The Olympic Torch Relay was set to arrive at Tokyo's New National Stadium in just about two months, marking the beginning of the 22nd modern Olympic Games. Instead, due to the global pandemic, the torch is now in Iwasaki, Japan, where it will wait for a whole year.
Two adventure sports disciplines, surfing and climbing, will make their debut at the upcoming Olympics, now scheduled for July 2021. The federations and the IOC worked long and hard on choosing new competition formats fit for a global audience. Here’s what they came up with.
Surfing returns to the ocean
Some say that the push to include surfing in the Olympics has a hundred-year history. More recently, it was assumed that the inclusion would require huge technological advances in surf park and wave pool technology. In the early 2000s, when the Seagaia Ocean Dome in Japan started producing world-class waves, it gave hope to the International Surfing Association that the sport might ascend to Olympic glory. However, due to high operating costs, Seagaia was forced to close and manmade waves were once again out of reach.
While huge costs were never a deterrent to any national Olympic committee willing to take on the Games, over the last years it became apparent that for both the surfing community and the audiences, the sport’s allure is strongly tied to the ocean.
In the end, even the inauguration of the Kelly Slater Surf Ranch wasn’t enough to abandon nature in favor of artifice. The first surfing Olympians will compete on the breathtaking Tsurigasaki Beach, some sixty miles southeast of Tokyo. Although the competition is planned for four days, eight days are allocated in case poor weather calls for a change.
The Olympic format will involve a four-person heat structure with judges giving points for speed, power, and flow.
Climbing at new heights
With a hugely diverse history, climbing has evolved into many subdisciplines, from Himalayan mountaineering to bouldering. Indoor climbing competitions reflect that diversity and athletes traditionally trained to excel in one of three disciplines: lead climbing, speed climbing or bouldering.
Over the last two decades, competitive climbing went from being an oddity to a worldwide sensation. The extremely popular World Cup series established it as a well-developed sport, ripe for Olympic inclusion.
The International Federation of Sport Climbing envisaged the inclusion to involve three medals - one for the winner in each of climbing’s distinctive disciplines. As the IOC was prepared to give out only one, climbing officials had no choice but to devise a completely new competitive format.
The sport’s Olympic debut will see a climbing triathlon of sorts with athletes competing in three disciplines. The combined score from lead climbing, speed climbing, and bouldering will reveal climbing’s first Olympic champions.
The new format caused much controversy, especially among athletes themselves. Among many others, Adam Ondra, widely recognized as the best climber in the world, openly criticized the official’s decision. It was frequently pointed out that requiring climbers to compete in all three disciplines is akin to pitching short and long-distance runners against one another in both the sprint and the marathon.
However, despite the initial upset, even Ondra has come to terms with the new format, and he is now among forty climbers from all over the world who qualified to compete in Tokyo.
For all athletes and first time Olympians in particular, the one-year delay means another twelve months of hard work and pressure. One thing is certain—the upcoming Olympics will be the most emotional ever.