Crimping for Gold

Indoor climbing is coming to the 2020 Olympics. Former champion Hans Florine weighs in.

Climbing has seen explosive growth in the last decade. Thank that surging popularity to the proliferation of climbing gyms, a recently announced contract with ESPN to broadcast climbing competitions on TV and even an Academy-Award winning movie last year—nice job Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, and Alex Honnold. But cementing its emergence as a sport to be reckoned with is the fact that in less than a year, climbing will make its debut as a medal event in the 2020 Olympic Games. To get a better perspective on how it will work and what it will mean to the sport, we reached out to Hans Florine, a living Yosemite diety, three-time X Games gold medalist in speed climbing (1995, 1996, 1997) and the executive director of USA Climbing from 1992 to 1996.

What are your thoughts about the Olympic Games adopting or sanctioning climbing?

I think it’s about time. I mean how long has curling been in the Games but not climbing? C’mon. Unlike others, I actually like the fact that they are giving a combined medal for three disciplines (speed, bouldering, and lead) this time. I think that it means it has a better chance to be watched and it rewards people with a large skill set. Hopefully in later games they will offer individual events, too. 

What’s it going to take to win?

Someone who is open-minded and  willing to try something they are probably not comfortable at. Look at Adam Ondra. He is jumping into speed to try and win. In my past competitive experience, someone talented and gifted in regular climbing won’t finish last on the speed route, they will do OK there, but someone who has only trained for speed may struggle in the other two disciplines.

Is there anything you would change about the format, which includes speed, bouldering and lead events?

I would switch the speed route up. I don’t like that it is always the same (the same speed climbing route has been used since 2007). That’s not what climbing is about. Climbing is about overcoming whatever obstacle is in your way, not just running the same route over and over.

Do you worry that the games will mean more crowds at the crags?

I love climbing and I think it should not be a secret, I want to see the sport spread. I manage a climbing gym and I can tell you that probably 90% of my patrons will never become outdoor climbers. It’s just too uncomfortable for them. But the ones that do head outdoors will help us in stewardship and advocacy. Is that bad?

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