Several sports will debut at next summer’s Tokyo Olympics, with the uniting theme of making the Games gnarlier. Skateboarding and surfing are the obvious headliners, but you should be aware of another extra-cool sport that’ll make its first appearance: speed climbing.
Thousands of people had their first encounter with speed climbing this past weekend when a clip of the best speed climber in the world went viral thanks to former Kotaku climbing correspondent Mark Serrels. Aries Susanti Rahayu of Indonesia has been among the best speed climbers in Asia for some time, and she faced off against longtime rival Yi Ling Song of China at a World Cup event Sunday. Aries smoked Yi, broke her world record, and became the first woman ever to go under seven seconds up the speed wall.
In speed climbing, unlike the two other disciplines of competitive climbing, the course is standardized and has been for years. Competitors memorize the exact sequence of moves they need to execute, and getting perfect runs is more about flowing than creativity or endurance the way it is for bouldering or lead climbing. This allows for the sort of standardized world records that are impossible in, say, bouldering, which depends on route setters. The men’s record is owned by Reza Alipour at 5.48 seconds; here’s a video of a different climb by him in under six.
The sport’s Olympic debut will be a strange one: Climbers will compete for only three medal spots in a combined classification that includes all three disciplines. By the Paris Games in 2024, speed will be decoupled, since it only superficially resembles the other two types of competitive climbing, but in Tokyo, everyone will have to tackle the speed wall. It’ll be fun as hell to watch.