Gone in seven seconds: 'Spiderwoman' breaks women's climbing speed record

Gabriel Baumgaertner

Despite nagging hand and finger injuries, Indonesia’s Aries Susanti Rahayu broke the women’s speed climbing world record at this weekend’s IFSC Climbing World Cup in Xiamen, China. Rahayu’s 6.995 seconds eclipsed the record set by her challenger – China’s Song Yiling – who finished the 15-meter course in 7.101 seconds in April.

So what is speed climbing exactly? And how difficult was Rayahu’s accomplishment?

Speed climbing is one of the three disciplines of the climbing event that will debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Think of it as a climbing triathlon: competitors will be graded on their combined results of speed climbing (a timed race between two athletes on a 15-meter wall), bouldering (a graded course with multiple routes of varying difficulty to be completed in four minutes) and lead climbing (how high a climber can go in six minutes).

Rahayu is a speed climbing specialist. Dubbed “Spiderwoman” after a standout 2018 performance, the 24-year-old star was the lone Indonesian athlete to appear on Forbes Asia’s “30 Under 30” list and will likely compete for gold next summer in Tokyo.

Critics of speed climbing inclusion cite its lack of focus on technique and concentration; but the winner of any race will have identified the wall’s tightest angles and secured their feet and hands on the holds without slipping, all while going as quickly as possible. Notice that Rayahu’s opponent – the former world record holder Yiling – slips at the beginning of the race and still completes the course in under 10 seconds.

To process how quickly Rahayu reached the top of the wall, she averaged a speed of roughly 7.71 km/h over 15 meters. That’s the equivalent of running a 5K in 39 minutes – while doing pull-ups. Rahayu managed to keep that pace while running up a wall that looks like this.

Pretty impressive, right?