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Lopez Wins First Ever Olympic Gold In Sport Climbing, Big Upset

In a surprise lead finish the young Spanish climber took the gold while Ondra finished out of the medals.

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At the bottom of this recap is a list of the lead results, followed by the final overall results, with the medalists given.

Mickael Mawem (FRA) blew everybody away, on the first day of climbing’s Olympic debut, winning bouldering. What?! Yes. After also placing third in speed—which his brother Bassa won—and 11th in lead during the August 3 qualifying rounds, Mickael, 31, led the field as finals commenced in Tokyo on the evening of August 5. As might be expected, Tomoa Narasaki (JPN) was right up there, too, having been second in both the bouldering and lead rounds, for an apt second place overall.

Mickael Mawem had the performance of his life at climbing’s debut Olympics. Photo: Ryu Voelkel

Nathanial Coleman (USA), 24, had also woken us right up in qualifiers, as we Americans in our time zones watched in the dead of night. A fine fifth in lead (among the 20 male Olympians) got Coleman into finals, occupying the eighth and last slot—just ahead of Alex Megos (GER), 27, who like Adam Ondra (CZE), 28, is one of the greatest of a generation on rock as well as plastic. Many in the community took to the internet to mourn for Megos when he placed just out of the finals field, in ninth overall, and then again when a torn bicep forced Bassa to withdraw, yet no slot opened for Megos; Bassa remained in eighth.

Colin Duffy (USA), 17, also made finals, having been fifth in bouldering in the qualifiers, with Megos in sixth; imagine how it feels to be a young climber joining icons as a peer. Duffy, too, blew us away, placing second in lead in qualifiers, with Jakob Schubert (AUT) handily winning that (lead) round, and it must have been surreal to Duffy and the young Alberto Gines Lopez (SPA), 18, to finish the route ahead of the storied Adam Ondra. Ondra didn’t look on his game, but never count him out; anyone knew he could still turn it on.

Before the qualifiers we’d probably have put our money on Ondra and Narasaki, 25, for the top positions at the end of it all. But expectations flew to the winds from the start of the first climbing competition in the Olympics.

Photo: Ryu Voelkel

Finals on August 5 were a clean slate, and anything could happen, as if it hadn’t already. For background, before these Games: Gines Lopez was to most an unknown, relatively new on the scene: he’d gotten a seventh in lead in Briancon, France, in July, and two fifth places, in Villars, Switzerland, and Innsbruck, in July and June respectively. Before that, he was more a Youth Championship guy. To see this coming, you’d have had to be paying attention to pre-pandemic 2019, when he got second and third in World Cups in Inzai, Japan, and Kranj, Slovenia, with a fifth place in Chamonix thrown in, but he had many back-in-the-pack results as well. He was then seventh in the Olympic qualifier in Toulouse, France, the same year. Duffy feels new as well, even to Americans, though he has won a youth world title—then this year he stunned with a third in lead in Villars. Duffy also had an excellent ninth in bouldering in Innsbruck in June, in among the normal ups and downs experienced by most competitors.

Mickael, though: How fun was that to see him rule, and where’d that come from? At the two Bouldering World Cups in Salt Lake this year, he’d been 10th and 27th. He was seventh at the Combined World Championships—a combined format, which suits the Olympics—in Hachioji, Japan, but the reliable standout Narasaki was first and Schubert second there, so nobody would have quite expected Mickael’s first place overall in the Tokyo qualifiers. Narasaki had been first and second in the overall IFSC Bouldering World Cups in 2019 and 2018. As for Schubert, 30, who fully schooled everyone in lead qualifiers, he won overall Lead World Cups in 2011, 2014, and 2018, and this year won another lead World Cup event, in Innsbruck, plus got a third in bouldering in Salt Lake. He has a vast store of experience and a skyscraper pile of medals.

 

The finals began with the speed event, which was full of slips and upsets, with one absence (Bassa) and one false start (Duffy)—putting the men in this order: Lopez, Narasaki, M. Mawem, Ondra, Duffy, Coleman, Schubert, B. Mawem (did not start). As on the first day, the results of each round were multiplied, lowest score winning, giving a huge advantage to anyone who was first in this or any round.

The men next completed the bouldering round, where Coleman finished in first. He was followed by, in this order, Mawem, Narasaki, Duffy, Schubert, Ondra, and Gines Lopez. As the finalists entered the lead-climbing round, Mawem still sitting in first overall, followed by Narasaki, Coleman, Gines Lopez, Duffy, Ondra, and Schubert.

As lead—the final event, the medal round—got underway, only one point separated the top four contenders. The route snaked up a 15-meter wall, with big moves to come.

Tomoa Narasaki came out looking fast, neat, and precise—reading the moves fast, too—and attained hold 33+ before popping off when he didn’t quite get a crimp on a reach.

Mawem began to struggle at about hold 19 and missed a hold at number 23, falling below Narasaki’s high point.

Coleman, going third, climbed smoothly and confidently, stopping to think, then gutted out his last few moves to pass Narasaki for hold 34.

Ondra then delivered a master class, the kind of performance we were all looking forward to in the Olympics. Solid, looking stronger than anyone through the difficulties, he passed the previous two climbers’ high points and gave everyone a thrill as he approached the anchors, before falling at 42+.

Gines Lopez was strong and deliberate, those qualities in him having become familiar after the qualifiers, battling into the fight section to fall below Ondra at 38+.

Duffy again looked great: As in qualifiers, he was strong, composed, focused, and not too pumped. But he, too, fell below Ondra, at hold 40. He was ultimately to place third in this lead round, behind Ondra in second for lead, after the last climber, Schubert, came out and ….

Schubert again absolutely ruled; he was smart, tactical, solid. He passed Ondra’s high point, taking it to the top, a thrilling performance and perfect ending to the round. He was first in lead—while delivering the gold on combined standings to the 18-year-old Gines Lopez and silver to Coleman, and awarding himself the bronze medal and a huge smile.

SPORT CLIMBING MEN’S OLYMPIC LEAD RESULTS

  1. Jakob Schubert (AUS)
  2. Adam Ondra (CZE)
  3. Colin Duffy (USA) 
  4. Alberto Gines Lopez (SPA)
  5. Nathaniel Coleman (USA)
  6. Tomoa Narasaki (JPN)
  7. Michael Mawem (FRA)

SPORT CLIMBING MEN’S OLYMPIC FINAL COMBINED RESULTS

  1. Alberto Gines Lopez (SPA) GOLD
  2. Nathaniel Coleman (USA)  SILVER
  3. Jakob Schubert (AUS) BRONZE
  4. Tomoa Narasaki  (JPN)
  5. Mickael Mawem (FRA)
  6. Adam Ondra (CZE)
  7. Colin Duffy (USA)
  8. Bassa Mawem (FRA) DNS
    Boulder three bouted everyone, leading to a nail-biting final in Lead. Photo: Ryu Voelkel