Historic moment for climbing, which today (10.00) opens as an Olympic discipline according to the enormous pull it deserves among the public. For its debut at the Games, climbing has altered its classic competition format towards a fusion of three exercises (speed, bouldering and difficulty) faced by 20 women and 20 men, including Alberto Ginés, the only representative Spanish. Today and tomorrow the qualifiers for the finals on days 5 and 6 are disputed, which will only be accessed by eight climbers and eight climbers.
The key lies in versatility: it is necessary not to fail resoundingly in the speed test (a television experiment that few traditional climbers are used to) and to give the best in bouldering and difficulty. Climbing on artificial structures and if the speed route (15 meters high) is always the same in all competitions, the bouldering routes (a very short wall that is climbed without a rope and in which various climbing problems arise very few movements) and difficulty (a wall that is climbed protected by the rope and in which the participants only have one opportunity to complete) vary in each competition. The uninitiated will be surprised by the spectacle of a competition where the Czech Adam Ondra and the Slovenian Janja Garnbret should shine… although surprises are not ruled out.
The romantics, the great names of the past, will wonder how an activity as serious as climbing, a game in which the loser used to give up his life, has mutated into something like this. Climbing walls are growing like mushrooms, getting bigger and higher and they are a success even in cities where rock climbing is an accessible task. This has been the history of climbing: a constant evolution plagued by ramifications and styles that act both as communicating vessels and watertight compartments: a mountaineer can climb on ice, sport, traditional and block. A boulder can see the boulder as an end in itself, call himself a climber, and never use a rope in his life. It’s easy to get lost.
If originally the human being began to climb to conquer complex mountains, today anyone can climb without ever stepping on a mountain. What we will see in Tokyo has little or nothing to do with what the rock offers.
The first sport climbing competition took place practically yesterday: it was in 1985 (Bardonecchia and Arco, Italy) on a genuine rock face. Today, climbing competitions are held on artificial walls where the equippers invent routes of varying difficulty. Ten years earlier, in 1975, the German Kurt Albert, a man with curly hair, mustache and mischievous smile, with forearms the diameter of his thighs, began to paint a red dot at the foot of the rock tracks that he managed to overcome without falls, without resting and without pulling the fixed anchors to progress: thus the concept of chaining was born, that is, reaching the chain with its release using only feet and hands to progress. The widespread use of the harness and the eight to belay, as well as the first climbing shoes with an adherent sole, partly explain the size of the jump. Climbing thus ceased to be a way to reach a certain point in any way to become a sport with an ethic, an end in itself.
Until that moment, and despite the fact that there were purists like Paul Preuss who, already in the 20s of the 20th century, demanded his peers not to cheat (that is, not to use rope or pythons or anything other than the dexterity to ascend and descend) , climbing was a way to prepare for big companies, remote mountains and invincible walls. In fact, in the 60s, the concept of free climbing lost momentum: with the arrival of new materials it became possible to climb on infinite artificial walls: when the difficulties increased, the climber progressed by nailing pythons in the rock and climbing on them, using hooks and aluminum pieces that were inserted into the cracks to conquer routes such as those that cross El Capitan (Yosemite, USA).
What we will see at the Games comes from the hand of a profound revolution that took place especially in France in the 80s of last century: the drill came to banish the old and dubious rock pythons to place expansion insurance. If before the fall was prohibited, now one could climb and fall, try a step, fail, fall a hundred times and all this without physical consequences. Soon the degrees of difficulty skyrocketed and the first systematic forms of training arrived.
Patrick Edlinger, Patrick Berhault, Catherine Destivelle starred in broadcasts on French television with a millionaire audience. In Germany, Wolfgang Gullich carried the greatest known difficulty beyond the stratosphere. Difficulty escalation boiled and conquered the planet.
If this was a sport, training had to be mandatory: a huge novelty since to date, the gesture of climbing was seen as a way of life and communion with nature.
Between 1950 and 1960, an American military man and mathematician named John Gill developed the climbing concept known as bouldering, which aims to scale blocks of rock of modest height, but without rope, and seeking maximum difficulty in the gesture. For this purpose, he begins to use magnesium so that his hands do not sweat, as gymnasts do, and copies their training. Thus, in the 60s, all the seeds of climbing were planted … except for sports, born in the mid-80s: mountains are climbed, large walls, small walls and rock blocks are climbed and the evolution of materials makes that different techniques and ethics fluctuate and mix.
None of this could have been Olympic without the invention of sport climbing, which is engaging because it adds all the security that mountain climbing and large walls lack: insurance that can hold 2,000 kilos, dynamic ropes, baked rubber shoes, absence of commitment, comfort, social bias, etc. It is the germ of the specialization whose maximum exponent we will see in the Olympic Games.
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