Guide to the World Cup Climbing Series


Next scheduled World Cup competition, June 1-2 in Toronto

From groundbreaking sends, to changes in crag access, to international climbing competitions, we do our best to keep up with the latest climbing news and events. However, while covering climbing news over the past few months, I’ve come across one competition series that completely baffles me: the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) World Cup series. For example, why does it seem like there’s a World Cup every weekend? And how can there be more than one World Cup in the first place? Who gets to compete? Why aren’t we seeing more American women in the mix? And what the heck do the ‘t’s’ and ‘b’s’ mean?

So here goes my attempt at deciphering the 97 page handbook

Competition Structure: There are 3 disciplines – Lead, Boulder, and Speed. According to me, people seem to really care about the first two and the last is just for boulderers and lead climbers to make a little extra cash. For each discipline there’s a maximum of 8 World Cup competitions per year. That means 24 competitions a year, and while sometimes they’ll hold two disciplines at the same event, it still means that there are A LOT of World Cup events each year. (“So you won the World Cup?” “Oh ya, me too. Nbd.”) Hence, the “another World Cup comp?” sensation you might be feeling. For Lead and Boulder competitions, there are 3 rounds of competition – Qualification, Semi-Final, and Final, while Speed competitions just have Qualification and Final rounds. Competitors must be at least 16 years old and members of a national climbing federation (USA Climbing, for example).


Podium finishers at the Boulder World Cup in Log-Dragomer, Slovenia (May 11-12, 2013)

Scoring: Getting to the bottom of those dang ‘t’s’ and ‘b’s’…

       Lead: Competitors have 6 minutes to complete a single route. Any competitor who successfully completes the route receives the scoring designation of TOP, while scores for competitors who do not reach the top within 6 minutes or fall are determined by the furthest hold held by the climber. In the event of a tie, the ranking from previous rounds of competition is used to break the tie. If still tied, the climbing  time for each competitor breaks the tie (lower times are better). These tie breaker rules certainly affect the climbers strategy and approach to the competition.

       Boulder: Get ready, this one’s a doozy. In the Final round, competitors attempt a course of 4 boulder problems and have 4 minutes on each problem. There are 4 values that matter in scoring:

  • Tops:  number of boulder problems (out of 4) that the climber completes successfully.
  • Top-Attempts: total number of attempts taken to achieve those “Tops”.
  • Bonus Points: each boulder problem has a “bonus hold” within the problem, which should be clearly marked. If the competitor reaches and controls the bonus hold they receive a “Bouns Point”.
  • Bonus Attempts: total number of attempts the climber takes to reach the bonus hold.

If a climber takes 7 attempts to achieve 4 tops, it’s denoted as “4t7”.  Likewise, if a climber takes 10 attempts to achieve 3 bonus points, it’s denoted as “3b10”. If there’s a crazy good climber who flashes all the problems, their score would be “4t4, 4b4”. Hopefully I haven’t confused you yet… because we’re just getting warmed up! Climbers are ranked by their scores in the following order: 1. Tops  2. Top-Attempts 3. Bonus Points 4. Bonus-Attempts. Let’s say Cate, Missy, and I compete at the World Cup (look for us on April 1st, 2014!) and we earn the following scores:

Cate: 3t7, 4b8
Missy: 4t6, 4b6
Mary (that’s me): 3t7, 3b9

Of the 3 of us, Missy places 1st because she has the most Tops. Cate and I have the same number of Tops and Top-Attempts but she earned more Bonus Points than me so she places 2nd and I come in 3rd.

       Speed: Ahhh, finally an easy one.  Shortest time to the top wins.  If only they could all be that simple.

