Sport climbing takes on new impetus with its Olympic debut

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The popularity of sport climbing has increased in recent years as more and more mountaineers climb walls indoors and outdoors.

Sport, like almost everything else, lost its foothold a bit during the pandemic, but most indicators show it is on track to return to record numbers from 2019.

The inclusion of rock climbing in the Olympics for the first time has also given the sport a boost.

“We definitely saw some growth and just a spike in interest in the sport after the Olympics,” said Charlotte Bosley, Marketing Director for El Cap Climbing Gym. “It really speaks to the idea of ​​people getting exposed to a sport and really trying to figure out how they can learn more of it.”

Sport climbing was one of four new sports added to the Olympic program for the Tokyo Games this summer, along with skateboarding, surfing and karate.

The preparation for the Olympics gave sport climbing a boost, especially with print media keen to explain new sports. The visuals in Tokyo were also excellent: athletes hanging from fingertips, jumping, sometimes hanging upside down on multi-colored holds on walls reaching over 15 meters.

The United States was one of two countries to have three climbers qualified for the final, with Nathaniel Coleman taking home silver.

The only problem: rock climbing hasn’t had prime time exposure like some of the other sports. Climbing shows were generally broadcast at off-peak hours or as part of prime-time flagship packages.

“It was a little disappointing,” said Marc Norman, CEO of USA Climbing. “Before the Olympics I shared with a lot of gym owners, hey we’ll see that increase. Sports see it all the time. But I think with NBC’s less than ideal number outside the Games for a wide variety of reasons, we see that playing out in a lower number of people than escalating in the Games.

Despite this, inclusion in the Olympics has given a boost to a sport that has skyrocketed in popularity as indoor climbing halls popped up across the country.

Potential climbers no longer had to stock up on gear and travel to remote areas to try the sport. All that has been needed in recent years is what is often a short drive to a climbing gym, a quick step and a click in a harness, and off you go.

Indoor climbing has grown into a $ 500 million industry with nearly 600 gyms spread across the United States, according to the 2021 IBIS Indoor Climbing Walls market study. The net number of climbing gyms in the United States increased 5.21% in 2019, but industry revenues fell about 25.8% in 2020 as people were forced to return to indoors due to COVID-19.

As people started to venture out of their homes again, climbing gyms started to see an increase in interest again.

USA Climbing, which oversees the U.S. Olympic team, has seen its membership drop by almost half to around 7,500 in 2020, but has seen an increase of almost 50% so far this year.

“It’s too early to see if we’ll return to 2019 levels, but we’re optimistic and so far it’s looking good,” Norman said. “So the question is, to what extent is this motivated by the Olympics? Granted, it didn’t hurt.

Certainly not in El Cap.

The company, which has 16 climbing gyms across the country, saw an increase in visits throughout the summer, 10% of which was just in July, when the Olympics began. His website traffic increased 45% in the week of the Olympic rock climbing debut and there was a 100% increase in online interactions.

El Cap’s equipment stores are also surpassing 2019 sales figures, especially in shoes and harnesses, indicating new climbers are preparing.

“Sport climbing at the Olympics and featured at the July Olympics, we’ve certainly seen a lot more interest in rock climbing,” Bosley said. “People are just intrigued by the community this sport brings. “

And to advance the sport with them.

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PA researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this story.

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