Speed climbing went viral in 1997 when Dan Osman mesmerized viewers with his exhilarating 4-minute, 25-second free climb of Yosemite’s iconic Lovers’ Leap in the 1997 film, Masters of Stone IV. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a quick glance, if only for Osman’s heart-stopping double dyno (a lunge with both hands) halfway up the 400-foot rock face…with no safety rope.
Since then, the sport has only risen in popularity, culminating in its inaugural inclusion in the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Let’s take a look at the evolution of the sport, and what we can expect to see in this gripping event.
While the Osman speed climb took place outdoors, the sport has turned indoors to facilitate standardized competition. In this vein, the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) created a 15-meter (49.2-foot) wall overhanging 5 degrees, with identical routes set next to each other so climbers can race up the wall in head-to-head matchups.
This has become the standard format for speed climbing competitions, and it is the same format that will be used in the upcoming Olympics, which will include speed climbing (along with bouldering and lead climbing) as part of a three-category “Sport Climbing” event.
So how fast are climbers able to scale these five-story walls?
On September 15, 2023, Aleksandra Miroslaw assumed the title of world’s fastest vertical woman when she finished the 15-meter climb in 6.24 seconds at the IFSC European Championships. Veddriq Leonardo holds the crown for world’s fastest vertical man with his record of 4.90 seconds set at the 2023 IFSC World Cup in Seoul.
Of course, speed climbing is not limited to this indoor format. Climbers around the world continue Osman’s bold legacy of free climbing for speed on natural rock formations. Alex Honnold, climbing prodigy and subject of the acclaimed documentary Free Solo, paid tribute to Osman by performing the same ascent up Lovers’ Leap nearly 20 years later.
His time? Four minutes, 15 seconds; 10 seconds faster than Osman, and a new world record. Boom.