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At The Olympics, Sport Climbing Reaches New Heights

Colin Duffy is the youngest member of Team USA competing at this year's Olympic games.
Colin Duffy is the youngest member of Team USA competing at this year's Olympic games.

Sport climbing will make its debut at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo alongside karate, skateboarding, and surfing.

Its inclusion in this year’s games is part of an apparent bid to attract younger viewership. Four climbing athletes will compete on Team USA: Brooke Raboutou, Kya Condie, Nathaniel Coleman, and Colin Duffy (who’s just 17).

Climbing enthusiasts cheered the International Olympic Committee’s decision to include the sport but were surprised (and some angered) by the competition’s format. Three disciplines that are normally part of separate contests will be combined into one mega-event. Those three disciplines (bouldering, lead climbing, and speed climbing) require unique athletic skills.

Sport climbing’s ascent to the Olympics comes alongside its rising popularity as a pastime in the U.S. At the end of 2020, there were 540 climbing gyms open across the country. Despite the pandemic keeping many gyms closed throughout 2020, 44 new gyms opened last year.

What’s behind climbing’s rising popularity? And what should we watch for when the Olympic athletes take to the wall in Tokyo?

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