5 Talking Points from Sport Climbing at the Olympics – Qualifiers

I’ve really enjoyed watching the qualifying events for the Sport Climbing at the Olympics. It’s thrown up a few things, and the finals are going to be interesting. You can watch them on Eurosport or Discovery+ from 9am BST on Thursday 5th (men) and Friday 6th August (women).

As a starter, here’s a video to help if you’re not sure of the format:

Here are 5 talking points to draw from the event so far.

1. The Results

The finalists didn’t throw up any big surprises, but the nature of the combined event does create some strange results. First up here are the tables from qualifying, qualifiers for the final highlighted in green.

Women’s Olympic Sport Climbing Qualifier
Men’s Olympic Sport Climbing Qualifier

No major shocks, but a surprise to see Mickael Mawem topping the leaderboard after a dominant display in the bouldering. Alex Megos would have hoped to qualify for the final, and would have done if he had beaten Nathaniel Coleman in the Lead round.

2. Strange Injury Consequences

After winning the speed event in impressive fashion, France’s Bassa Mawem struggled in the bouldering. A win in one event is usually enough to qualify for the final though. However, disaster struck at the start of the lead route, with Mawem injuring his bicep and subsequently withdrawing from the event.

Mawem qualified for the final anyway, and it was initially uncertain what the outcome of his withdrawal would be. That result is a Bye for his opponent in the speed finals, which are a knockout event. This means that Adam Ondra will place at least 4th in speed, a massive improvement from his likely 8th place.

I was a little surprised at the very basic approach to dealing with this problem. I ran some mathematical scenarios a few months ago to see what the impact of the Speed event being a knockout could be. The rounds are over so quickly that a single footslip is often enough to lose, and whether you slip in the first, second or third round makes a difference to your score, but also that of you direct opponent. This creates an advantage for some climbers over others, which isn’t the case in Lead and Bouldering.

My conclusion was that while this will probably happen, the effect is often small and wouldn’t have created a big problem in any of the qualifiers prior to the Olympics. I hadn’t thought of this scenario, where a competitor doesn’t even make it to the start line.

If speed were an event on its own this Bye wouldn’t be a big problem, but the effect it has on Ondra’s final placing likely means his score is halved before he’s even started. The good news is that Tomoa Narasaki might get the same effect, since he will probably win the speed round now.

It would make more sense to me to reseed the climbers, so that the top seed gets the benefit, since this would seem to have the least effect on the field overall. As it is Ondra has benefitted from his poor performance in the speed event.

3. Brutal Maths

If you’ve been listening to the commentary on the event you’ll probably already be riled up, but one thing that might have bypassed you, is their bad maths. It’s really difficult to predict the results due to the ranks being multiplied, and the maths is a little counter-intuitive.

In both the men’s and women’s events the commentators were frequently confused about who was already through, but they were often basing this on the logic used in other sports: If the top 8 qualify, and you’re in 1st with 7 to go, then you must be through, right?

Nope. Because of the multiplier effect, changing rank in an event has a different consequence for everyone. It can result in swapping places with another climber, based on someone else’s result. This feels unsatisfying, which I think is a quirk of tricky mental arithmetic and the way the event finishes, rather than an inherent problem in the scoring. The format is pretty terrible anyway, but the scoring isn’t a big reason for that.

In the women’s qualifier the maths played out in brutal fashion. Janja Garnbret was the last climber. Here are the scores as she set off – you’ll note that she has actually already qualified, she could just untie and walk away, although she probably doesn’t know this (and it’s not very sporting).

The scores after Garnbret passed Miroslaw and Jaubert’s highpoints.

As Garnbret climbed she passed people’s highpoints, bumping them down a rank. This didn’t make a lot of difference until her final move. That move placed her one hold ahead of Meshkova, and was enough to drop Meshkova out of the top 8 and bring Jaubert in. So not only is a third part affecting the result, it’s doing so with the final qualifying place on the final hold they reached and moving them from 7th to 9th in a split second. How close can you get?

The score as Garnbret hit hold 30, where her run finished.

4. Shauna Coxsey’s Last Competition

It was a shame for Shauna Coxsey not to make the final, but it was a predictable outcome after some injury probles this year. She put in a creditable performance in bouldering, coming 4th, and a steady run in the lead. She came 10th overall, and while that sounds close to the top 8, she would have needed to place 6th in the Lead round to qualify. She placed 13th.

No medal, but a performance she can be happy with and a fitting experience to end a very successful competition career.

Hopefully we can all line up to belay or spot her on future projects.

5. Speed Finalists

The men’s final doesn’t really have any speed specialists, per se, especially with Bassa Mawem out, but several climber’s are pretty handy.

In the women’s we have 2 – this is interesting because it actually has the effect of devaluing the speed event slightly, in ranking terms. The two specialists will likely take the top 2 spots, which is actually quite useful for the rest of the field who will outperform them in both of the other disciplines.

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