How to Understand USA Climbing Scores: Onsight Sport Edition

How to Understand USA Climbing Scores: Onsight Sport Edition

Summary

For onsight sport climbing events, USA Climbing (USAC) uses a ranking point system for scoring. This system effectively identifies the hardest climbs and weights the scores of those who do well on those routes. If a climb is easier, it also effectively downgrades the scores for that route. This does a good job of separating the field and rewarding the best climbers of the day. 

If you're interested in the details, read on.

Detailed Explanation

What do the numbers on the live "Results" page mean? And why do they keep changing throughout the competition?

 Sample results for the top 8 climbers from Sport Regionals

Sample results for the top 8 climbers from Sport Regionals

On the main competition results page, the first column of ranking points show the climber's overall standing in the competition.  The lower the ranking points, the better the climber's placement. The numbers in the other columns are the climber's rankings on each of the routes relative to the other climbers.

Ranking point "1" on a climb means that the climber currently holds the highest score (high point) on that climb. The rankings change throughout the competition, as more and more competitors climb the routes. If climbers receive the same raw score on a climb, they share the ranking points between them, as is the case pictured above. (If you want to see the math behind that, scroll down.)

Where are the actual scores? How are the raw scores determined?

Click "View" in the Scores column of the main results page to see the raw scores of an individual climber. 

Climbers are scored according to a numbered route map. They receive the point value of the highest handhold they control (generally, one point per handhold). 0.3 of a point is given for positive movement toward the next hold. 0.5 of a point is awarded for touching usable surface on the next hold. In lead climbing, competitors also receive 0.01 for every quickdraw clipped. See the USAC video for a more thorough visual demonstration. (Scroll down to the bottom of the Rules page. In the Sport Climbing Rules video, the scoring section starts around the 8 minute mark.)

 An individual climber's score card from Sport Regionals.

An individual climber's score card from Sport Regionals.

Why don't they just use the raw score? What's with the ranking points?

Using ranking points effectively weights the scores according to the difficulty of the climb, instead of simply counting the number of moves. The raw score correlates with the number of successful movements on a climb. However, the number of movements does not necessarily reflect the difficulty of the route.

See the example pictured above: The climber's raw score is 40 for the first route - the score for topping the route. However, the ranking points are 4.5, not 1, because of being tied with seven other climbers. During this competition, a raw score of 39 on the first route actually resulted in 9 ranking points, not 2 ranking points, since eight climbers tied for first place by topping the climb.

On the third route, the competitor above got the sixth highest raw score (33.5), and he received 6 ranking points. His raw score of 33.5 on Route #3 received better ranking points (6) than a raw score of 39 on Route #1 (9). Why? Because the ranking point system takes into account that fewer climbers were able to get as high up the third route, the most difficult climb of the round.

The USAC scoring system, although a bit opaque, does a fair job of rewarding climbers for progress on more difficult climbs, as determined by the relative performance of the climbers in the whole field.

Now for the math, for those of you who are wondering...

How are the ranking points calculated per route?

If there are no ties, the competitor simply receives points equal to their ranking. If there is a tie, all of the tied competitors receive points equal to their average ranking. In the example above, there is an 8-way tie for first place on the first route. So the average ranking is (1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8)/8 = 36/8= 4.5.

How are the overall ranking points calculated? (Better get out your scientific calculator!)

Here is the formula, as printed in the USAC Climbing Rulebook:

 From the 2017-2018 USAC Climbing Rulebook.

From the 2017-2018 USAC Climbing Rulebook.

We looked this up and stared at it for awhile until we realized that "n" is the number of routes. So for a 2-route competition, do this: Multiply your two ranking point scores together. Then take the square root of that. There you have it: your overall ranking points (TP). For 3 routes, multiply your three ranking point scores. Then take the cube root of that. Got it? :) Phew, aren't you glad we have electronic scoring?

What do you think of the ranking point system? How do you think it compares to other scoring systems? Let us know in the comments!

 

For more about onsight competitions, see:

Onsight vs. Redpoint Competitions

Iso: What It Is and How to Survive It

A Parents' Guide to Onsight Comps

Banner photo by Phoebe Yun.

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