Ranking: Since t’s and b’s don’t easily translate to rank, at the end of each World Cup competition the top 30 competitors are awarded “Ranking Points”. They go like this:
Picture 4

At the end of the series for a given discipline each competitors “Ranking Points” are summed to have an overall ranking for the series. But of course the IFSC threw in some stipulations:

1. When five (5) or less competitions are organized, all results shall count.
2. When six (6) or more competitions are organized, the number of counting results will be the number of competitions less one (1). If a competitor has competed in more competitions than the number of counting results, the competitors’ ‘worst’ result shall be discarded in calculating their World Cup Ranking.

Thus, it is in the competitors best interest to compete in as many World Cup comps as possible if their goal is to have the best overall ranking. This is a huge yearly travel commitment and expense for the climbers. Perhaps this is why we aren’t seeing more Americans in the mix?

Keeping up With the Comp(dashians): If all of this is still too confusing, or you just want to watch Alex Puccio CRUSH at the next World Cup, you can find competition schedules, current rankings, recap videos, and live-streams of the competitions at the IFSC website. And here’s a recap video from the World Cup comp in Innsbruck, Austria from 2013:

The more I read the IFSC handbook, the more I wanted to run for cover and just assume the rules for King of the Hill applied. Let us know what else you might want to know about the mysterious world of the IFSC World Cup series and if I’m feeling extra bored, I’ll translate their 97 page handbook for you!
Climb on!

(Info and photo credits:, IFSC Handbook,

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10 thoughts on “Guide to the World Cup Climbing Series

  1. Bieber4lyfe! says:

    I love this post! The world cup is super fun to geek out on, and I watch the highlights almost as much as I watch Bieber’s music videos (4 eva!). But honestly, the world up circuit seems to matter only to the people who compete in it. You’re tots right on – it’s such complicated mess… People in the mess like to think that they can get mainstream recognition, marketing, olympic positioning, and commercial value, but it’s nothing more than an arcane offshoot of an obscure sport. Srsly, I think it’s gone so far as to not even represent what climbing really is – and how is that marketable? Think about it; would you be more likely to buy climbing pants because Jain Kim wore them in Chongquing, or if Daila rocked them when she sends 9a in the next Reel Rock tour? Pwned.

  2. Hanna Waswa says:

    I love livestreaming the bouldering events (although I started only watching the highlights, it ended up just not being enough), and with my Canadian Sean McColl crushing it in Log-Dragomer this year, I’m pretty psyched to be watching them. It’s different from anything outdoors, for sure, but absolutely entertaining.

  3. V10Princess!!!! says:

    Bieber4lyfe is just being a batch cuz she has never qualified for a finals round in a comp. Like, 0T100, 0B100. SNAP!

    • missy says:

      Now now V10Princess!!!! There will be no name calling on Crux Crush, even name-calling amongst alter-egos is discouraged. Keep it classy ladies!!!

  4. Marie says:

    Great post!
    What confuses me is who gets invites and how they get them. I guess my question may be U.S.-centric, because I’m not sure if other countries do it differently, but in terms of the Toronto World Cup this weekend, I was surprised to see that one of the few U.S. ladies for our country is a climber who, while often competing at the national level, is rarely in finals and doesn’t have the credentials that, say, the Alexes, Angie, Sasha, or Meaghan (or many others) have.

    • Mary says:

      Marie – I don’t totally get this either. I don’t think it’s an “invite” thing, meaning that I think the Alexes, Angies, and Sashas can certainly compete, but they’re choosing not to. I’m not sure if it’s a traveling issue or if they don’t think it’s worth the monetary output. Next time we talk to one of these top climbers, we’ll be sure to ask.
      Thanks for reading! Glad you liked the post!

      • tim hatch says:

        There are no invites. The national federations decide their representation. How each nation goes about this vary – the French for example base their team selection at the start of the year on the results of the French National Championship and a second “Selection Competition”.

  5. […] Guide to the World Cup Climbing Series ( […]

  6. Stefan Cool says:

    1st Place Anna Stöhr 2 dn Shauna Coxsey 3rr Place was Japan in Baku

  7. bee says:

    i love watching the world cups!!!

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