One of the founders of the Cowichan Secondary School Climbing Academy is excited, but a little cautious, to see the sport added to the Summer Olympics for 2020.
“It’s an exciting time, but there are still a lot of questions that have to get answered over the next four years,” Jaime Doyle said.
After more than a decade of lobbying by the International Sport Climbing Federation, climbing was added to the Olympic schedule for the Tokyo games four years from now, along with karate, skateboarding, surfing, and the return of baseball and softball, which previously appeared in the Olympics between 1992 and 2008.
Like the other new additions, climbing will be a one-year event in 2020, with the option of being picked up by the next host country for 2024. That host country has yet to be determined. The International Olympic Committee made the decision to include the five new sports with the goal of attracting a younger audience to the games.
“The hope is that they will appeal to youth and be invited back to the games permanently,” Doyle said.
The Olympic climbing event will take an unusual format, combining the three disciplines of bouldering, speed and lead climbing, with climbers accumulating scores over three days of competition. Climbers typically specialize on only one discipline.
“There will only be one medal for sport climbing,” Doyle noted. “It will take a very well-rounded climber to win a medal.”
As it stands now, the top 40 climbers in the world — 20 men and 20 women — will be invited to take part.
Doyle expects climbing to go well as an Olympic sport and establish itself permanently.
“Once they see if climbing can show them the sport is growing, that there’s a big demand, that it’s big with the youth, next time there could be competitions in bouldering, speed and lead,” he said.
With climbing’s popularity on the rise, this is the right time for the sport to enter the Olympics.
“Sport climbing right now is the fastest growing sport worldwide,” Doyle said. “The number of gyms opening up in North America is huge.”
As with many new sports that are added to the Olympic roster, sport climbing is popular, but hasn’t attracted a large viewing audience yet.
“A lot of people still don’t know much about it,” Doyle acknowledged. “They don’t understand what the competitive aspect is all about.”
You can expect Canadians to be among the favourites to medal in Tokyo as well.
“Right now, the No.1 climber in the world is Sean McColl from North Vancouver,” Doyle pointed out. “He said he would stick around for the Olympics. There are some up-and-coming young climbers too. But what makes it difficult is that they have to do all three formats.”
Uniquely, McColl has won major competitions in all three disciplines, which will help his chances in 2020.
The host country for the next Olympics is also big on the sport.
“Japan is producing some of the best climbers in the world right now,” Doyle said.
Within Canada, Vancouver Island is a climbing hotspot. In addition to the terrific terrain, athletes from across Canada come to Vancouver Island to train on the country’s only 15-metre speed wall at Stelly’s Secondary in Saanichton.
Doyle’s sons Aidan and Brennan have each won multiple national championships in more than one discipline, and its not out of the question that they could be Olympians one day. Aidan will be 19 in 2020 and Brennan 17, so they will be aiming beyond Tokyo.
“They could be looking at it if it makes it into the following years,” their dad acknowledged.
Meanwhile, the Cowichan Climbing Academy has eight academic blocks full of students and keeps growing.
“The kids like it,” Doyle said. “They get to challenge themselves. It’s physical, but also mental.”