But Norman stresses that the show will not go on if local and/or national bodies advise against it. The recently established USAC medical committee will also weigh in. 

Norman says the new medical committee has been working on solutions: “Maybe iso will have to change. Or we’ll have protocols like sanitizing your hands when you walk into and out of the event. Maybe temperature checks coming into a facility or a sign-off that you haven’t had any symptoms in the last few weeks. Steps will have to be in place.”

Norman also discussed new possible rules about equipment. Just as the IFSC will require athletes to use their own ropes, so too might USAC. Liquid chalk as opposed to loose chalk might be mandated, since it seems to improve air quality and might reduce airborne vectors.  

[Also read: Can Liquid Chalk Protect Climbers From Coronavirus as Gyms Begin to Reopen?]

For the youth season, USAC is still hoping to run modified youth comps, if not at the National level, then regionally. “The local festivals and events we hope to still have this year will provide us with the opportunity to try some of these ideas out,” says Norman.  The events may occur sometime during or after mid-August. 

The USA Olympic Team. From left to right: Colin Duffy, Brooke Raboutou, Kyra Condie and Nathaniel Coleman. Photo Luke Webster

Team USA

Another focus point is the 2020 Olympic Games, especially as they pertain to the USA Team. 

“We’re looking at what we can do for the athletes that qualified for the Games to ensure that the one-year delay is in our favor,” says Norman. 

The newly renovated and relocated USA training center, in Salt Lake City, Utah, remained open and available for team athletes throughout the pandemic—that is, up until last week, when an athlete tested positive for COVID-19. The center was subsequently closed for seven days and those that had visited were instructed to self-isolate. 

The Games aren’t the only event on the horizon. The first 2020 World Cup in the season, so long as it isn’t cancelled or further postponed, may be in Salt Lake City. It’s currently still on the table for Labor Day weekend.

Committees and Task Forces

USAC has renewed its focus on committees and working groups, tasked with goals that will help both the elite athletes and the community at large. The USAC website lists 18 committees, but several others have recently been created. 

The medical committee, in addition to guiding USAC with recommended protocols in response to COVID-19, is working on establishing a medical partner for USAC.

Among the offerings of a medical partner might be, Norman says, providing advice from medical professionals; helping the USAC come up with safe procedures for events; giving athletes diet, proper nutrition and medical guidance; and conducting new research for climbers. 

“There are already preliminary injury studies being done … but so much more can be done for athletes and to guide our decision-making.”

Another committee is working on getting climbing an NCAA-recognized sport. And the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) task force, which was created last year, will guide USAC future policies and programs to promote a better community. 

“Basically, we’re trying to do what other National Governing Bodies [NGBs] are already doing for their athletes,” says Norman. “Things like paying elite athletes, covering costs of Youth World Championships, and doing more educational initiatives for the community.” 


But unlike many other NGBs, USAC does not have a deep pool of funds, and it relies heavily on event fees and memberships. Like most organizations, it has been hit hard by the pandemic—both financially and in terms of what the organization is able to provide for sponsors. 

“Many NGBs [for other sports] that have been around for a long time have bigger bank accounts,” says Norman. Foundations may raise them or, in many cases, funds arose  in connection with participation in the Los Angeles Olympics of 1984, he says. “A number of those NGBs have just been investing those funds for all these past years, and they have far more money to fall back on than USA Climbing.”

Luckily, recent government loans and grants have helped ease the blow caused by the pandemic. USAC was approved for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) as well as the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), and has been able to keep its staff on board. Members and sponsors have also come to the rescue. 

“They’ve been really supportive,” says Norman. “They’ve all reached out and wanted to know how we were doing.” 

On Racism

In regards to the recent Black Lives Matter movement, USA Climbing recently published this statement on its website:

“Now more than ever USA Climbing would like to be a part of the solution. We know it will not be easy, we know there is so much we need to learn to stop the cycle of racism and bias within our own sport, but we also know we must do something. Last year, a task force was established to help us better understand inequity issues within our community and develop policies and programs that will help uplift our community as a whole.

“We stand with our athletes, volunteers, and affiliates that have been affected by the senseless deaths and devastation of communities, and we are committed to speaking up through words and action.”

Norman says, “The USAC would like to be an organization that is leading the charge to make the sport better for all of us.” 

Feature image by Blake Berson/USA Climbing

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