Charting the Course of Tokyo’s Climbing Walls


Women remain a minority in setting, despite growing numbers of female climbers. Male setters can struggle to grasp morphological difference — everything from height discrepancy to finger size, strength, power and flexibility.

The inverse is true, and frustrating, for female setters.

“I balance being unable to accurately test some men’s climbs I set with improving the women’s,” Katja Vidmar, a Slovenian setter, said.

Vidmar is one of three ratified female international setters, and the only one selected to work the Tokyo course. She had to withdraw, leaving a field made up entirely of male setters in Tokyo. “Women move, think and set differently,” she said. “I’m happy that scenes are slowly changing.”

Teams have occasionally set the bar too low, or impossibly high, for women.

Athletes have mere minutes to get inside the setters’ heads and apply their own ideas to what’s above. “Understanding the setters’ thought processes is incredibly important when figuring out movements,” Condie said.

The goal is to stagger hurdles up each climb, aiming for the ideal of one “top” per climb and separating the field. Multiple tops are boring, as is every athlete falling at the same point. Both situations can result in ties.

The most challenging section of a climb is called the crux. In Tokyo, a team of seven setters will tackle the crux of their careers, creating 18 climbs over five days for 40 athletes.

“The athletes have had an extra year of training, but few competitions,” Bishton said. “No one’s ever guessed correctly. Maybe it’s the attraction of the job, or what makes it so terrifying, that you don’t know if you’ve got it right until D-Day.”

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