6 things you probably didn't know about climbing and the Olympics

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 25/07/2021
Shauna Coxsey, Akiyo Noguchi and Janja Garnbret on the podium for the 2019 Olympic qualifiers in Hachioji, Japan. Photo: Eddie Fowke / IFSC

Did you know that alpinism used to be an Olympic sport? With sport climbing on the verge of making its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020, we bring you six fascinating facts about the history of climbing, competing and the Olympics.

The dream has been a long time coming: the International Olympic Committee provisionally recognised climbing in 2006, and the sport was shortlisted for the Tokyo 2020 games a year later. But climbing's Olympic roots go way deeper than that... 

1. Alpinism became an Olympic sport in 1894, the year the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was founded.

The first time Olympic medals were handed to climbers was 1924, to members of General Bruce's expedition for outstanding feats on Everest; the summit had still never been climbed but they came within 500 tantalising metres of it. German brothers Franz and Tony Schmidt were the next to receive the Olympic Alpine Prize, for making the first ascent of the Matterhorn’s North Face. In 1936, Gunter and Mrs Dyenfurth won the award for their Himalayan exploration. Then, In 1946, the Alpinism Prize was dropped from the Olympics. 

2. Stefan Glowacz won the first ever official lead climbing competition.

It took place outdoors in 1985, in the Olympic town of Bardonecchia in Italy, at an event called SportRoccia. The next year, more than 10,000 people watched Patrick Edlinger and Catherine Destivelle win the second SportRoccia, which was held in Arco di Trento. A few months later, the French Federation held the first indoor event in Vaulx-en-Velin, Lyon. Climbing was officially a competition sport.

WATCH: Highlights from SportRoccia in dashing 80s leggings

3. The first World Cup climbing event was held in Leeds and won by Jerry Moffat.

WATCH: Jerry Moffat winning in Leeds in 1989

4. Simon Nadin was crowned overall world climbing champion that year. In 2016, Shauna Coxsey became the second Brit to hold the title.

The UIAA recognised climbing in 1988, and the first World Cup, or Grand Prix as they were called then, was held in Leeds in May 1989. The disciplines were speed and lead. In 1990 it was decided that international events would only take place on artificial walls. Bouldering became a competition sport in 1998.

5. In 2012 Kenton Cool carried an Olympic gold medal to the summit of Mount Everest to fulfill a promise made by the 1924 medal winners.

When he received the Olympic Alpine Prize in 1924, Edward Strutt, who was the deputy leader of the Everest expedition, pledged to place one of the medals on the summit of Everest one day. Kenton Cool kept the promise for him, 90 years later.

Kenton and Olympic medal
Kenton Cool with the Olympic medal.

READ: BMC backs Kenton Cool Everest medals expedition

6. Climbing actually featured in the Olympic games held in Nanjing in 2014.

Yes, the IFSC already organised an Olympic event: the 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympic Games, where all three disciplines — lead, speed and bouldering — were showcased to the world. 

GB Climbing's very own athletes Jennifer Wood and Orrin Coley were nominated to represent Great Britain and Jen was selected by the IFSC to form part of the delegation.

READ: How to watch climbing in the Olympics


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GB Climbing is supported by the BMC, Mountaineering Scotland and Secur-it. The GB Ice Climbing Team is supported by Montane. Many UK walls also support the GB Climbing through free or subsidised entry.


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