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What it takes to be an Olympic rock climber

Posted at 6:09 PM, Aug 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-05 12:01:55-04

MILWAUKEE — Climbing up a wall or a rock as a child is fun. Just scramble to the top and the mission is accomplished. But what does it take to become an elite rock climber that competes in the Olympics? I put my body on the line to find out.

“People are holding on to, I don’t know, five millimeter edges with their entire body weight and doing like a one-armed pull up on that," Jacob Bach, a climbing coach with Adventure Rock, a climbing gym, said.

The 2020 Olympics are the first games to have climbing as one of the sports. There are three disciplines in Olympic Climbing: speed climbing, bouldering and sport climbing. I put on a harness and some climbing shoes to see how I would do.

First I tried speed climbing. It is exactly what it sounds like. Get to the top of the wall as fast as you can. The Olympic route is a standardized one that many gyms would have. So at Adventure Rock, you can basically compare yourself directly to an Olympian (the Adventure Rock wall is a little shorter).

Olympians climb the wall in about six seconds. Chloe Miller, 17 and climber at Adventure Rock, did it in 13 seconds. I did it in 28 seconds, and climbed an easier beginners version.

Safe to say, I'd get smoked in a climbing race.

Then I tried bouldering.

“This is kind of like the showstopper. It’s very big moves. You can think parkour, gymnastics," Bach said.

There are no ropes for this. It’s all about climbing as many obstacles as possible in four minutes.

Once again I tried, but I couldn't make it up the wall... give me a break, it's tough and I was basically upside down. It’s all about technique, something I don’t have, I guess.

The final event, I didn't try. It's lead or sport climbing.

“Which is when the rope is below you, and you are using the rope to clip into carabiners called quick draws, and it’s all about the number of holds that you get.”

In other words, get to the top or as close to it as you can. I didn’t want to do that one and it takes a lot of skill that I don't have. (I also had to get back in time to get this story published #excuses).

An interesting note: a medal is not given out for each discipline. They are all combined, so there will be only one male and one female medalist.

Once again (see me try Olympic Skateboarding and Olympic Swimming), we have determined I am not as athletic as Olympians. Who would have guessed, right? Still, it's a ton of fun.

You can try climbing at Adventure Rock. They have a special deal while the Olympics are still on. Plus, Adventure Rock is hosting a viewing party on Thursday at the Cooperage at 6 p.m. for the men's final. On Friday, they will be hosting a party for the women's final at their East Side Milwaukee location at 6 p.m.

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