A few disciplines will be seen at a major multi-sport event for the first time during the upcoming Asian Games. Sport climbing, one of those disciplines, has a fascinating history, especially in the Indian context. It’s birth, in a roundabout way, can be traced back to the Kargil War. The Indian army faced problems in reclaiming its high altitude posts thanks to infiltrators. The reason behind the army’s struggles was simple. The jawans had difficulty scaling the mountains. This made the army look at giving its soldiers training in the art of mountain warfare.
This resulted in the formation of the Kargil Battle School (KBS) in 2000. It came equipped with tools to help soldiers prepare for battle, including climbing walls, boulders and so on. In the months and years after Kargil, the concept of wall climbing spread. The Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) decided to replicate those walls but in and around cities to attract youngsters. With sport climbing catching on big time in other parts of the world, they reckoned they were on to something. That was how sport climbing entered the living rooms of the Indian youth.
“As far as Kargil is concerned, the army felt the need to promote the sport because they felt it could be useful to the army as well,” India’s coach for the three-member team at the Asian Games, Amit Sharma, said. “Earlier, civilians were more used to going out of city limits for rock climbing. Sport climbing made it easy for the people to climb within the city.” The sport, which has had nationals in the country since 1996, will be making its Olympic debut in Tokyo and India are obviously keen to develop as many talents are possible in a short timeframe. In Palembang, the nation will be represented by Maibam Chingkheinganba, Bharath Pereira and Shreya Nankar.
All three of them will compete in speed climbing — the sport’s T20 version — and Sharma explained the difference between this and its other forms, lead climbing and bouldering. “Speed climbing depends on how fast you can scale a 15m high wall,” Sharma explained. “It is in the timed category, with two lanes on one wall and two climbers competing against each other. While the world record in this category stands at 5.48 seconds, the Indian record is around 7.2.
“In lead climbing, the athlete has to climb the minimum 12m and maximum 22m. It is a route spread out on the wall making the climb difficult. To state the bleeding obvious, the farther one climbs up the wall in the limited period (six minutes), more points he/she scores. “A bouldering wall is only 4.5m tall with crash pads placed at the bottom. The athletes, without any rope support, attempt to climb this wall. This is the toughest category. At some places, all you have is one arm to pull yourself up and at some places you have to even jump and hold on to the closest available grip.” Think Tom Cruise in the opening sequence of Mission Impossible II. If the Indians are to come back with a medal or two, they will have to channel their inner Cruise. And climb faster than he did in Mission Impossible II.