Tokyo Olympics

SA sport climbers set for Olympic first

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Christopher Cosser, Erin Sterkenburg (supplied)
Christopher Cosser, Erin Sterkenburg (supplied)

The Tokyo Olympics have seen a host of sports added to the Games for the first time ever.

These include surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing.

It's in the latter event that two young South Africans, Christopher Cosser (20) and Erin Sterkenburg (18) will be competing with the best in the world on Tuesday.

Cosser is the most experienced of the two and has been competing in the sport since 2013.

Sterkenburg has four years experience and both qualified for the Games during the Africa Cup held in Cape Town at the end of 2020.

Cosser says that the social aspect of climbing is something he loves about the sport.

“It has a physical aspect to it, but for me, the most prominent thing is the community behind it. It is the social aspect, you have such a connected community of people coming together and engaging physically with their bodies, coming together, socialising outdoors and pushing their body to the physical limits to climb a piece of rock.”

When asked about the importance of South Africans taking part in the debut of the sport at the Olympics, Sterkenburg said that the biggest benefit would be the exposure sports climbing receives.

“I think that it will definitely help towards the progression in South Africa. Hopefully, the community will grow as many new people will want to start climbing.”

The sport is not new to South Africa, with competitive climbing having taken place in the country since the 1990s but it was only in 2010 that the South African National Climbing Federation (SANCF) was formed.

Through that body, South Africa became an International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) affiliate which allowed for sport climbers from the country to compete in international competitions.

How will the climbing competition work at the Tokyo Olympics?

The field for the sports climbing competition consists of 20 male and 20 female competitors. 

They will take part in three separate climbing disciplines for a single set of medals.

These three disciplines are speed climbing, bouldering and sport (lead) climbing.

Speed climbing will be contested in one-on-one heats under a bracket tournament structure, with men at the top end of the field getting to the top of the wall under 6 seconds and top end women doing so in under 8 seconds.

In the boulder portion, competitors will each get four minutes to reach the top of each boulder in a set of four climbs.

The lead climbing portion offers the easiest scoring structure, the competitor who reaches the highest "hold" on the wall will get the most points and win the discipline.

The overall standing will be determined by multiplying the competitors’ placement in each event and the competitor with the lowest score wins. 

Cosser and Sterkenburg will be looking to be at their best when the competition gets underway on Tuesday from 10:00 (SA time). 

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