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Sex Differences in Sport Climbing
The female category must be protected
For the past few years, I have been obsessed with sport climbing. I watch every world cup in all three disciplines (boulder, lead, and speed) and I stayed up all night to watch the sport's Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020.
I also love going bouldering myself, both indoors and out!
I must confess that I am laughably bad for someone who has been doing it for a few years. The average teenage boy could probably go to a climbing gym for the first time and perform better than I do. In fact, I have seen it happen. But I don't care. It is my favorite way to stay active, and I try to go as often as I can (which is nowhere near often enough).
While I am not a great example of a female climber, there are some truly amazing women who take part in the sport. One of the great things about climbing is that the men’s and women’s categories are given equal importance, which has provided some truly incredible female athletes a chance to shine. I get to watch two versions of my favorite sport every time a competition takes place!
But the thing is, if there was not a separate female category or if the female category was overrun with men “identifying” as women, we might not even know the names of these women.
(As an aside, the International Federation of Sport Climbing policy statement on gender identity and transsexuality does, unfortunately, leave room for men to identify their way into the female category. This has yet to cause problems at the world cup level but I do worry and wonder if it is causing issues for young, up-and-coming climbers.)
If we did not have a women’s category, then an incredible athlete like lead climber and boulderer Janja Garnbret would have never had her chance to shine. Likely, she would have been put off from trying the sport in the first place. Or maybe, in an alternate universe where she was forced to compete with men, she’d be known as the top-ranking female, but it would not come with the same accolades and opportunities, and she would not have won the sport’s very first gold medal.
This would be an abject state of affairs. An athlete as talented and dedicated as Garnbret deserves her chance to shine fairly against other women and to compete against other female bodies. We want to see who the best male and the best female climbers are. Forcing women to compete with men, whether by not having a female category or by letting men into the female category, would be as heartless as forcing men to climb against chimpanzees and extolling them to train or try harder if they lose.
To get an idea of just what a revelation Garnbret has been for the sport, check out this video:
If one of the top male climbers in the world identified as female and started winning competitions against Janja, it would be unthinkably cruel to tell this incredibly hardworking athlete to simply try harder. And yet, that’s exactly what people who champion men in women’s sports say.
Let’s move over to the discipline of speed climbing—the sprinting competition of the climbing world. Here, the differences between men and women are even more stark.
In competition speed climbing, the goal is to race up the 15-meter wall as quickly as you can. Unlike in lead and boulder, men and women compete on exactly the same wall. The men’s world record, currently held by Veddriq Leonardo, is 4.90 seconds. The women’s world record, currently held and consistently re-broken by Aleksandra (Ola) Mirosław, is 6.25 seconds.
You can see Mirosław’s latest record time, with which she won a gold medal, starting at the 1:02:28 mark below.
Mirosław is a force of nature, and her competition record is unparalleled. She has made every single world cup final she has participated in since 2013, and she has won gold at every single world cup she has participated in since 2019.
To understand how remarkable this is, you must understand just how much can go wrong in speed climbing. Even the very best in the world can slip or false start once in a while. Speed climbing is often more about consistency than even about having the very fastest time in the competition.
Like Garnbret, Mirosław would have never had a chance to shine, to win, and to make a career out of climbing without the existence of a female category.
I hope that these amazing women and the women who will come after them never have to face the abuse of going up against a man that they are told they must accept as a woman, as so many women in other sports have already had to do. Women’s cycling in particular is a great example of this madness.
Many of these modern sports, like sport climbing, skateboarding, and snowboarding, seem to me to be quite woke and progressive. I shudder to think about what may be going on at lower levels of the sport and which future Garnbrets and Mirosławs are opting out of participation due to such gaslighting and abuse.
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