Olympic Arcana: Boulder Native Brooke Raboutou Set To Rock Tokyo in Sport’s Debut


Among the events making its debut at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics is sport climbing. Unfortunately, climbers will not be rappelling from Mount Fuji’s spectacular peaks and crevices. Instead, they will ascend synthetic, indoor rock walls akin to what you’d find at REI or in a converted warehouse in a gentrifying neighborhood.

But at least you can bet on it! To be sure, setting sports betting odds on a relatively obscure discipline is no meager task — but it’s one that DraftKings’ oddsmakers are up to, according to DraftKings sportsbook director Johnny Avello.

When attempting to discern the more competitive climbers from their lesser counterparts, handicappers have been “educating themselves,” said Avello, who added, “These are not sports we do on a daily basis. The process started back a ways. One thing about oddsmakers is you give them the project and you give them the data and they can make odds on anything.”

And “anything” now includes Olympic sport climbing.

How it’s played

Sport climbing features three separate competitions — speed climbing, bouldering, and lead climbing — with scores combined to award one set of medals to each gender. As TIME notes, speed climbing, where competitors race up a 15-meter wall, “will be the quickest sprint in the Games.” To wit, the men’s world record is 5.2 seconds and the women’s best mark is a shade under seven seconds.

In bouldering, climbers have four minutes to complete as many routes as they can on a shorter wall — without a rope or harness. This equipment is available to participants in lead climbing, where competitors aim to climb as high as they can on a 15-meter wall within a prescribed time span.

So how is it scored? As Team USA climber Kyra Condie told TIME, “Each discipline is scored within itself. And then you get a rank. So say I win bouldering, win lead, and get 10th in speed. Then those are my three ranks. And they multiply the three ranks together. So I’d have a one times a one times a 10, and would have 10 points.”

Hence, the lower the score, the better.

Who could win

On the women’s side, DraftKings has installed Janja Garnbret of Slovenia as a heavy favorite, with odds of -285 to win gold. Condie is listed as something of a longshot at +8000, while her teammate, 20-year-old Brooke Raboutou, is picked to finish fifth at gold-medal odds of +2800.

Raboutou — who, fittingly, hails from Boulder (Colo.) — has been climbing since she could walk. Her parents were both pro rock climbers, and she’s got the sort of fresh, spunky personality that’s capable of converting casual observers into big-time fans. This dynamic could result in surprisingly aggressive wagering on the American duo, said Avello.

“At the fifth choice at 28/1, this is the kind of participant that can draw money,” he said of Raboutou, adding that he feels Condie could attract action as well. “People will want to take a chance on the American at 28/1 and there are people who do follow this who maybe think that there’s value there.”

Tomoa Narasaki of Japan is a +125 favorite to win gold on the men’s side, where he’ll receive stern competition from the highly regarded Czech climber Adam Ondra (+225). Nathaniel Coleman is the Americans’ lone hope at +10000, while Christopher Cosser of South Africa is the longest shot at +25000. Maybe he should take up “Sailing” instead.

When the finals are

The men’s final will commence on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. Tokyo time, while the women’s final will start at the same time of day Friday.

Mike Seely has written about horse racing for The Daily Racing Form and America’s Best Racing, and has contributed pieces on a multitude of topics to The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, among other publications. He can be reached on Twitter (@mdseely) or via email at mseely@bettercollective.com.

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