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Sport climbing sets sights on 2020 Olympics

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Climbing is on the precipice of becoming an Olympic sport, raising the profile of a recreational activity that is seeing a surge in young participants.

The ascent to potential Olympic inclusion got a boost on Wednesday after the International Olympic Committee executive board gave its approval to include climbing along with four other sports: baseball-softball, surfing, karate and skateboarding. The IOC will decide in August whether to add the sports to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Japanese organizers initially proposed the new sports in September and looked at climbing as a competition that could appeal to teens and young adult, an age where there is already increasing interest.

“My dream is to … keep on helping getting [climbing] bigger and bigger so hopefully I can compete in the Olympics and win it maybe,” said 15-year-old Ashima Shiraishi, a New Yorker whose parents were Japanese immigrants. Her spider-like ascents up rock walls and cliffs have made her a viral sensation online and drawn the curiosity of late-night television.

There were roughly 35 million climbers worldwide in 2015, according to the International Federation of Sport Climbing, up 40 percent from two years earlier. As of last fall, about half of the total was younger than 25 “thanks to the latest trend of urban/action sports,” the federation said in a report.

USA Climbing had almost 3,800 registered members age 19 and under as of the 2015-16 season, an increase of nearly 90 percent in nine years — a boom that could position the United States to emerge as a top Olympic contender.

The United States “is already a very active country for climbing and we trust the national federation will keep on developing its expertise and keep on bringing kids to our competitions, which would be definitely a plus for a possible medal in 2020,” said Anne Fuynel, spokeswoman for the international federation in Turin, Italy.

Many young climbers are getting a foothold indoors at climbing gyms, which have grown in number to nearly 400 across the United States. One young climbing star, 16-year-old Kai Lightner, got his start indoors after visiting a gym in Fayetteville, N.C., a decade ago.

“Kids like me have access to these resources that did not exist decades ago,” Lightner said. “When you are able to start training at high levels, as young as 6, 7 years old, it shouldn’t be surprising that kids are becoming more skilled at younger ages.”

Indoor climbing removes barriers inherent outdoors, like weather, travel and expensive equipment, said Ian McIntosh, president of Mesa Rim Climbing Center in San Diego.

Techniques can be perfected year-round indoors. It’s an option to fill time between soccer seasons for the average, on-the-go pre-teen in the suburbs.

Lily Canavan of Boston is one of the top competitors at her age bracket. Now 18, she got into the sport about eight years ago while attending a birthday party at a gymnastics facility that had a climbing wall.

The physical demands can be extreme, but Canavan is attracted by the mental side of climbing. Finding the right route and piecing it together with the right movements is like solving a puzzle.

“So you can be the strongest person ever and not be able to climb as (well) as someone who isn’t strong,” Canavan said.

She was among 134 participants at USA Climbing’s Bouldering Open National Championships in Madison this year, an increase of 47 percent from 2010. The youth nationals in Madison a month later drew 499 competitors, up 37 percent from last year and almost 55 percent from 2010.

USA Climbing’s goal over the last 10 years has been to focus on developing its youth program. While Olympics inclusion has never influenced the organization’s decisions, CEO Kynan Waggoner said, the potential addition to the Summer Games “can’t do anything except promote the sport and raise the profile level, period.”

In the 2020 Olympics proposal, competition would only take place on manmade structures, though it hasn’t been determined if walls would be constructed indoors or outdoors. Participants would take part in the disciplines of speed, bouldering and lead (also known as sport), with results combined into one overall ranking system to determine medalists.

Waggoner said he likes the strides American climbers have made on the youth level in international competition. If the Olympics were held now, the United States would be competing with top contenders including France, Austria, Germany and Japan.

Waggoner stopped short of predicting how success now might translate to performance in four years, even with top young climbers like Shiraishi and Lightner presumably in the mix.

One wrinkle is that climbers usually specialize in one or two disciplines. For the Olympics, they would need to take part in three.

“I don’t know who we’ll have ready to go in 2020,” Waggoner said. “I do know some of our best U.S. athletes … are starting to train.”

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2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

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The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

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Boston Marathon canceled for first time after 123 years; virtual event planned

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The Boston Marathon, held every year since 1897, has been canceled as an in-person event for the first time. It will be held as a virtual race instead due to the coronavirus.

“While we cannot bring the world to Boston in September, we plan to bring Boston to the world for an historic 124th Boston Marathon,” Boston Athletic Association (BAA) CEO Tom Grilk said in a press release.

The world’s oldest annual marathon had been postponed from April 20 to Sept. 14, it was announced March 13.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said he first considered canceling the postponed marathon during a coronavirus surge in April.

“We were maxed out in our hospital emergency rooms,” Walsh said Thursday. “I realized that the downside of the curve, which we were on, the backside of the curve, is going to be going for some time. The concern of a second surge made me have some real reservations about can we have the marathon or not.”

Walsh said experts said a potential second surge would be between August and October. He held out hope to hold the race until talking with the BAA last week.

All participants originally registered for Boston will be offered a full refund of their entry fee and have the opportunity to participate in the virtual alternative, which can be run between Sept. 7-14.

More details, including entry information, will be announced in the coming weeks.

It’s the biggest alteration to the Boston Marathon, which was inspired by the marathon’s debut at the first modern Olympics in 1896. Previously, the biggest change came in 1918, the last year of World War I. The marathon was still held on Patriots’ Day in April but as a 10-man military relay race.

The original 2020 Boston elite fields included two-time U.S. Olympian Des Linden, the 2018 Boston winner who was fourth at the Feb. 29 Olympic Trials, where the top three earned Olympic spots.

London is the world’s other major spring marathon. It was rescheduled from April 27 to Oct. 4. Its original fields for April were headlined by the two fastest men in history — Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge and Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele. It’s unknown if they will remain in the field, should London happen.

The fall major marathon schedule

Boston — Sept. 7-14 (virtual event)
Berlin — TBD (will not be held as planned on Sept. 27)
London — Oct. 4
Chicago — Oct. 11
New York City — Nov. 1

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